Jack Beckman collected his first NHRA Full Throttle championship Sunday at the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals with a second-round victory. Beckman, who entered the event first in points ahead of teammate Ron Capps, won the championship in the semifinals when Capps fell to Courtney Force. Beckman, who also had reached the semifinals, then lost to Cruz Pedregon, making the final margin of victory for Beckman just two points.
“I’m really not feeling anything right now,” said Beckman. “You think about this, and you dream about this. It’s going to take me a while to wrap my head around this. We would have loved to have won it head to head in the final, but the trophy is going to shine just as well no matter what. We really wanted to win.
“When you’re strapped in the car, you really can’t see the cars very much because the crewmen are all standing up on the starting line blocking your view. All the guys wearing NAPA shirts are great friends of mine and for three years were my crew guys, and when Capps was running, I could see his car between a couple of guys. It looked like it was running good, and I thought, ‘OK, they’re going to turn the win light on,’ and then I see one of them put his head down on the other's shoulder. I’m like, ‘I think he just lost,’ but there was no reaction from our crew. I’m not sure if they were staring just to make sure the light stayed on. It took probably five seconds, which felt like a half-hour, and they said, ‘We just won it.’ Then I thought, ‘Well, I can’t celebrate right now. We have to go up there and try to win.’ We didn’t, and I’m not all that upset about it, to be honest with you."
After a somewhat quiet but solid start to the year that included six round-wins in the first four races, Beckman got thrust into the headlines following the spring Las Vegas race when team owner Don Schumacher decided to do a team swap between Beckman and Capps. That gave Beckman Capps’ old crew plus new crew chief Todd Smith, most known for his success in the dragster ranks and somewhat of an unknown when it came to tuning a Funny Car.
“I’ve been really fortunate that every year I’ve finished in the top five, and that’s incredibly difficult to do, and I thought this was probably it and we’d be incredibly lucky to stay in the top five, maybe just make it into the Countdown because you’re bringing a guy in, Todd Smith, who had never been a crew chief on a Funny Car. They’re completely different animals. You could argue the parts are the same, but the application is completely different,” said Beckman. “Rahn Tobler, John Collins, and the seven guys that crew the NAPA car came over and built us an identical car. They handed the reins over to Todd and Terry [Snyder, assistant crew chief], and they babysat us for a couple of races, and Todd picked it up quicker than I ever in my wildest dreams would have imagined. It’s tough. I’m trying to get my head wrapped around this deal. I want to tell you it wasn’t my decision to switch teams, and this is a business. I got emails and texts from friends saying I got the short end of the stick, and I said, ‘Let me tell you, Don pays me, and he will never give me anything but a competitive Funny Car.’ He’s changed crew chiefs before. He’s changed teams before, and I’ve always finished in the top five, so I knew we would be OK. I didn’t know we would be champions.”
The pair came out strong in Charlotte, qualifying fifth and advancing to the second round, but the new-team blues struck at the next two events when Beckman DNQ’d in Houston and lost in the first round in Atlanta. Beckman rebounded in a big way in Topeka, outlasting Capps for the Wally, Beckman’s first of three victories this season (Denver, St. Louis). From that point forward, Beckman not only consistently put round-wins on the board but also established himself as having one of the class’ best cars, qualifying in the top three at every race from Denver through Reading.
Beckman entered the Countdown third and remained there the first couple of races, but a win in St. Louis lifted him to second in the order, just 30 points behind Capps. He then put together a near-dream weekend in Reading, resetting the national e.t. record and posting a semifinal finish that included a defeat of Capps in a crucial second-round match, to move to the top of the points. Though Capps defeated Beckman in the final round in Las Vegas, Beckman maintained a slim four-point advantage entering the season finale.