Jack Beckman went down a 1,000-foot drag strip in just 3.921 seconds.
During qualifying for the 28th NHRA Sonoma Nationals, Jack Beckman became the quickest driver in Funny Car category history, running through the 1,000-foot drag strip at an astonishing 3.921 seconds. That time was set in Friday night’s cool conditions; he backed up the national record (which gets him an additional 20 points) in final qualifying with a pass of 3.958 seconds. The latter time was set in direct sunlight, making the pass even more remarkable.
I think it’s bitchin’ to be the quickest Funny Car driver in the world
Beckman, who has had more tuners assisting him than any other Don Schumacher Racing squad mate - or any other pro nitro category racer that I can recall over the past 10 years - officially joined forces with tuners Jimmy Prock, John Medlen and Chris Cunningham just before the start of the 24-race season in Pomona last February. Theirs was not an auspicious beginning; they failed to make the field for the first race of the year. Beckman wasn’t completely deflated; he knew it took time to understand the differences in cars and engines from Prock and Medlen’s previous workplace at John Force Racing.
Closing in on Hagan
Beckman’s results since that time have been categorically stellar. In 18th place at the first race, the former Marine and cancer survivor has taken his Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger R/T to second in points behind teammate Matt Hagan - a win in the Sonoma Nationals placed Beckman just 77 points behind Hagan in the title challenge that becomes even more intense after the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals on Labor Day weekend. That’s when the six-contest Countdown to the Championship begins.
Along the way, their Infinite Hero Funny Car team won the Four-Wide Nationals at Charlotte, breaking a 55-race winless streak, ran five sub-four-second passes (unprecedented at the time) in winning Topeka, won Norwalk during the 4th of July holiday, beat John Force in the Denver finals and “never had a weekend like Sonoma, with such overall dominance.
How's it feel to be the quickest Funny Car driver in the world?
“I think it’s bitchin’ to be the quickest Funny Car driver in the world. The national record is for the crew chiefs. “These circumstances couldn’t be better - you won’t hear me complain,” he said. With the win at Sonoma (following his win at Denver), Beckman can join only seven other drivers who have swept the Western Swing with a victory at Seattle this coming weekend. In the Funny Car class, only 16-time champion John Force has swept the Swing, back in 1994.
The Californian understands how fortunate he is to be able to race with this team 24 times each season and to make his living driving a racecar. Heck, he also realizes how lucky he is to be alive, to have a wife and two children that love him, after recovering from testicular cancer. “I don’t define myself by the racecar,” he said. “I’m the same guy here that I am in the pits, that I am at home with my kids.
Living the dream
“These moments are not lost on me. They are incredibly special,” Beckman said after setting the new world record. “It does matter that we qualify the best, it does matter that we set low ET (elapsed time) of the world, [but] all I’m telling you is the big picture of racing, it’s not our main goal. It’s beyond satisfying… I never thought I would be here, I really didn’t. I was out here in 2004 going through chemotherapy and I won the divisional race in my Super Comp car.
“I didn’t know, we took the pictures down there (in Victory Lane) and I thought this might be our last winner’s circle ever. Not because I was a fatalist but because you just don’t know. Twenty wins, a  championship and all of this stuff later is not lost on me. This is just absolutely enormous.”
The minds behind the machine
It doesn’t hurt that he has Prock, Medlen and Cunningham turning the wrenches and digesting the data before and after each pass. Prock, always known for his swings at the fences helped John Force to his record 16th Funny Car championship two years ago and tuned Robert Hight to his 2009 title; John Medlen is renown for his outside the box analytical thinking and Cunningham’s defining work with the team makes this triumvirate amongst the best on the planet.
So the game plan for Seattle has to be business as usual for this quartet and their support group. “When you’re good at something it’s because of two things,” Beckman reminded. “It’s passion and practice. When you do something tens of thousands of times, you’re in a mental zone. When you change something, you don’t have those tens of thousands repetitions.” And when it’s the Western Swing, where there are “huge differences in geography, mileage between races and very different conditions,” it’s exceptionally difficult to win three in a row.
“We have the appearance of making the right decisions and we’ve put ourselves in position with a predictable car; it’s easier to step on it and make it quick,” he explained. “With the way our car is running, it’s a game-changer. We’re forcing other crew chiefs to step outside their comfort zones. I’m very, very comfortable with the fact that our car is the ‘Intimidator’ right now.”
Infinite Hero Foundation
There’s more to this race team, though, than all the sub-four-second rounds, the five race wins and making the Countdown to the Championship (after failing to do so last year - the only Don Schumacher Racing - DSR - team that didn’t make the Countdown). Thanks to the largesse of Terry Chandler, who is the financier for the Infinite Hero team (and the Tommy Johnson Jr. Make-a-Wish DSR Funny Car team as well), Beckman has a job this year. And Infinite Hero Foundation has added funding to help veterans returning from war with injuries both visible and invisible.
At every race Beckman carries Infinite Hero challenge coins on his race car which are sold to help fund the Foundation. “I carry 15 Challenge coins every run but at Sonoma I took 25 coins on some of my runs. We raised $10,000 to help and more than 100 coins were sold at Sonoma for more than $100,000 raised so far this year. It’s so gratifying to win races AND make a difference,” he noted.
Unlike most charities, Infinite Hero Foundation has no operating costs to defray its donations; all those costs are sustained by sunglass maker Oakley, thereby allowing all donations to go directly to those in need. “Terry Chandler saved my career by stepping up in every sense; watching the Infinite Hero Foundation change veterans’ lives is beyond any success on the racetrack.”
Now some positive questions remain about the DSR Infinite Hero Funny Car team: can they bring the broom and sweep the Western Swing of three races in a row that culminates in Seattle this coming weekend? Can they win the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car championship this year? Nothing appears out of the question for Beckman, Prock, Medlen, Cunningham and the Infinite Hero team.