It takes a lot to get Jack Beckman excited these days.
For a man who has won world titles, set world records, and won a few big races in his day, it is the little things nowadays that truly fire up the savvy veteran.
Little things like watching other cars go quick in front of him before a run and, in turn, watching his crew chiefs go to work.
That was the case on opening night of the 65th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway as Beckman watched two Kalitta Motorsports cars set the tone in front of him, directly impacting his own lap, which was good enough to take the top spot Friday night.
“I’m still a fan out there. We are in the staging lanes and Shawn Langdon is a few pairs in front of us and he goes 3.88 at 330 mph. When you are strapped in the car it is very hard to see, so I am looking and finally here comes Guido (Dean Antonelli) and he gives the signal to take the cover off of the controller, which means he just saw that car go 3.88 and he knows there is more in the race track,” Beckman said. “So it goes out there, makes a move to the right, I was sure it was not going to make it. When they are accelerating that hard the front end is light and they don’t want to steer and they are real edgy.
“I get it back in the middle of the lane and at the transition it hit a bump and I got on the radio in the shutdown and I said that it looped the tires a little bit. If you look at the graph, it barely made it. Yet they are still going to award us with the 3.87.”
Beckman ran a 3.875-second pass at 328.46 mph in the Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car. If his time holds, it will be his first No. 1 since March of 2018.
“It feels awesome. Since we went to 1,000 foot, most race tracks you can sneak a peek at the scoreboards. You’ve already seen two 3.88s in front of us by the Kalitta cars and we know there are four really quick cars behind us,” Beckman said. “But I thought we threw down a pretty good number. It is going to be tough for somebody to get around that.”
Beckman’s Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps placed the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge second on Friday with a 3.882 at 327.66 mph. Kalitta Motorsports teammates J.R. Todd (3.883) and Shawn Langdon (3.887) fell in line just behind, with Robert Hight (3.896) rounding out the top five.
Beckman is still seeking his first win of 2019, having visited the final round four times already this year, but coming up short each time. Still, despite the zero in the win column, Beckman remains in the top five in the Countdown to the Championship and has an opportunity to climb even higher with a strong showing this weekend.
“We have been to four final rounds and haven’t got a trophy. I think we have a car that will legitimately contend for the championship, but I think all of our crewmen need to stand in the winner’s circle for their own mental wellbeing,” Beckman said. “I think that you can recognize when you have the capability of being the best, but you need that standard at the end of the day.
“We have been close four times and we do have a car that can win Indy. I don’t care about being No. 1 because right now it is about points. Don’t think that we aren’t counting? Ron Capps is 37 ahead of us and we just knocked four off that total tonight. If we can get within 30 and win the race, it doesn’t matter if he is in the other lane, we will take over third. So we are 37 points down, but we are racing for a 10-point improvement once they reset the points.”
But Friday is just the beginning of a long and gruelling weekend.
With an extra day and four more qualifying passes still to go, Beckman knows he can’t be too confident that his time will hold, even if the remaining passes will be run during the day.
“I would say yes, but I sat up here on a Saturday night when we used to get a night run Friday and a night run on Saturday and the forecast for Sunday was sunny and warm,” Beckman said. “There was a 99 percent chance that run would hold and I wasn’t being arrogant, but boy I thought it was going to stick.
“Hagan came and beat us by a thousandth the next day. You never say never because one low pressure front, some cloud cover comes in and anything can change. I want it to rain for the next two days. I don’t see anybody beating that unless the track temperature stays low.”
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019