The thrill of victory has been within his grasp several times in 2019, but Sunday in the final of the 35th annual Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, Jack Beckman seized the opportunity and registered his first Funny Car class victory of the season.
Two weeks after coming up agonizingly close to victory in the final regular-season event at Indianapolis, Beckman and his Mopar-powered Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Car of Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) were not going to be denied in the first of six Countdown to the Championship playoff races. Beckman defeated John Force in the final, capturing his 29th career victory and third career win at Maple Grove Raceway. With the win, Beckman quickly jumped to the top spot in the Countdown standings.
“Winning this one is extra special for a few reasons because we did it in the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals,” said Beckman. “It’s our first win in the Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT body. We took over the points lead, and it’s been way too long since we’ve been to the winner’s circle. For a shot in the arm, for a psychological boost, for that mental edge, that intangible that I think you need to be able to win a championship, this might be the thing that is the first step for us.”
Beckman’s path to victory today started from the third qualifying position following consistent runs in sessions two, three and four, late Friday and Saturday afternoon. The 2012 Funny Car champion first defeated fellow Dodge//SRT driver Jim Campbell. Beckman then squared off with former champion Robert Hight, who led the Funny Car class point standings coming into the weekend, in round two. Beckman delivered another solid win from the left lane while Hight smoked the tires at the starting line. In the semifinal, the results were the same with Beckman charging his HEMI-powered machine cleanly down the left lane while his opponent, J.R. Todd lost traction and coasted to the finish.
In his 62nd career Funny Car final and eighth final-round appearance against Force, Beckman wasted little time by rolling in quickly and using his quick reflexes to post a .028 reaction time versus a .068 light for Force. Beckman’s fast start was the difference with his run of 3.958 seconds at 330.07 mph turning on the win light over Force’s slightly better run of 3.952 seconds at 328.78 mph, giving Beckman the holeshot victory and his first piloting a Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT.
Beckman’s appearance in the final marked the eighth consecutive race that a Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Car has competed for the class win; with four of the eight appearances resulting in wins for a DSR driver. A Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Car has also appeared in 15 of 19 final rounds in 2019.
Five other Dodge//SRT Mopar drivers were part of Sunday’s Funny Car eliminations including DSR teammates Matt Hagan, Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson, Jr. Leah Pritchett carried the Dodge//SRT Mopar torch in the Top Fuel class.
Capps opened his run for a second NHRA Funny Car championship by establishing a new track record for elapsed time and speed Friday night in qualifying behind the wheel of his NAPA Filters Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Car. In eliminations, he stormed out of the gate with a run of 3.909 seconds to defeat Funny Car rookie Mike McIntire Jr., who smoked the tires during his run. It was a heavyweight DSR slugfest in round two with Capps and Hagan going to toe-to-toe. Capps was flawless again charging down the right lane with a 3.916-second run to advance to the semifinals to face Force. After a sizeable starting-line advantage, Capps’ machine lost traction causing him to lose any shot at the win.
Hagan ventured to Maple Grove Raceway eyeing a deep run to begin his 2019 Countdown to the Championship. The 2014 Reading winner opened eliminations Sunday in his Mopar Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Widebody Funny Car versus fellow Countdown contender, Shawn Langdon, and it was clear Hagan’s crew chief Dickie Venables knew the importance of a strong first-round run. The result was Hagan’s machine making a 3.899-second pass, which held up to be low E.T. of the round and race day.
The two-time Funny Car champion matched up with fellow Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Car and DSR teammate Capps in the second round. The crucial second-round race was over quickly when Hagan smoked the rear tires as soon as he launched the car. He tried to pedal it, but Capps’ clean run ended Hagan’s shot at a fifth straight semifinal appearance.
After qualifying his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Funny Car in seventh, Johnson’s first-round opponent was reigning Funny Car champion J.R. Todd. Johnson took a slight advantage at the starting line, but slowly lost ground during the race to the finish. Todd’s quicker run of 3.915 seconds at 329.58 mph was just enough to defeat Johnson, who posted a pass of 3.977 at 327.66 mph. The first-round loss dropped Johnson to fifth in the standings heading to the next race in St. Louis.
After closing out qualifying with three consecutive strong runs, Pritchett started her eliminations with another consistent run in the Mopar Dodge//SRT Top Fuel Dragster to score the opening-round triumph over Lex Joon with a pass of 3.731 seconds at 326.40 mph. In the quarterfinals, she took on Austin Prock for the fourth time in 2019. Pritchett was looking to make it consecutive wins over the rookie driver and she launched from the starting line first. Both Top Fuel Dragsters lost traction near the 150-foot mark and the pedal fest began. Pritchett got back in the throttle twice, ultimately resulting in the burst panels blowing out, activating the mandated NHRA safety mechanisms which included deploying the parachutes ending her chances of catching Prock. Pritchett heads to the second Countdown event in St. Louis holding the eighth position in the championship standings.
2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series: After 19 of 24 Rounds
(Season Wins in Parentheses)
NHRA Funny Car Point Standings:
1. Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT (1) – 2,179
2. John Force (2) – 2,160
3. Robert Hight (5) – 2,155
4. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT (3) – 2,136
5. Tommy Johnson, Jr. Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT (2) – 2,105
6. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger SRT HELLCAT Widebody (2) – 2,092
7. J.R. Todd (1) – 2,089
8. Bob Tasca III (2) – 2,072
9. Tim Wilkerson – 2,057
10. Shawn Langdon (1) – 2,043
NHRA Top Fuel Point Standings:
1. Doug Kalitta (2) – 2,180
2. Brittany Force (1) – 2,147
3. Steve Torrence (8) – 2,133
4. Antron Brown – 2,127
5. Richie Crampton (2) – 2,126
6. Mike Salinas (2) – 2,104
7. Austin Prock (1) – 2,094
8. Leah Pritchett, Mopar (1) – 2,093
9. Clay Millican – 2,092
10. Billy Torrence (1) – 2,032
The playoff intensity continues in two weeks with the eighth annual AAA Insurance Midwest NHRA Nationals at Worldwide Technology Raceway, in Madison, Illinois. Beckman, a two-time St. Louis winner, leads the contingent of Dodge//SRT Mopar drivers and teams into the second of the six-race NHRA Countdown for the Championship takes place September 27th to 29th.