Features

Posted by: Jack Beckman, Valvoline NextGen Dodge

Because I have no life outside of racing, here I sit at the keyboard, typing away on Memorial Day. I hope everyone had a great, long weekend, and most of you probably filled up on auto racing and barbeque. Please keep in mind, however, that this weekend honors the fallen soldiers, and is a solemn occasion for tens of thousands of families across this great land. Any of you that have followed my writings know that my dad’s eldest brother, Francis Eugene Beckman, is one of the many who gave his life in the defense of freedom. It’s cool to enjoy yourself, awesome to spend time with family, but please remember WHY there is a Memorial Day.

Hey, did anybody catch the coverage of the Summernationals? Spoiler alert: Team Valvoline left with the trophy! Yep, in just the fourth race with Todd Smith at the helm, we managed to do the nearly impossible, and stop that NAPA car in the money round. To say that win #13 (plus I have two from Super Comp) was perhaps my most satisfying would be an understatement. I am tickled for Todd, Terry, Mark, Dan, Jim, Matt, Kyle, Chris and James, who worked their butts off to give me a car that could win. I also want to express my gratitude to Todd Okuhara, whose help lately has been wonderful. Lastly, I would be remiss to leave out Rahn Tobler, John Collins, and the entire NAPA team: Mark, Joe, Dustin, Adrian, Bill, Chris, and Tyler. Those guys, along with the Valvoline crew, went way beyond the call of duty to put us in this position.

I’m definitely NOT superstitious, but that green NextGen body hadn’t even been to a final round, and more than a couple of the guys (dating back to last year), were ready to take some aerosol paint to that thing to try and change our luck. Well, my “lucky number 4” race (following the car and crew change) took care of that “green is bad luck” superstition (think about it, Force has done pretty decent with that hue!).

I wasn’t necessarily counting on race four to be our breakthrough day, but I’ll take it. My son Jason is 4 years, 4 months, and 4 days older than his sister Layla, so there’s some rhythm in this family of 4 with that digit.

I ran into several of the racing legends while at Topeka, including Don Cain (Top Gas Indy winner in ’67), Ray Motes (Top Gas Indy ’71 winner), and ’67 and ’68 Top Fuel Champion Bennie Osborn. In fact, on my list of, “you-know-you’ve-made-it-when...” moments, I should have known I was going to have a great weekend when Bennie helped pack my chutes in qualifying!!! Again, I’m not superstitious, but tell me you don’t think that’s just plain cool!

Another cool deal is going into the history books as the winner of the 700th NHRA Funny Car national event. Bobby Bennett, from Competition Plus, reminded me that, had the Funny Car drivers not boycotted the ’81 Cajun Nats, my win would have represented number 701, and Ron Capps would have the honor of numero 700. Interesting little tidbit of information. Bob Frey, one of drag racing’s greatest sources of information, informed me that Pro Stock will celebrate their 700th in five more events, while Top Fuel holds an 18-race lead over their nitro flopper cousins. More good stuff!

For factual purposes, NHRA is counting the 1966 World Finals (held in Tulsa, Ok.) as their “first” Funny Car Eliminator national event. That was the only race (of the four on the schedule that season) featuring the floppers. For whatever reason, in ’67 the F/C class only ran at two of the four events, and none at all in ’68. 1969 featured the fuel coupes at 3 of the four events, skipping the World Finals. That doesn’t make much sense to me, as that year’s Winternationals is considered the first race where NHRA made Funny Car an official eliminator (sort of the way Pro Mod is run now, the F/Cs were more-or-less a “showcase” class up until 1969), which is why I’m confused as to why they wouldn’t run them at the Finals. Up until 1974, whoever won the World Finals was considered the season champion, and this is where it gets even more confusing. Because Eddie Schartman won the ’66 Finals, he will (or should) go into the books as the first Funny Car Champion. Now, it appears there wasn’t another “world champion” until 1970, when Gene Snow defeated Ed McCulloch at the Finals, then held at Dallas Motor Speedway (not the current track in Ennis). Confusing, but interesting.

Which gets me back to some more cool stats: Race # 1 was won by “Fast Eddie” Schartman, who defeated Don Nicholson in their nearly identical Mercury Comets, the first “true” flip-top, tube chassied Funny Cars. Well, earlier this year I had the privilege of meeting “Fast Eddie” for the first time, as he was inducted into the Drag Racing Hall of Fame. I also met (and have subsequently spoken with on several occasions) Al Turner, who (as the Racing Director for Mercury) was as responsible as anyone for those first Funny Cars. So, from “Fast Eddie” to “Fast Jack,” there represents some 700 races. How ’bout this for another interesting fact: John Force, ALONE, has won nearly 20% of all the Funny Car races contested, and his team has won about 30% combined!

