A first-round loss to open the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship hasn’t changed Jack Beckman’s mindset heading into this weekend’s 33rd annual Dodge NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.
The sense of urgency and goal of winning is always the same for the former Funny Car world champion. But the veteran also knows he can’t have a repeat of what happened in Charlotte if he wants to remain in contention for another NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world title in his 10,000-horsepower Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger R/T.
“We were on our first drive and we fumbled the ball,” said Beckman, who fell to seventh in Funny Car points. “We can’t do what we just did (in Charlotte). We can’t afford to do that anymore. We have to be realistic about this. It takes 12-15 round wins (in the Countdown) to be a bonafide championship contender. For us, that means on average we have to make the finals every race. It’s a pretty tall order, however, if we go win at Maple Grove, and (Robert) Hight and (Ron) Capps go out early, we’re back in it. We just can’t have them put any more daylight on us.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car), Vincent Nobile (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live final eliminations coverage starting at 2 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Sept. 24. It is the second of three straight races to open the Countdown to the Championship and Beckman called the stop at Maple Grove Raceway a pivotal one for his talented team.
Despite strong runs in qualifying and ending up fourth, things in Charlotte went awry in the first round eliminations against Jim Campbell. It wasn’t the opener Beckman wanted, especially after a season that included two wins, four final rounds and a semifinal showing in Indy that put him fourth heading into the NHRA’s six-race playoffs. The good news is Beckman doesn’t have to wait long to rectify matters, and he’s confident his team can perform well at the Dodge NHRA Nationals.
“What I want is to go out there right off the trailer, get down the track and start getting those bonus points,” said Beckman, who has 26 career wins. “From a mental standpoint, that would be a big deal. It’s very fair to say the wind was sucked out of 11 guys after Charlotte. It’s demoralizing to go out and not come out with the win light. We need a strong start for our own psyche and for our own points. It’s pivotal for the Infinite Hero team to do well (this weekend).”
Hight took over the points lead with his Charlotte win and he currently has a 102-point advantage on Beckman. Capps is 44 points back of Hight, while Courtney Force, Johnson, J.R. Todd and Matt Hagan all sit ahead of Beckman entering this weekend. That makes for a daunting task, but Beckman, a two-time winner at Maple Grove Raceway, is looking forward to the challenge.
“If you approach things with a clear mind and a calm mindset, it usually yields the best results,” Beckman said. “Theoretically these races are more important, but if you tell yourself they’re more important, it adds more undue pressure. If the current forecast holds, it could be a fairly warm race so I don’t know if you get traditional Maple Grove Raceway conditions, which is unbelievably quick. I think we do fairly well on warm racetracks and this could be a different Maple Grove.”
Back-to-back Top Fuel world champ Brown looks to rebound after an early Charlotte loss, chasing seven-time 2017 winner Steve Torrence and Doug Kalitta, the Charlotte winner and points leader.
Everyone is chasing red-hot rookie Tanner Gray in Pro Stock, who took the points lead with his Charlotte win to open the Countdown to the Championship.
Reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle winner Krawiec has all the momentum after back-to-back wins, including the playoff opener to take the points lead from LE Tonglet, who has five wins in 2017.
The event features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. After Nitro qualifying, fans can watch the spectacular Hanna Motorsports First Strike and Top Secret Eastern Raider Jet Funny Cars. They are thrust driven propelled by jet engines with pre-run flame shows.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 1:45 and 4:15 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 22, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Sept. 23, at 12:45 and 3:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 12 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 24.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, call 610-856-9200. Tickets also are available online at www.maplegroveraceway.com. 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.