Funny Car driver, Jack Beckman is currently third in the NHRA Full Throttle point standings entering the Countdown to the Championship, which begins with the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis next week. He's had an impressive regular season and is riding a wave of success that includes two runner-up finishes and the number one qualifier in the past three races.
With this being the first race of the Countdown, how much more important is a win at the U.S. Nationals?
JACK BECKMAN: You know, it's interesting. Larry Dixon, Steve Johnson and I all grew up in the San Fernando Valley, and, for me, it was always Pomona. I didn't have a dad who raced and Pomona had a lot of history, and Indy was 5,000 miles away. So every year I kind of get a little bit more idea of the flavor of Indy and how important and how big it is.
You know, we've got 24 rounds left in the season, and it's all about points right now. It's not even really about race wins. It's about points that go with round wins. A win at Indy is huge no matter if there's no points, no trophy, or a big trophy or a 50th anniversary or a countdown race, no matter what it is, it's Indy.
If we can win Indy we're going to be pretty close to the top of the points chase. If we don't win Indy, we've got five more races to capitalize on. But you get one more run here than any other race, so I always tell people our goal is to make eight good runs. This race it's going to be nine good runs here. So it's not lost on us how important it is.
We brought our chassis back, which wasn't that old. We've got a brand‑new body just to shave 10lbs off this thing to be closer to the minimum weight. Everybody here at Don Schumacher Racing realizes this is significant.
Most of your entire Funny Car career you've had to go up against the Force camp. What's that like? Do you think that makes you better? Do you think it makes it a big hill to climb? How does that affect you?
JACK BECKMAN: Our racing is so different. You're passing; you're bumping; you're doing strategy based on what the other cars are doing. For 20 years, I ran sportsman cars, and you're not drafting or bumping. But in the sportsman car, you're racing against the other car. In Fuel racing it's really not the case. You're racing against your lane. The way they've got the shields and the drive-throughs now and especially not the Funny Car, you sit so far back, you really can't see the other car. If you see them, you're in trouble anyway.
So, I hear a lot of racers say I don't care who is in the other lane. I do care who is in the other lane because a lot of drivers have their own staging idiosyncrasies. So, racing John Force, I do remind myself not to get myself worked up with any other approach, but it's just that John takes a lot more to staging than a lot of the other drivers. So you've got to adjust your routine for him, otherwise you sit there with the clutch pedal out too long and it heats up.
I've got to tell you, though, the fan in me is just itching to get to race against John Force. And the first time I beat him, I want my little kid to grow up fast and have grand babies for me so I can tell them their grandpa beat John Force.
You won the inaugural NHRA Nationals at zMAX Dragway, the second race on the Countdown. How important is that race, especially when you consider what Robert Hight did last year to win the championship?
JACK BECKMAN: I don't mean any disrespect by this, but none of these next six races are more important than the other. All they represent is 24 rounds and an opportunity for us to pick points.
But if you really want to dig deeper, Indy is Indy. You really want to win that one. Charlotte, well, you can make a strong argument that is the best facility on the tour and winning the inaugural race there, and I've had a lot of success. We've been really fortunate at Charlotte. I want to win that one.
Then we go to Dallas, and that can be a really tricky track with the tight groove. Yes, I want to win that one too. Then you go to Reading – what's going to be exciting about the next six races is different weather conditions, different parts of the country. The fan base is totally different, you know. Different accents at the places you go to, people are socially a little bit different. It's really exciting. I think it's a nice balance of six facilities to finish up the year with. And, yes, I want to win.
I mean, right now it's about points. You have to race for the 80 points. But if you go to the semifinals in the next six races and you're not sitting 10th in the Countdown right now, you're going to be pretty tough in the points deal.
You've gone somewhat quietly through the regular season and found yourself in third going into the Countdown. Have you left anything on the table coming into the last six races that you're going to put back in the car to flex some muscle?
JACK BECKMAN: At the end of the year, I don't think you ever want to look back and say, “God, if we had only done that differently.” And one of the cool things about driving for Don Schumacher is he'll never put you in that position.
We might make mistakes, too many mistakes and I might make driving mistakes, but Don's never going to short-change us. And the proof in that is we're putting a brand‑new body on these cars for Indy. I think all three of the Schumacher cars have brand‑new bodies. And by the time you do paint and work and mount all of that bracing underneath, it's about $50,000. We're doing that to save 10lbs. If we're already at minimum weight we can move that 10lbs where we want to on the car.
We debuted a brand‑new chassis in Chicago. We got 53 runs on it. We built it in-house, we brought it back and put brand-new tubing on it. We did that to all three of our Funny Cars, and it's not because they were due to be front-halved. It's because there is a cycle life on these chassis, and we didn't want to get two‑thirds of the way through the countdown and say, “Gosh, we wish we should have done it this way.”
So we looked at the long‑term strategy and right now we're doing everything we can so we don't say we left anything on the table. We're going to go talk tomorrow to make sure we're on the right page here.
You talked about just the different markets, and the different weather patterns of the final six races in the countdown to the championship. Just how important is it for the sport to have week in and week out such an eclectic group of fans that were visiting those final six races?
JACK BECKMAN: I just want to know who I can submit my fuel bill to. [NHRA] are sending us from Indy to Charlotte, to Dallas, to Redding, to Vegas. That's a lot of diesel.
If you had all 23 races in Pomona, you could say the weather's fairly predictable out there. The track's nice. That would be cool, especially for me, I'm 20 minutes away. But then the idea is to expose our sport to as many people as possible.
NASCAR is a very easy sport to follow. All the competitors are on the racetrack for one race and it's over. Drag Racing is kind of difficult to explain the rules. You have four pro categories, 12 total categories. Some with four rounds of elimination, some are eight rounds of elimination.
Our sport is one of those where people have to be there. Motorsport, if you like it on TV, you're going to love it in person. If you come in person, you're probably going to come back.
I think our duty – as drivers and teams and the sanctioning body – is to get as many people into the stands for the first time as possible. And the other drivers might agree one of the great things about our sport is the fans can come up and interact with the drivers. We get introduced to a whole lot of them.
I really loved going to Charlotte for the inaugural race and running in front of a lot of die-hard NASCAR fans. Our goal is not to take fans from any other sport, but to build fans who are fans of other sports.
To have that feedback from those people who have been to NASCAR races and tell us how much they loved our race, and how much they appreciated getting to come up to the pit and interact with the drivers, I thought that was pretty special.