From his seventh-seed position, Jack Beckman drove his Infinite Hero Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat through the eliminations ladder and to a coveted win at arguably the most famous and prestigious drag race in the world, the 66th annual National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis.
Beckman and his crew’s consistent efforts this season and throughout the weekend afforded them a chance to advance to a fourth final round appearance in six events thus far this year. The veteran Funny Car driver began his charge through the field with a solid 3.909-second elapsed time to run to defeat Cruz Pedregon. He added a clean pass for a quarterfinal win over DSR teammate Ron Capps before deposing Tim Wilkerson with a holeshot win in the semifinals. For the final elimination round, Beckman staged his Mopar machine next to J.R. Todd then took it straight down the track for a 3.908-second winning effort to beat his opponent’s 3.960-second pass.
The win propelled Beckman back atop the NHRA Funny Car world championship leaderboard with just five races left on the 2020 calendar. With his second victory of the year, Beckman also captured a second national event title at the historic race affectionately known to drag racing fans as “the Big Go” to accompany the one he earned in 2015.
“This is my second U.S. Nationals Funny Car title and I don’t know if we can ever top your first win but today we showed that we can kill it with consistency, we can have issues and rally back,” said the 2012 Funny Car world champion. “The crew chiefs made great decisions and the crew guys found a couple of anomalies in the pants and jumped right on it. Nobody panicked and we made this car go down the track all four times today. We learned this trophy. We are back in the Funny Car points lead. That’s for final rounds this year. It has been a crazy 2020, but I’m thinking we can get a couple more of these with our Dodge Charger.”
Beckman was one of three DSR drivers to contend for wins in final round appearances in three different classes on Sunday. The second driver in DSR’s stable with the chance to add more U.S. Nationals hardware to the team’s trophy case was Top Fuel pilot Leah Pruett who drove her fierce new-look Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye dragster from the No. 6 spot to her first final elimination round appearance at the famed event.
To get there, Pruett powered her way past Terry McMillen in the opening round to meet DSR teammate Tony Schumacher in the quarterfinals. Lady luck played a part in providing her an opportunity to advance as Schumacher dropped a cylinder early in his run while Pruett’s dragster smoked the tires, requiring some pedaling to get back on track and across the finish line to move on to the semifinals against Steve Torrence.
Pruett’s 0.053-second reaction time against her opponent’s 0.093, gave her the edge she needed to turn on the win lights with a 3.743 sec /322.34 mph pass to Torrence’s quickest run of the event at 3.724/325.14 capturing the holeshot win with a margin of victory of 0.0215-seconds.
Pruett then faced Shawn Langdon for the first time in a final round match-up but saw her opportunity to battle for the win go up in tire smoke at half-track, settling for a runner-up finish. As a consolation prize, her efforts this weekend moved her into second place in Top Fuel Championship standings.
“This Big Go did not disappoint on the intensity meter from needing to make a good lap in Q4 just to make the show to throwing down a .70 in the first round against Terry (McMillen) who brought a .72. Those are the conditions we love to flourish in,” said Pruett. “After the second round they moved up the session 35 minutes and in one of the most impressive moments was the preparation for the semifinal round. To see this Dodge SRT team stay cool and calm and deliver what we did in the semis makes me very proud. We fed off of that and tried to duplicate that for the final and had clutch wear issues. Leaving here second in points is incredible. The team faced a lot of challenges today mechanically, mentally, and time-wise and we are going to take this as a building block for Gainesville.”
The third DSR contender for a win was in the Factory Stock Showdown (FSS) category, as No. 2 qualifier Mark Pawuk strung together a solid series of sub-eight second passes aboard his Empaco Equipment Mopar Drag Pak through each round of eliminations including his final round battle against Aaron Stanfield.
While Pawuk had the starting line advantage and posted a 7.979 sec./172.83 mph pass, it wasn’t enough to beat the winning 7.918/172.98 run by Stanfield. This was Pawuk’s third FSS runner-up performance at the U.S. Nationals with a previous one coming against his Mopar Drag Pak teammate Pruett who went home with that 2018 FSS national title win.
Pruett, for her part, was seeded sixth for this year’s opening round of FSS eliminations but after winning that first outing, she was on the losing end of the sprint to the finish against Jesse Alexandra in her second-round match-up.
The rest of the DSR Funny Car lineup found themselves looking forward to the next stop on the NHRA circuit after seeing their day prematurely shortened. Matt Hagan moved past Paul Lee, to take a holeshot victory over Bob Tasca III by posting a 3.939 E.T. behind the wheel of his red-hot Hellcat Redeye versus his adversary’s 3.940. His side-by-side semifinal battle with J.R. Todd, ended with a loss of grip late in his run to allow Todd to move on. The result, however, moved Hagan into second place in the points behind his DSR teammate and event winner, Beckman.
Still riding the momentum of his win at the Dodge NHRA Indy Nationals at the previous event, Ron Capps drove his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat to a provisional No.1 qualifier run on Friday and into race day as the No. 2 seed. With a record of 38-4 in an opening-round when qualified second, Capps came out firing on all cylinders and advanced easily with a 3.924 E.T. at 328.06 mph to defeat Jim Campbell and move on to face Beckman in the quarterfinals. Following identical reaction times of 0.067, Capps took the lead early, but lost traction at the 300-foot mark and eventually ceded the run to his DSR teammate.
The Funny Car points leader heading into race day and No.1 qualifier for a third time this season, Tommy Johnson Jr., took the early lead with the Riley Kids Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat in the first round against No. 16 qualifier Dale Creasy, but when his DSR machine suddenly quit on the final approach to the finish, the result was an upset. Johnson crossed the stripe to register a 0.065-sec. reaction time, and 4.011 sec./276.58 mph just behind Creasy’s 0.062-sec reaction / 4.009 sec./315.64 mph winning effort and now sits third in the points standings behind his DSR teammates, Beckman and Hagan.
Five national events now remain on the revamped 2020 NHRA schedule with the next stop set for Gainesville, Fla., from Sept. 25th to 27th for the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals.