BROWNSBURG, Ind. (March 12, 2013) - Jack Beckman would be flying coast to coast this week even if he didn't have a NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event at Gainesville, Fla.
The reigning NHRA Funny Car world champion for Don Schumacher Racing will attend the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame's 2013 inductions on Thursday night and there couldn't be a better way for him to warm up for the following days initial qualifying rounds of the NHRA Gatornationals.
"Just to be asked to be a presenter is an honor," he said. "Everyone in our sport knows I'm an avid drag racing historian and fan, and I understand how important this is."
Kenny Hirata, Phil Hobbs and Bobby Vodnik formed the team that won the first NHRA U.S. Nationals Top Eliminator title in 1963 with their Top Gas Dragster, which was NHRA's premier class when Vodnik, 19 at the time, upset "Big Daddy" Don Garlits for the title. The team added another U.S. Nationals title two years later.
"This team won the U.S. Nationals the first time NHRA employed the Christmas tree," Beckman said of the 1963 introduction of drag racing's iconic starting system. "And that was the last race in NHRA before nitro was allowed in fuel tank.
"I'm a little envious of guys who raced back then. It was a very different time. There were guys who worked regular jobs during the week and then raced on the weekend. Then were guys who made a living match racing. That was a wonderful time. Guys were changing things all the time."
What remains consistent, however, is teams still change things but they are not wholesale modifications.
After Beckman along with crew chief Todd Smith and assistant Terry Snyder mounted a surge over the last half of the past season to win the Funny Car world championship, their Dodge Charger R/T has stumbled out of the gate this year by losing in the first round of the year's first two races.
"I'm not pacing back and forth because I know we aren't going to be lost with this car," Beckman said. "We'll figure it out.
"The frustrating part is somebody gets to take home the trophy at each race, and you want to get them all. And we didn't turn on a win light at either of the two races that are closest to my home where I raced with the No. 1 on the car for the first time."
He said there were a couple minor issues with the Valvoline Dodge toward the end of the past NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series during the six-race Countdown to the Championship, but they couldn't be addressed while the team was in the hunt for the championship.
"We strived to fix the small problems in the off-season that we were having last year. We didn't mess with it in the Countdown. We put a new data acquisition recorder on the car before testing in January. By fixing a few things on the car we uncovered some other issues that weren't as obvious. It's taken this much time to resolve those issues."
Don Schumacher Racing