Jack Beckman is a hot-rod historian.
When NHRA Mello Yello Series races were halted March 13 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Beckman needed to find something to keep him busy and he has.
Beckman, who won the 2012 nitro Funny Car world championship, has spent the last few months sharing his favorite moments in drag racing history with fans.
He’s had eight episodes of Hot Rod History with Jack Beckman streaming on nhra.com. Beckman also has posted his episodes on dodgegarage.com and his own Facebook page.
“Back in January I was given a full set of Drag News, minus about 150 issues, from 1955-1978, so I got about 900 issues of it,” Beckman said. “Since then I have driven to various places and Don Hampton of Hampton Superchargers gave me his entire collection. Recently, I spent four hours with Bob Muravez and got some issues from him and I got some issues from Jack Chrisman’s son and daughter. I’ve been doing fact-finding and a video history series. Each video is roughly 10 minutes. Larry Sutton sent me an attaboy. Carl Olson, who won the last drag race at Lions, sent me an attaboy. Gary Densham keeps calling and asking me when the next one is going to go on because he’s hooked. That’s exactly the reason I did this for.”
Beckman has filmed eight Hot Rod History episodes that are up and streaming. He said he has two more years to cover 1959 and 1960.
“I just physically don’t have any more time than that,” Beckman said. “Really it starts with the beginning in 1949 and my initial goal was to go through 1964, but I just physically don’t have enough time.
“It takes me about a week of research to do a year. I read through all the Hot Rod magazines from that year. I will read through all NHRA’s publications and then I will read every Drag News. I will end up with pages and notes and I will write a rough draft that would be about 20 minutes on camera and then cut it down to around 10 minutes.”
Beckman said the project was more tasking than he thought, but worth it.
“I’m overwhelmed with it and it is a rabbit hole sometimes I wish I had not got sucked into, but it also has been unbelievably rewarding,” he said. “I have had conversations on the phone with Roland Leong, Don Prudhomme, Don Garlits and Tommy Ivo and I are emailing back and forth every day he’s sending me pictures. I can go on and on with the legends who I have been able to talk to.”
And, although Beckman considers himself a drag racing historian this venture has been a learning process for him.
“It has clarified some things and maybe more importantly some of my knowledge was wrong,” Beckman said. “Something I read somewhere or heard it from somebody else and it is just wrong. For example, if you Google Santa Ana Dragstrip and you will find eight different articles on it and everyone of them tells you opening day was June 19, 1950. That was a Monday. That’s not possible that it opened on a Monday. It is wrong. My point is there is so much stuff that’s written that’s wrong, you have to go back and do your research on this. I have been reaching out to Brett Kepner and Bob Frey and Phil Burgess and what I hope is if I get two different versions in my written research or something doesn’t agree, I’m hoping they can direct me to other written items that would substantiate one claim.”
Beckman’s project will be put on hold soon as NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing is slated to return July 11-12 in Indianapolis and Beckman will be driving a Don Schumacher Racing Funny Car.
“We will see in November if I pick this back up and do some more, maybe,” Beckman said. “The problem is when you get to 1959, Drag News becomes weekly instead of bi-weekly so there’s twice as much to read. When you get to 1960 National Dragster also comes out as a monthly. My problem is each following year requires more and more time reading and that’s something I’m not going to have.
There was no other time in my life I could have done this. With the COVID-19 deal it happened to open up time about the same time I was given this whole collection and it gave me a different direction. If I was given this collection during a regular season, I would have just stuck all this stuff in my garage, and it would have remained there. I have never been out of race car this long since 1988 when I got out of the Air Force.”
Beckman did bring up an interesting tidbit that he tied together through his research.
“My 1968 El Camino is going to be featured in the August Hot Rod Magazine,” Beckman said. “The cooler thing is my grandfather, on vacation in Florida with my father, bought my dad, who was then 13, his first issue of Hot Rod Magazine, which was August of 1950. Exactly 70 years later, my car is going in Hot Rod Magazine.”