Jack Beckman is as big a drag racing history buff as you’ll ever meet among drivers currently behind the wheel, so his win at the 49th edition of the historic Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals was a special one and came wrapped in an historical bow to boot.
“The Gatornationals came on the schedule in 1970 when NHRA went from four races to seven,” he said. “That was the Super Season, the first year they crowned a Funny Car champion. 1970 was a big year for our sport, and [the Gatornationals have] been at this track ever since then, and I’ve never gotten close.
“It was such a bucket list thing,” said Beckman, who had never reached the final round of the event despite appearing in 53 previous Funny Car finals.
Beckman defeated Jim Campbell, Del Worsham, and Shawn Langdon before besting his DSR teammate, Matt Hagan, in the final round. The 1970 final round was also an all-team affair –- the first in the sport’s history –- when Leonard Hughes defeated Larry Reyes in an all-Candies & Hughes team final.
Beckman’s dominating victory from the No. 1 spot also was historic as it marked the first time in Funny Car history that the No. 1 qualifier has won each of the first three races of the season. The last time was in 1977, when Funny Car legend Don “the Snake” Prudhomme and Gordie Bonin both won from the pole to start the season. Hagan (Pomona) and Courtney Force (Phoenix) won from the No. 1 spot to start the season.
Sunday’s victory was also a sentimental for Beckman and the team of Terry and Doug Chandler’s Infinite Hero Foundation Funny Car.
“I flew in a day earlier, and on Thursday I went to the Hall of Fame [dinner]. I got to present Johnny Gray with the Pat Garlits award in honor of Terry Chandler, whose name is still on the side of our car and is the one who made all of this possible,” said Beckman. “There are 21 of us who have jobs today because of Terry Chandler and how big her heart was, and now her husband Doug wants to carry it on. He’s loving it because he knows Terry is looking down and saying, ‘Alright -- my boys did it.’ ”