NHRA Funny Car driver ‘Fast Jack’ Beckman and the Don Schumacher Racing team currently sit in the fourth spot in the Full Throttle Series points standings, which in and of itself is a fine accomplishment when you have to do battle with the likes of John Force, Ron Capps, Robert Hight and Cruz Pedregon every weekend.
But for the DSR team of Beckman and crew chief Todd Smith, doing what they have done so far this year deserves a second look.
- Don Schumacher Racing exchanged the entire team of Ron Capps and Jack Beckman
- Beckman currently stands fourth in the NHRA points
- Beckman/Smith team won Topeka just four races after swap
Imagine if you will, the NFL’s New York Giants dumping head coach Tom Coughlin in the middle of the season, swapping most of their team with the New York Jets, and bringing in NCAAA coach Steve Spurrier to run the show. And then imagine that new-look team becoming the best in the league in just over a month.
That is basically what happened at DSR this year as the team leadership decided the changes were needed after a slow start to the season for Capps. After the NAPA-sponsored driver failed to qualify in Las Vegas, Schumacher exchanged Jack Beckman’s entire team – including crew chief Rahn Tobler – with that of Capps. Then he brought out-of-work, former Top Fuel crew chief Smith on to keep the Beckman team moving in the right direction.
At first glance, such a move would be seemingly be akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. But Smith and Beckman met the challenge head-on, beginning with the fifth race of the year.
“To make all of this work, the teams had to change trailers and swap everything. Car bodies, spare parts, crew members, everything,” Smith recalled. “Just to go out and qualify in the first race (Charlotte) was an accomplishment.”
For Smith, the burden of learning a new team and a new driver was augmented by the fact the crew chief was learning Funny Cars as well.
“Obviously the first month was the hardest for me,” Smith understated. “I was learning the Funny Car, adapting to the tuning program, learning the crew. It was a ton of info to absorb in a short amount of time.
“Clutch application was the toughest thing,” he continued. “It’s the same parts but the numbers are different as to when and how much to apply to the car. Rahn and Tommy (DeLago, crew chief on the DSR car of Matt Hagan) gave me a baseline to work with, but then I had to figure it out.”
But things weren’t seamless by any stretch. The team moved to the second round in the Charlotte four-lane event, but failed to qualify for Houston. Beckman qualified eighth in Atlanta and fell to Courtney Force in the first round, dropping him to sixth in the points as the team headed to Topeka.
“Luckily I had a great group of guys to work with that have worked together a long time,” Smith said. “Jack works hard in the car and gives good feedback and we are in a professional situation. We knew we had the right tools, it was just up to me not to screw it up.”
Beckman qualified a modest sixth at Topeka but on Sunday he just went out and started winning rounds. He beat a tire-smoking Alexis DeJoria in the first round, won a pedaling contest against Mike Neff in the second, then outsprinted Tim Wilkerson to earn a final-round berth against – Ron Capps.
With both teams knowing each other’s secrets, it was up to Beckman who welded Capps to the Tree, taking the event win on a holeshot for his 13th career victory.
“That was a big win for us,” Beckman said. “Suddenly, we’re right back in the hunt. So much had transpired since Las Vegas. We switched cars, we switched trailers, and we switched teams. It was great to know that we had a car that we can win with again.”
For Smith it showed that everything that had taken place in the weeks leading to Topeka had been done the right way.
“Sometimes when you look back it may seem easier than it really was,” Smith recalled. “I never expected to win that soon, but when you’re getting as much help as we were from the entire organization, it puts you in a pretty good spot. You just have to go out and perform.”
The team followed Topeka up with more success, winning five elimination rounds through the next three events before losing in the first round last weekend at Norwalk as Capps took the first-round win light from Beckman.
“I feel fortunate that I stepped into a great situation,” Smith said. “I was out of work, looking for something and this was a great opportunity. So far it has worked out very well.”