Typically, missing out on a world championship by the narrowest of margins after doing all you can to come out on top would leave a driver feeling down and out.
That would be most people. But not Jack Beckman.
Despite coming up just eight points shy of Robert Hight in the battle for the 2019 Funny Car title in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, Beckman was able to focus on the positives and walk away a happy man. Positives like collecting his first-ever Wally at Pomona in a Funny Car and showcasing to the rest of the field that he has – in his eyes – the best car in the class entering next season.
“I’ve never won Funny Car at Pomona, so that is pretty awesome. I won Super Comp at the Winternationals here twice, but to win a nationals at the finals makes the offseason fantastic,” an elated Beckman said. “They’ve given me such a great race car lately and I stumbled a couple of times. I don’t want to woulda, coulda, shoulda myself in the offseason because Robert (Hight) could do the same thing. (Matt) Hagan could do the same thing. (John) Force could do the same thing. It is what it is.
“We finished a solid second and ended the year with a win. We have a phenomenal car and we’ve got sponsorship for next year because Doug Chandler is going to continue to (sponsor) this. Things are awesome right now. I’m feeling on top of the world to be honest with you.”
Beckman bested the eventual 2019 Funny Car world champion Hight in the final at the 55th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway on Sunday in one of the stranger finals of the season.
Having already secured the title, Hight prepared a celebratory burnout for the fans that ended in the car getting stuck midway down the track. After the car stalled, Hight climbed from the stranded machine and leapt over the wall.
On a solo pass, Beckman proceeded to put down the best run of the entire day, running a 3.920-second lap at 323.27 mph in the Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat to earn his second victory of the season in his seventh final
“I wasn’t buying (that it stalled) at first. I saw that thing go out there forever and it instantly took me back to what Force did against us two years ago in the semifinals here when Brittany (Force) had just locked up the Top Fuel championship. He said he didn’t even care if he raced the car, he just wanted to do a long smokey burnout for his daughter and he does it and I’m thinking he is just going to keep coasting and he’s backing up at 80 miles-per-hour and I’ll be damned if he didn’t stage and run against us and almost outran us,” Beckman said. “So Robert does a long burnout and I’m like wow, he really took that thing out there. I just have to do my thing and start backing up and I get done backing up and my body goes up and I look out there and see his roof hatch come up and nobody even said anything. I was the first one to notice.
“He’s right in the middle of the lane. So I don’t think he went out there and shut it off because if he did he would have pulled it over against the wall. You don’t want to go out there and get loose at 500 feet and smack into a stationary object. You look at that and you are thinking, ‘should I just idle down the racetrack?’
“It probably would have been the prudent thing to do. But I’m thinking with all these fans that would be so lackluster. I’m glad we legged it out and we went low ET of the day. I think the fans at least got a show out there.”
While Beckman collected the win, Hight was able to secure his third Funny Car world championship thanks to a semifinal win over Beckman’s teammate Matt Hagan. Hight defeated Hagan in a close battle – a 3.977 at 324.59 mph to a 4.015 at 326.95 mph – in the semifinals, giving him just enough to hold off the hard-charging Beckman. Hight also had wins over John Force and Shawn Langdon.
“The most important run of my life was the semifinals against Matt Hagan,” Hight said after the race. “I’ve thought about this before, when it comes down to one run to win a championship, how will you perform? Will you choke? Will you get the job done? You don’t know until you get there. You just keep trying to trick your mind that this is just another run, but you can’t.
“My heart was beating out of my chest when I was staging the car and we got it done. Not to say that the next time it won’t go another way, but this time we got it done. It really would have been a shame to lose the championship after the season that we had.
“We’ve led the points from day one which has been a dream of mine since the Countdown era to lead the thing from start to finish. This has been the most steady year that I’ve ever had. That is a real tribute to the Auto Club team, Jimmy Prock, Chris Cunningham, it is amazing. I’m the luckiest guy in the world to drive this Funny Car.”
Beckman, meanwhile, visited his third final of the Countdown to the Championship and seventh of the season with wins over John Hale, J.R. Todd and Blake Alexander. In each pairing, Beckman proved the class of the field with consistent laps in the 3.90s – 3.946, 3.958 and 3.956 – before putting together the best run of the entire day in the final.
“What really surprised me today was Dickie (Venables) and Hagan. That car was thumping Friday and Saturday and then today something was just missing the first two rounds,” Beckman said. “I thought for sure it was going to be he and I in the final for everything and then they stumbled a little bit both of the first two rounds. The difference was track temperature. When we went out there for Q1 and were No. 2 with a 3.94 and I asked (Dean Antonelli) Guido why so many crew chiefs were missing it and he said it is Pomona. It just doesn’t get run on much and it is very hard to figure out.
“I think our best run might have been E2, that 3.95 considering the track temperature and the amount of available grip, I think that we got everything there. We are so in the center of our tuneup window that when small changes take place the guys know exactly what to touch on all of the timers and controls to make that kind of number come up there.”
While he came up short in the championship, Beckman enters the offseason for the first time in his career riding the momentum of a win and the confidence of knowing that he may have the best car in the field entering next season.
“I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that we had the best Funny Car this year or certainly for the last five races. I think if I had driven better the outcome could have been different,” Beckman said. “We sacrificed some races in the first part of the year to get our clutch package right, to get dialed into the reduced track prep and to get all of our spare parts all sorted out and it paid off.
“You look at once we got into the Countdown the car was thumping from the get go. We were always a factor out there and I just hope (the team) are as fired up about next season as I am.”