Just one day after his teammate handed team boss Don Schumacher his 350th career win, Jack Beckman made that number 351 at the biggest drag race of them all.
Beckman went four masterful rounds on Sunday at the 67th annual DENSO Spark Plugs U.S. Nationals, collecting his 32nd career victory and second at the prestigious U.S. Nationals. In the process, Beckman handed Don Schumacher Racing its 351st win in NHRA competition as Beckman reveled in what could very well be his last race at famed Lucas Oil Raceway in a nitro Funny Car.
“It feels great. I don’t know if this is the last time I am going to get to race at Indy,” an emotional Beckman said. “We are not sponsored for next year and this makes it 32 trophies in a Funny Car. That is 32 more than I ever thought I would have in a Funny Car and we aren’t done yet.”
Beckman discovered last month that the Chandler family “giving car” program was coming to an end at the close of the 2020 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing season. That program supports two cars in the Don Schumacher Racing stable, including Beckman’s Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car.
On Sunday, Beckman celebrated that tremendous six-year partnership with a grand victory celebration alongside his crew.
“If this is the last time I race at Indy, that Infinite Hero Dodge Charger team left nothing on the race track,” Beckman said. “That is what drag racing is all about. Doug Chandler, thank you. Terry Chandler, what a wonderful six years. We collected a whole lot of Wally trophies and a whole lot of amazing fans. I hope I can keep doing this next year, but I will revel in this one. Our team was awesome today.”
Beckman capped the celebration with a victory over two-time U.S. Nationals winner JR Todd in the Funny Car final.
Todd, looking for his third win in four years at Indy, left first, but Beckman drove around him cleanly and got the win with a 3.908-second pass at 327.35 mph. Todd crossed the stripe with a 3.960 at 324.28 mph in the DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car.
The final was not without drama, however. As both cars were staging, Beckman pulled in too deep and lit both bulbs, forcing Todd to adjust on the fly. While Todd still bettered his opponent on the tree, he was not happy about the move and confronted Beckman at the top end immediately following their run.
Beckman explained that he simply made an error.
“I just screwed up,” Beckman said. “I went in and lit both bulbs. It is seven inches from pre-stage to stage, so you try to light the pre-stage and let it roll in about four inches. We are still messing around with the push brake on this car – which we just converted to this year – and I just flat screwed up. There is no other way to look at it.
“JR chose to have a tantrum about it. I think that goes to his character. I don’t know why he would have an issue with me making a mistake that could mess me up. He will have to wrestle with his demons on that one.”
With the win, Beckman extended Don Schumacher Racing’s incredible streak in fuel Funny Car to nine wins in a row dating back to the FallNationals last October. Since then, all four DSR cars have taken turns in victory lane, with Beckman tied for the class lead with Hagan with three wins each over the past 11 months.
Beckman also reached his fifth final at the U.S. Nationals since 2008, winning his other Wally from this race in 2015.
“That is an added bonus. Obviously, you want to win every race and if we keep doing that, we keep the streak alive,” Beckman said. “It just reflects the amazing team we have behind us and the great teams we have at DSR.”
Additionally, Beckman’s win on Sunday made up for a loss he suffered at the hands of Hagan one day prior. During the third round of qualifying on Saturday, Hagan and Beckman faced off in the rain-delayed finish to the Summernationals from July, with Hagan getting the better of his DSR teammate with a 3.919 to a 3.940.
On Sunday, Beckman was quick to point out that, while Hagan has won twice at Indy this year, his trophy says something special.
“Hagan won two of the Indys and he can have that all day long,” Beckman said. “I will take the one that says U.S. Nationals. Every trophy is important, but there is only one U.S. Nationals.”
Beckman faced a gauntlet on Sunday to reach his fourth final of 2020, besting Cruz Pedregon, Ron Capps and Tim Wilkerson. Both Pedregon and Capps smoked the tires in the opening two rounds – held nearly three hours apart following a brief rain shower – as Beckman cruised to passes of 3.909 and 4.003 seconds. Between those rounds, Beckman said that the team was forced to adjust on the fly as a computer issue left the team scrambling.
“We didn’t get computer data in round one. While it is not the end of the world, we made a great run and we had to go old school and look at the parts – look at the spark plugs, look at the bearings,” Beckman said. “Then it didn’t run good in round two. I don’t think that was a lack of computer data, but it was not something we were happy with. We’ve got two new clutch discs in there and they are still throwing fits for us once in a while.
“But we kept pecking away at the tuneup and ended up with the best car in the final round.”
In the semifinals, which featured four former winners of this race, a delay left Beckman and Wilkerson waiting in the staging lanes for an extended period as Beckman watched the NHRA safety team scrape the lane ahead of him. That didn’t deter Beckman, as he remained in the lane and won on a holeshot – a 3.915 at 329.10 mph to Wilkerson’s 3.914 at 324.59 mph – to advance by seven thousandths at the line.
Todd, who has been to three finals and a semifinal in his last four trips to the U.S. Nationals, eliminated Blake Alexander, Dale Creasy Jr. and Matt Hagan. Despite being heavily outmatched, both Alexander and Creasy hung with Todd in the opening two rounds, but Todd used bracket-like passes of 3.916 and 3.919 to advance.
In the other semifinal, Todd chased Hagan down and advanced when Hagan’s car went silent just shy of the finish line. Todd ran a 3.946 at 327.03 mph to drive around Hagan who came just shy of three wins at Indy in four tries this season.
“I am not going to lie, that stings to go to the final round at the biggest race of the year and come up short,” Todd said. “I am really proud of my guys. Ever since we have come back from the break we have run really strong here at Indy. I didn’t drive all that great today. I was living right until the final round. I am just bummed we didn’t pull it off.”
No. 1 qualifier and points leader entering this weekend Tommy Johnson Jr. bowed out in a stunning first round upset to Dale Creasy Jr. as the journeyman driver defeated the pilot of the Riley Kids Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car with a 4.009 to Johnson’s 4.011. It was Creasy’s first round win since 2012.
Beckman retook the points lead following Sunday’s win, as his four final round visits in 2020 leads the class.
The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will return to action Sept. 25-27 at the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida.
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) September 7, 2020