Layla is trying her best to bring headbands back into fashion for the first time since the 80s. Me, rather than tying a sweater around my neck, I opted for the 41” child instead.
While Sully operates the Big Deere, my little dear and I tried our hand with the smaller Deere.
If you love palm trees, I suggest you not look any further...
The score after this: Heavy equipment operators: 2. Palm Trees: 0
Wife and kids...check. Grandma...check. Cousins...check. Uncle...check. Bennie Osborn T-Shirt...check. Some guys just have it all!

Our team decided to present the Wally we won to Todd Smith, as this is his first Funny Car win (and hopefully there will be many more to come).

Back home, Jenna set up what would be our very first family photos. Yeah, we’re not a really traditional family, and our schedule is kinda screwy, but we wanted to capture something before Layla and Jason get much bigger, and before my wrinkles outnumber my hair follicles. Jen Ledon, who I’ve known for years through her support of the CIFCA Funny Car series (I drove for several years in Dennis Murphy’s Ground Zero car), drove out and shot a bunch of images of us at a nearby park. Though we have literally thousands of pics of the kids, it’s nice to have something professionally done with all four (there’s my lucky number again!) of us.

I’m fairly certain that the leading cause of divorce and child abuse is family portraits. Yes, the finished work is worth it, but what a pain in the keister to get Jenna to sit still long enough for a simple picture! Okay, it wasn’t my lady that caused our blood pressure to increase steadily, but you get the picture (bad pun).

We’ve been putting in lots of hours playing in the dirt in the backyard. With the racing schedule getting hectic, I’m trying to get as much done right now for my new “garage” on the upper level. Step one involved getting the pad graded and leveled, then we dug the footings. How simple those tasks sound when I write them in one quick sentence, but let me tell you how much crap (figuratively, not literally) we had to go through to get to that point. My good friend Randy Sullivan decided that, since one tractor was good, then two certainly would be better, so we had what looked like a John Deere dealership in the yard. We decided to remove two of our four palm trees, but please don’t call me about my anti-arborist actions. Our house had sat vacant for eight months before we bought it, and permanent damage was done to the outside of these trees through lack of water. Palm trees don’t look that heavy from a distance, but you might be surprised what a 27’ specimen can weigh. It took most of the power of Sully’s backhoe to persuade these units out of the ground, freeing up our work space to dig the footings.

For those of you not well-versed in construction, the footings basically are underground walls, which both stabilize the soil and provide the weight-bearing point for the structure. Because my garage in up on a raised area, and because there is slope on three sides of it, the footings have to be extra-deep (which means more digging, which means more concrete to fill them, which means more money, which means less happiness). There is so much granite in this area that Sully brought in this enormous jackhammer attachment for the tractor to save us about a week’s worth of manual labor. You can’t imagine how much rock we went through to be able to dig down as much as four feet (not really a lucky number when it came to this!) for our footings. As for me, I’ll never take digging for granite again... get it... granite (granted)? Okay, bad joke.

Sully, together with his sons Brandon and Derek, as well as Ryan, who is a heavy equipment operator, helped make what could have taken months for me, about a day-and-a-half project.

Now I need to clean up the footing trenches, build forms, install and clamp rebar, and start pumping concrete.

Sunday we had my Grandmother Mary, Uncle John (the one who got me hooked on drag racing), Cousins Jason and Stephanie, and their son Odin over for dinner. Since moving to Norco, and with the schedule I keep as well as raising two kids, we just don’t see each other very often any more. My Grandma will be 89 this year, so it means a lot to me to have her hold my children.

Memorial Day we hung out with the neighbors... sort of. Curtis and Shelley Coombs, with their triplets Grant, Nolan and Jack, met us over at the Vaca residence. Danny and Lia used to live around the corner, but have moved about 6 miles away. We hardly get to see their family anymore, so it was nice hanging out. Danny owns his own oil company (no, he’s not a millionaire... yet!), so he and I see each other frequently at the races, but the girls don’t get a chance to complain about us very often, so this was a good opportunity to let them vent.

Tomorrow I’m on a plane for E-Town. Our team will be running a one-off Sandvik paint scheme for this race, and Wednesday we will have the car and trailer at their corporate headquarters for a display. Sandvik is also doing a company fundraiser, and we’re doing something very cool with the proceeds. They were so gracious in letting me pick the charity, and of course my first choice was my Wells Fargo checking account, but they nixed that. With my former military service, as well as the proximity to Memorial Day, we decided to go with the Wounded Warrior Project to help those who have given so much to our country. I’m excited to be a part of this, and I’m humbled by the employees of Sandvik for doing this.

Stay tuned, 4 is good (but 700 is better), quit playing in the dirt, and seek counseling after those family portraits!

 
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