The 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season was a difficult one for 2012 Funny Car champion Jack Beckman, but the former U.S. Air Force sergeant and cancer survivor has seen far worse foes than failing to win a race in competition.
Although a member of the vaunted seven-driver Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) nitro squad, Beckman was the only one that didn’t qualify for the 10-driver/rider Countdown to the Championship for NHRA’s four Mello Yello categories: Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Those difficult results might have stopped a lesser racer but not Fast Jack Beckman. Here’s a man who was told he’d never be able to have children after facing down testicular cancer: he has two sons. Here’s a man who has never had a full-season commitment in his racing career: he’s got funding for the entire 24-race campaign for the first time since joining DSR full-time in 2007. Here’s a man whose roster of crew chiefs has been a veritable revolving door: this year Beckman has a new crew chief and assistant crew chief in champion tuners Jimmy Prock and John Medlen.
Reinforcing the team
At the end of the 2014 season, Don Schumacher needed to look carefully at the team he’d formed with Jack Beckman. While his driver kept his chin up - and his hand in by being an instructor at Frank Hawley’s drag racing school - Schumacher had to make some decisions after such a meager points-paying year. He didn’t give up on the Californian; rather, he reinforced his team.
Terry Chandler, who funds the Make-A-Wish Funny Car for DSR driver Tommy Johnson Jr., stepped up in December and said she’d put her money behind Beckman for the coming year. Chandler is the sister of Johnny Gray who, until 2014 drove a flopper for DSR before retiring from the driver’s seat. His two sons compete in Pro Stock. The sponsor for Beckman’s car - and its paint scheme - will be announced over the weekend when NHRA begins its 24-race campaign on the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona drag strip.
Beckman also has a new car for 2015 as Dodge introduced a new 2015 Charger R/T for competition. It was tested initially by Beckman’s teammate, reigning and two-time Funny Car titleholder Matt Hagan before making a debut at the SEMA show in November. Beckman had never driven anything but the older version of the Dodge Charger R/T body until recent open testing in West Palm Beach, Fla. “It wasn’t until I got into this car with all the improvements that I was like ‘wow’, there is a better way to do this,” Beckman exclaimed.
Sounding off on the new year
“The Mopar engineers nailed this car. It is beautiful looking, the performance is great and from a visibility standpoint, it is nothing but improvement,” he said. At that four-day event in Florida, Beckman’s Prock- and Medlen-led crew produced the top runs of the pack, which included other Funny Car teams. Their best was 4.003 seconds at 321 mph.
That’s pretty cool when you consider there is a single crew member remaining from Beckman’s 2014 squad, assistant crew chief Chris Cunningham. “I’m terrible with names and I’ve never learned names this fast,” Beckman said. “There’s an immediate comfort level. Most of last year’s crew went to other DSR teams and they are going to get into some winner’s circles this year.”
With all the good news going around his part of the DSR shop, how does Jack feel? “I think sometimes when you get really good news, you kind of suppress the emotion because it can be overwhelming - like really bad news can be. To have have Jimmy and John on board and still have Cunningham over here and to have [a sponsor] on board the whole year, I know we will do some great things off the track and I’m pretty convinced we will do some great things on the track,” Beckman said.
“Here’s the way I’m going to choose to deal with the pressure. As long as you perform to your capability, it’s going to be tough for anyone else to put you on the trailer. With Jimmy Prock, I realize that the expectations are real high. We are going to be expected to win and I’m going to be expected to drive at a consistently high level - and I love feeling that way. I’m not going to take it as added pressure; I’m going to take it as an opportunity to go out there and achieve what we are capable of.”
No wins in 51 starts
The winner’s circle is a place Beckman yearns to visit - it’s been 51 Mello Yello contests since he last hoisted a Wally trophy after winning 15 times in his first 153 races. “Winning the race is always my goal. I just want to win a race. I miss that sense of being around a group of people that were the best at what they did on that day. You don’t want to be cliche, but to win the trophy, you first have to qualify and you have to get past first round.”
With an attitude - and a crew - like Jack Beckman has in his corner, even his DSR teammates better watch out for Fast Jack.