Simply put, Funny Car driver Jack Beckman is ready for a turnaround, and he would be perfectly fine with it coming at one of the most prestigious events on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series circuit.
Following a disappointing performance at the most recent event in Las Vegas, Beckman’s winless streak stretched to 31 races, by far the longest of the 2012 world champion’s career. While the struggles have tested the resolve of Beckman’s naturally upbeat attitude, he remains confident that better fortunes are coming soon.
It could be as soon as this weekend when Beckman and his 8,000-horsepower Valvoline Max Life/MTS Dodge Charger compete in one of the most unique and thrilling spectacles in motorsports, the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway. With nitro cars rocketing down all four lanes, the 30,000-plus horsepower adrenaline rush grabs the attention of the entire motorsports world, also giving Beckman the perfect opportunity to end his winless drought in grand fashion.
“I'm telling you, once this car starts responding in a manner that's predictable to us, we're going to be deadly consistent,” Beckman said. “We're not far off right now. With the way we're headed, we're going to be creating our own luck pretty soon.”
The world’s top racers will compete this weekend at zMAX Dragway, home to the only four-lane, all-concrete dragstrip and site of the fifth of 24 events during the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Spencer Massey (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock), and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the Four-Wide Nationals that will once again be televised on ESPN2.
While Beckman has lauded the work of new crew chief Rob Flynn and his team, the disappointment for the 15-time event winner is hard to ignore. After losing in the first round to Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. at the season-opening race in Pomona, Beckman has lost in the second round in each of the last three races, including two straight to DSR teammate Ron Capps.
It has Beckman, who qualified an uncharacteristic 14th in Las Vegas, ninth in points. It’s not cause for panic, but it’s always not the direction Beckman wants to be headed, even if it is early in the season.
"We're not going to hang our heads, but we can't keep going only to the second round,” Beckman said. “If we want to be running for the championship, we've got to start going deep on race day. For whatever reason, we have a parts malfunction, or we're just off on this tune-up.”
Of course, the winless drought is also a frequent topic of conversation that stretches back to September of 2012 when Beckman won in St. Louis en route to his world championship. Beckman didn’t return to the winner’s circle in 2013 despite finishing third in points, though he did win the NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootout.
It’s certainly a nod to the competitive ranks in Funny Car, as Four-Wide Nationals winner and former world champ Robert Hight takes the points lead into Charlotte and has posted three final-round appearances in 2014. His teammate and defending world champion John Force is second and was the first Four-Wide winner in the class. Other top stars in the class include Alexis DeJoria, who won for the second time in 2014 in Las Vegas in a breakout season; Capps; defending event winner Hagan; Courtney Force; and Del Worsham.
But no matter the quality of the class, Beckman has his own high expectations.
"The expectations for our new team were to look good from the outset and start looking great in a short period of time," Beckman said. "I see us headed in that direction. Rob Flynn strikes me as a chess player; he's quiet, studious, and digs his nose in the [data] books and goes over run after run. Not just our stuff, but he's been getting some data from our other Schumacher Funny Car teams. I see what he's doing. He's educating himself about our cars to be able to make educated decisions at the racetrack.”
As always, fans will have the chance to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy cherished face time with their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food, and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Series qualifying begins Friday, April 11, with sessions at 1:15 and 4:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, April 12, at 1:15 and 4:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for noon on Sunday, April 13.
Be a part of the action all weekend with a three-day pass to the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals starting at $99. Tickets for children 13 and under are free with any paid adult ticket; to purchase general-admission or reserved seats please visit www.zMAXDragway.com or call the box office at 800-455-FANS (3267).