Fast Jack Beckman and the crew of the Valvoline NextGen Funny Car had a harrowing journey in 2012 on their way to the NHRA Funny Car championship. They had more that their fair share of ups and downs, and it all boiled down to the last race of the season in Pomona, where the team went from being up in flames to hoisting the championship trophy in a space of less than 24 hours.
Beckman has been around drag racing for more than 30 years, and won his first race driving a 1968 El Camino (which was also the same car he drove for his driver license test when he was 16) in 1988. He moved up to the Super Comp division in 1991. His dragster, known as “The Blackbird” was built by California Chassis Engineering and was the same dragster Beckman drove to a Lucas Oil World Championship in the Super Comp class in 2003.
He has been competing in the top division since 2005, and currently drives a NHRA Fuel Funny Car for Don Schumacher Racing.
Recently, the West Palm Beach Motorsports Examiner had the opportunity to chat with Fast Jack about his season, his sponsor, and the direction of the NHRA, amongst other things.
1. What is your favorite moment from the 2012 season? Least favorite?
- “The last weekend. I mean, it’s very interesting. You want to talk about going from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs. You could take our entire season and boil it down to a 24-hour period. That was Thursday at Pomona into Friday at Pomona. Going from leveling the car, destroying the engine, the body, and my left eyebrow to coming back and being the quickest car on Friday, gaining three bonus points that wound up being the difference in the championship.”
2. How would you describe the feeling of having the engine of your car blow up in front of you?
- “Picture doing 120 miles per hour on a motorcycle on a two lane road, and then all the sudden, your helmet spins around backwards and the front tire blows out at the same time, and you’re thinking I need to get this thing stopped, and I hope I don’t hit anything! It wasn’t just the fire. That is definitely the most serious on track incident that I’ve had, but it wasn’t just the fire. It blew oil all over the visor, and eventually, because there was no body, the wind finally thinned the oil on my visor enough that I could see that I was still in my lane. There was definitely a few seconds of intense anxiety, not wanting to hit the chassis into the wall. “
3. Off the top of my head, I can think of ten classes of cars that compete in drag racing. Do you think that the NHRA should consolidate its class structure?
- “It depends who you ask that question to, or, let me rephrase, it depends on who you’re trying to cater to. I can think of at least three distinct categories with multiple subcategories. Are you trying to cater to the racers, trying to cater to the organizing body, or trying to cater to the people sitting in the stands? I’ve seen this from multiple different angles. For 21 years I was a sportsman racer. I know a lot of credible people who would like it to go to a pro category only show. But, nearly every one of those people has never seen drag racing from the sportsman side. While it’s difficult for me to make a completely logical, devoid of emotion argument on why the sportsman racers should be allowed to race national events, I don’t think that you should ever take that element out of a national event. If someone wants to argue that it’s not exciting to watch throttle stop cars go down the track, the I would say to them then it would be the time to wander around the pits watching the pro cars get service. So, I do think that there is a good argument to keep the categories that we have. Now, maybe the other question is should we be adding some or modifying some categories, doing that way, and Pro Mod comes right to mind for that.”
4. How do you feel about the current pro fields for NHRA? Are there enough cars to make for a good show?
- “The thing that has ebbed and flowed the last few decades. 1984 that had one race where I think 12 top fuel cars showed up for a 16-car field and they thought Oh My God, this is the death of Top Fuel. It’s dwindled down to this. Then it had a huge resurgence that some people would attribute to Big Daddy Don Garlits coming back. Well, the same thing happened with Top Fuel a couple years ago, when people were thinking Oh My God, there are only 9 fully funded Top Fuel teams that are going to be able to go out there and run. Well, the what happened is a bunch of the independents came out and committed to more races, and you could argue that 2012 was probably the most competitive season that Top Fuel dragster has ever had. As far as Funny Car, in 2007 and 2008, you had 20 to 23 cars at every single race, and I think there was only one car that qualified for every single race. Every other car had at least one DNQ. It was great to see that level of competition. Funny Car has thinned out slightly in the last couple of years, but I think in 2012, there were only 5 Funny Cars that were able to qualify at every single race. So, it’s clearly still competitive enough that some of the very highly funded teams still can’t qualify for every race. I would have to say with that being the benchmark; it does appear that there are enough cars to give the fans a great show.”
