Jack Beckman may be as calm and collected as any driver in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car ranks, but even he is ready for this roller coaster to end.
After seemingly getting his season on track following a final-round appearance in Houston, Beckman has simply welcomed more frustration to the mix. Since that final, Beckman has lost in the first round at five of the last six races, including last weekend in Chicago.
Beckman has dropped to 11th in the points standings in the process, and if the 2012 Funny Car world champion wants to secure a berth in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, he knows something has to change. As for when, Beckman hopes it is this weekend at the 8th annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park in Norwalk.
“We’re just running out of time,” Beckman said. “You don’t know if every round is important, but we know we can’t afford to keep losing early on Sunday. We’ll be out of the top 10 for two races in a row when we get to Norwalk, and it is going to get harder to catch the cars ahead of us as they start solidifying their spots for the Countdown. We’re putting our backs to the wall, and we’re getting to the position where we have to win two or three events to jump back into this thing.”
Khalid alBalooshi (Top Fuel), Johnny Gray (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock), and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will again be televised on ESPN2. It is the 13th of 24 races during the 2014 season, and though it might not be an absolute must-win situation for Beckman and his 10,000-horsepower Valvoline Max Life/MTS Dodge Charger, he knows a good showing is necessary.
The Don Schumacher Racing car underwent changes before last week’s event in Chicago as well; DSR owner Don Schumacher hired Chris Cunningham, the former crew chief for Bob Tasca III, to serve as the assistant crew chief to Rob Flynn on Beckman’s car.
Beckman qualified seventh at Route 66 Raceway before losing to eventual winner Matt Hagan, giving Beckman three straight first-round losses, but he is hopeful that more consistent performances are in the team’s future.
“Don shook it up, and in the long run, it will be a good call to get some different chemistry going to see if we can get this car more predictable,” Beckman said. “We don’t want to sneak in [to the Countdown]. We want to be solidly in the middle of the pack. It’s tough for our crew. You can’t hang your head, but after a few first-round losses, you have to shake that off and get back up on it. That’s a difficult position.”
Beckman, who has 15 victories, knows the potential is there, but the inconsistencies have been difficult to swallow. It has been made even more painful thanks to a talented Funny Car field, pushing Beckman to 11th in points, 22 behind 10th-place Tim Wilkerson.
Points leader Robert Hight, who has never won at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park, is the chief concern for every driver in the class and is seeking a fifth win in 2014. Beckman will also have to contend with previous Norwalk winners Tony Pedregon and Wilkerson as well as Cruz Pedregon, reigning world champion John Force, Courtney Force, Del Worsham, Ron Capps, and Tommy Johnson Jr.
Still, Beckman, who won in Norwalk in 2009, is more concerned with doing whatever he can to make his Charger a viable championship contender as quickly as possible.
“Losing early always is difficult, but if you’re leading the points, you can frame it in the proper perspective,” Beckman said. “When you’re 11th and trying to get into the Countdown, it’s a harder punch to the gut. I just know letting it affect our attitude won’t help us do any better. That being said, win lights make a big difference. Everybody is doing things the way they need to be doing them; it’s just not translating to the on-track performance we need.”
As always, fans will have the opportunity 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 unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds and enjoy cherished face time with and get autographs from 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.
The event will also feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, July 4, with sessions at 4:45 and 7:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, July 5, at 4:45 and 7:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. Sunday, July 6.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park, 419-668-5555, or visit www.summitmotorsportspark.com.