LEE BEARD Q&A PITTSBORO, Ind. (March 11, 2007) -- Colorado native Lee Beard has long been one of the elite tuners in the sport of NHRA drag racing. Since joining the crew chief ranks in 1980, calling the shots for Jerry Ruth's dragster, the ...
LEE BEARD Q&A
PITTSBORO, Ind. (March 11, 2007) -- Colorado native Lee Beard has long been one of the elite tuners in the sport of NHRA drag racing. Since joining the crew chief ranks in 1980, calling the shots for Jerry Ruth's dragster, the veteran pit boss has amassed more than 50 victories along with seeing popular racer Gary Ormsby claim championship honors in 1989. Having worked alongside the likes of Kenny Bernstein, Joe Gibbs and Don Schumacher, Beard now leads the two-car Top Fuel effort of upstart David Powers.
In his first full season with the team, Beard's Rod Fuller-driven rail raced to a fifth place finish in the Top Fuel class. Now, Beard has reunited with longtime driver Whit Bazemore. They killer B's teamed for 12 wins and 20 poles in five seasons with their Matco Tools Funny Car. Again under the Matco Tools banner, Beard and Bazemore aim to make waves, this time in the Top Fuel division. In this Q&A, the crafty crew chief banters about adding the second Top Fuel car to the Powers camp, Bazemore's transition to Top Fuel, working with Rob Flynn, Funny Cars, and his son Zach's budding karting career.
Q: How'd you get introduced to drag racing?
BEARD: I had an older brother, John, and he had some pretty cool hot rods, like a 1966 Satellite with a 426 Hemi in it. I got to drive that. I then befriended a high school teacher who raced in Division Five and I worked on his crew. My brother and I got our first Top Fuel dragster and I had my first shot at driving in the summer of 1971, I was 18-years-old. I was fascinated by driving, but also challenged by the mechanics. I studied industrial arts and engineering in college and was able to apply that to racing. I eventually had my own small operation and raced Division Five. I went to California for a PDA race at Orange County (International Raceway). I met Jerry Ruth there. We became good friends and he flew me in to work on his car. In 1978, I sold my operation for the opportunity to drive a Funny Car for him. He drove a dragster and we had a two-car team. In 1980, we cut back to a one-car team, sold the Funny Car stuff, so the only opportunity for me was to be the crew chief. That was my first full-time racing job.
Q: Take us through the process of adding the Matco Tools dragster at David Powers Motorsports.
BEARD: We found out about it at the U.S. Nationals. Matco Tools told David Powers they would fund a Top Fuel dragster. At the time, we weren't sure who the driver would be. We thought Bazemore, but it wasn't a done deal. We didn't find that out until later in the year. Rob Flynn and I started coming up with a game plan on how we were going to attack it with personnel, ordering equipment, race shop space and the entire expansion to a two-car team. It took a lot of planning. We were fortunate because we were able to get really good crew people for both teams. Rob was busy getting the personnel lined up and ordering parts, while I was involved in building the fuel injector system, fuel management system, clutch management system, and we designed a new clutch. We split the responsibilities where it would work well for both teams.
Q: After testing and the first few races of '07, how do you assess where you're at to this point?
BEARD: Things have gone pretty smoothly. At testing, Fuller's car ran 4.49 and Bazemore ran 4.50, so the two cars were within one-hundredth (of-a-second) of each other. We started to get some consistency. At Pomona, Fuller's car ran a 4.48 and Bazemore's a 4.50 in qualifying. That's pretty amazing that you have different two race cars, drivers, crews, superchargers, clutch discs, etc. and have them run that close makes us feel good. We feel the performance of both cars needs to improve a little bit. We'd like to get them to be able to run mid-4.40s, like 4.45 and 4.46 because when you line up against a car like the Army dragster or the Budweiser dragster or the Mac Tools dragster, that you're going to have to run that number to try and beat them. Fuller's car ran those numbers at Phoenix, now we have to get the Matco car a little quicker.
Q: How has Whit (Bazemore) adapted to driving a Top Fuel dragster?
BEARD: He's done exactly what we expected. We knew he's a top notch, high-skilled driver. He has a great understanding of the car. We knew there would be a little adjustment with him not wanting to over steer. With a little mental preparation, he got better-and-better and by the time we got to Pomona, he's driving as well as anybody out there.
Q: How is your relationship with Rob Flynn?
