Adjusting on the fly is nothing new for Jack Beckman, who has worked to adapt to personnel changes almost flawlessly during his standout Funny Car career. Bringing in a number of new guys to the mix, including two crew chiefs, was part of the changes for the 2017 season but the former Funny Car world champion has started to find his rhythm.
Beckman finished as the runner-up in Charlotte driving his 10,000-horsepower Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger R/T, and now sits sixth in the loaded Funny Car class. It’s a good sign for a team trending upward, but Beckman now wants to reward them with a victory, something he hopes can happen at the 29th annual Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties, May 19-21 at Heartland Park Topeka.
“I’m extremely happy with the way we’re settling into things and how we’ve faced each round like we’re in the Countdown (to the Championship),” Beckman said. “As we accrue more data, it’s just going to get better and we should be able to continue to raise the bar. Our short-term goal is to win the first race of the year and the next goal would then be to collect more trophies. We haven’t been the best car on any day yet, but we’re close to being there. I know we’re good enough to win.”
Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners. The race will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including a live broadcast of the finals on Sunday, May 21 at 2 p.m. (ET). The race is the eighth of 24 events during a 2017 season that brought plenty of new faces to Beckman’s team, including Dean Antonelli and Neal Strasbaugh joining as crew chiefs with John Medlen, who was one of only three carryovers from 2016.
With a completely different clutch configuration among the many changes, the team had to make adjustments and gather data on the fly. That has made things difficult in some respects, but with only one first-round loss through the first six events, Beckman has been thoroughly impressed with how quickly things have come together in a short time.
“We’re starting to get to the point where we have enough data with the 6-disc clutch to fall back on,” said Beckman, who has 24 career wins. “With not really any data for Charlotte, I think we did an excellent job. The team and crew have done a great job and I think the guys know I’m continuing to work on my craft when I’m away from the car because ultimately it makes us better as a team. We set the standard high and there’s a lot of incentive to try to be excellent out there.”
Racing at Heartland Park Topeka has often brought the best out of Beckman, who won the race in 2012 and 2015. The victory in 2012 help propel his world championship run, while the 2015 win was one of seven that season, with the team putting on a record-breaking performance that included five 3-second runs. He’ll be challenged by the likes of 16-time world champ John Force and defending world champ Ron Capps, the current points leader with back-to-back wins, but Topeka has repeatedly provided the backdrop for Beckman to do something special.
“When we won there in 2012 we had just gone through a complete team change and we were just kind of licking our wounds, getting our feet back,” Beckman said. “That win put in our heads that we were good enough to contend for a championship. In 2015, it was just a barrage of three-second runs. It was really as close to a perfect weekend as you could have. Topeka can be tricky for drivers and crew chiefs, so if you win it’s definitely a feather in you cap.”
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. on Friday, May 19 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, May 20, at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 21.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call (800) 884-NHRA (6472) or visit www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult. To honor the Salute to First Responders, military and first responders can save 20 percent on general admission tickets at the gate.