Jack Beckman said it’s odd, this feeling of racing four consecutive times at Indianapolis.
“I kind of feel like a cross between Batman and Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day. It’s kind of like ‘Wow, I’ve seen this movie before.’ And the Batman part is I feel like because the season and schedule have changed so many times, I’ve got my bag packed, I’ve got my airline ticket, and as soon as we get that ‘go sign,’ it’s time to head to the airport and get back out there. I’m thankful that we’re racing. I’m looking forward to being able to have more fans in the stands, and I’m hopeful that not only can we bag our first Indy trophy of the year – because we’re also still in line for the final of the Indy 2 race – but that we prove that the things we’ve just sorted out with our Infinite Hero Dodge are exactly what we needed to be back at the top of the heap.”
He’s second in the Funny Car standings, 13 points behind Don Schumacher Racing mate Tommy Johnson Jr., as the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series returns once again to Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis Aug. 3-6 for the Denso U.S. Nationals.
That’s his take on the schedule that public-health concerns have reshaped repeatedly this year. And it’s one of many on the spectrum of opinions about racing several times at the facility that has been reserved for the sport’s marquee event every Labor Day weekend.
The NHRA outright has canceled nine races and postponed three more that look doubtful to rebook. That’s one-half of the original 24-race schedule. But it has found something that seems to work: racing in Indianapolis – technically, in the Hendricks County city of Brownsburg. Many Top Fuel and Funny Car teams are headquartered there, and its central location allows other non-Brownsburg-based teams to travel there without too much cost.
For Johnson, “it’s especially nice and convenient,” he said, “considering I only live three miles from the racetrack.”
Funny Car owner-tuner-driver Tim Wilkerson doesn’t have too far to travel. The Springfield, Ill., veteran said Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis already has been familiar to him but repeated trips here don’t give anyone that much of an advantage.
“A benefit to coming back to the same racetrack is that it gives you a little bit of track knowledge that you wouldn’t have otherwise had. I’m not based in Indy, so we only ever come here once a year. It’s kind of funny – I won the U.S. Nationals back in 2003 in a nitro Funny Car, but to me, coming here is ‘racing at Indianapolis’ – I came here all the time when I used to race an Alcohol Funny Car, and I won this thing a lot when I was division racing,” he said.
“After you come here twice, to me, it’s just redundancy. I don’t know that I really learn much,” Wilkerson said. “NHRA has done such a good job of prepping the track – but come August, the track here is always 130 degrees. There’s only so much they can do with that. Anything I learn here will probably be null and void the rest of the year, because the conditions are going to be better in September and October, but I’m so happy to be racing. I’m happy to have my guys doing something, too – they were going stir crazy. We needed this, and I’m glad NHRA figured out a way to do it.”
Top Fuel and Factory Stock Showdown racer Leah Pruett used to live at nearby Avon but since has moved to Arizona. And she was plenty fine with more races at Indianapolis. Her bigger focus was the fact that one of her primary sponsors, Dodge, sponsored the most recent race, the Dodge Indy Nationals.
“I don’t care if you run at Indianapolis a hundred times a year or just once during Labor Day weekend, racing at Indy carries a certain weight and prestige,” she said. “To see Dodge step up [as the title sponsor] makes my heart even happier than it already is when it’s pounding hard from nitro and 11,000 horsepower. It just reinforces what a great company it is and where their values lie: with their fan base and their customers. Given the circumstances, knowing the importance it has to fans attending a race in-person or watching on TV and helping to get the series back on track, it’s great to see Dodge bring this extra level of support to the series.”
The NHRA got some sympathy from part-time Top Fuel racer Kyle Wurtzel, of Warsaw, Ind. He said, “The restrictions and rules that NHRA has got to follow from state to state, county to county, has to be the biggest headache in the world to try to figure out and navigate. At any moment in time, all that can change. So I can’t imagine trying to run an organization or an event that requires spectators to work. It’s got to be a nightmare.”
All that four-time Pro Stock titlist Greg Anderson wants, he said, is “to race as much as we can, because that’s what we love. We can’t wait to get out there and put on a good show for the fans, and we’re all very happy that NHRA is continuing to do everything they can to make sure the fans can be there in person. That’s what makes this sport special.”
His retiring teammate, Jason Line, said, “It’s definitely a season we’ll never forget. You hope it’s unforgettable for the right reasons, when it’s all said and done, so every time we get to go racing, we’re grateful for the opportunity.”