BEARD: We have a fantastic relationship. We're using the same combination in both cars. It's the combination that I have developed over the past year and-a-half. Rob was my assistant and he knows the combination very well. We communicate great. We go to breakfast in the morning and ride to the track together. I know what he has for a setup on the Valvoline car and he knows what I have for a setup on the Matco Tools car. Because of the way that Fuller finished in the points last year, the Matco car had to run in front of them at Pomona. They were able to see what Bazemore ran. We talked about it and Flynn had the opportunity to turn the numbers up on the Valvoline car and it gave him the ability to have a little better performance running at the back of the order. On race day when we ran each other, we wanted to give the drivers the best race cars we can give them and put it in their hands. The cars ran 4.55 and 4.56, I'd say that's pretty close. After the Valvoline car won, I was over there with Rob Flynn analyzing the data. We also took the data from Bazemore's car because Bazemore ran down left lane and Hot Rod's car ran down the right lane. We knew that (Tim) Richards would put us in the left lane. By studying the data from Bazemore's car, we had data from a run on the left lane on race day. We work together and put the best effort we can. We came a little bit short. We're a two car team, with two crews and crew chiefs working well together. It was the same at Phoenix. After they beat us in the semifinals, many of the Matco crew members were helping the Valvoline team before the final round.
Q: How do you develop a two-car team where people get along with little or no animosity?
BEARD: It has to come from the leadership. It has to come from David Powers. He's made a tremendous effort on his part with the way he's structured the bonus program. It gives each team a reason to truly want to help the other car do well. That trickles down to the crew chiefs not having any type of an ego where one wants to have something on his car that's not on the other car. It comes from the leadership and that trickles down to the team and that's what it takes. You look at the successful multi-car teams out there, John Force's operation and the Kalitta operation, and it starts and the top and goes down.
Q: You've worked with some high profile owners. What is David Powers like?
BEARD: Powers is a pretty laid back easy going guy. As a team owner goes, he's fairly new to the sport as being a professional team owner. He's learning as he goes. Because of that, we do things and analyze and change how we do it to make it better. The difference between working for a guy like David Powers and Kenny Bernstein is that Kenny Bernstein has been in it for many years. He knows exactly what to do and handle the sponsors, manage the race team and create the image he wants. In David's case, he's learning to do it. When you're learning, sometimes you make some mistakes. As long as the people in the organization know that as a team owner you're learning and they're patient, eventually we have a team owner that will be one of the best.
Q: Do you ever see yourself tuning a Funny Car again?
BEARD: I'll never say never. I my mind, they're more difficult to tune. You have to be a lot more disciplined with how you apply the power. There's another side to it that's involved with the aerodynamics of that body. If I was to do it, it would be because we have great support from a car manufacturer. I don't think we'd be doing it as an independent team that didn't have a strong association with a car company.
Q: Why are Funny Cars tougher to tune?
BEARD: Well, they have a shorter wheelbase, 125-inches versus a 300-ince wheelbase. They're more prone to spin the tires. They don't have the built-in suspension of the long dragster. They don't weight-transfer as well. They don't absorb and dissipate bumps in the track. They hit a bump with the short-wheelbase car and it wants to kick the rear tires loose where the dragster has that long chassis so it can absorb that. It's a more difficult vehicle in that respect.
Q: You've mentored some folks that are now successful crew chiefs like Mike Green, Mike Neff and Dickie Venables. Is that a role you enjoy?
BEARD: I've always been real open with all of the crew as far as what I'm doing with the setup. I don't have any secrets that I keep from them. Occasionally, you'll get an extraordinary guy that has the vision of one day being a crew chief and he wants to get in there and pick your brain and learn everything that you're doing and how to tune the engine and setup the clutch and setup the chassis and learn about aerodynamics. Those guys were hungry in that area and it seems like when they've worked around me for some time they have the ability to go out and be crew chiefs on their own.
Q: How is your son Zach doing with the go-karting.
BEARD: He's 16-years-old now. He's graduated from the junior division. This is his third year of go-kart racing. His first year he ran in the junior division and he raced on a local three-state basis. He was fortunate to get with the right team and won a championship in his first year. In his second year, we moved him up to the seniors and began to run him on a national level. He finished fifth in the United States in the Stars of Karting series in the spec racer division. The fact that he was 15-years-old racing against guys 16-30 was pretty exciting. This year, he's a factory driver for First Kart North America. The karts are manufactured in Italy and imported into the United States by a Canadian company and they recently set up shop in Brownsburg, Indiana. In just his second race with the team, he won at Homestead (Fla.). It's exciting to see him take these steps to try and be a professional race car driver. He's really devoted to doing that. My deal with him is that as long as he gets good grades in school and puts out a solid effort that I would back him in whatever form of racing he wanted to go into.