5. Do you feel that Dodge’s departure from NASCAR will affect their participation in the NHRA at all?
- “From a selfish standpoint, I hope so. It’s unfortunate to see them pull out of NASCAR, especially in a championship-winning season. That’s sort of some bitter irony. But, obviously they had lots of success over in NHRA this season. They’ve won both the Funny Car and Pro Stock championship. The Pro Stock one, they were much more deeply involved in. That car was branded all year as a MOPAR car. From what I understand, my teammate Matt Hagan is going to bannering the MOPAR logo and doing it at more races next year than we did this year. If I interpret that correctly, it would mean that they have upped their involvement with NHRA and I like to see that because I think they get a huge band for their buck with drag racing.”
6. Are you planning on attending the NHRA preseason test at Palm Beach International Raceway? If so, what is your favorite thing about the track?
- “Absolutely. It’s concrete from the burnout through the sand trap. What I like most about is that we all invest a ton of time and energy to go there and test, and we know we aren’t wasting out time or energy. The weather is usually cooperative, the racetrack is smooth, and the prep is done to the point where we get usable data. There’s nothing worse than gearing up for a test, much less a multiple day test, and go out there and find that the racetrack won’t hold the horsepower. Then, you’ve got to cripple the car so much that you don’t get usable data. Or, to sit out there in bitterly cold conditions where any data you get from their might only apply to two tracks over the entire course of the season. What I think all of us really like about PBIR is the fact that it’s a good investment for us to go test there. We learn things that are real world enough so that we can use them right away.”
7. Do you think that Valvoline NextGen motor oil helped you in your quest for the 2012 Funny Car championship?
- “Yes. When I do the Valvoline seminars, the first thing I tell people is that for 21 years I raced a sportsman car, and for most of those years, I had to pay for my own things. Tires, gaskets, spark plugs, and oil. When I went to the auto parts store and bought oil, I bought Valvoline. So I‘ve always been a believer in their product, even when I had to pay for it. The engineers work with us. What a lot of people may not realize about a nitro funny car is that sometimes it’s not the four seconds of full throttle that is the hardest on the car. A lot of times it’s sitting on the starting line, or on the burnout, where the oil is working the hardest. I appreciate that the Valvoline engineers work with our crew chiefs. They gave us a great product, and we work together to make it even better. Basically, all that oil does is keep the engine cleaning itself up so that you can apply all 9500 horsepower. Before we endorsed the NextGen, we had to sign an affidavit saying that we would run the NextGen product. It’s not just a decal and lip service on the side of the car. We actually run a re-refined blend in our racecars. I would have to say that it was a very valuable piece of the championship puzzle for us.”
8. What are your goals for 2013?
- “Repeat! You know, people can say whatever they want. We got the target on out back, whatever, I’m proud of that. I am ecstatic about putting the number one on the side of the car and have people take their best shot. I think that we still have a lot of improvement on the Valvoline NextGen team. Todd Smith has got 19 races under his belt. He’s got some ideas in the clutch department that we’re going to be implementing before we go to Florida. I think it’s a step in the right direction. We’ve already proven that we can be as quick and as fast as any Funny Car on the planet, and we’d like to be able to do that on an even more predictable basis.”
The West Palm Beach Motorsports Examiner would like to thank Alexandra Bocci, Mohammed Dieye, “Fast” Jack Beckman and the entire Valvoline NextGen funny car team for helping to make this interview possible. In the next few weeks, this column hopes to feature interviews with other NHRA superstars, such as Top Fuel champion Antron Brown. Stay tuned!
Jack Beckman fans can catch him on track at the PRO Winter Warm-up, on January 18-19, 2013, from Palm Beach International Raceway. For more information on the Pro Winter Warm-up, please go to www.RACEPBIR.com, or check them out on facebook at www.Facebook.com/PalmBeachIntlRaceway and on Twitter at @RacePBIR.
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