When Jimmy Prock took over crew chief duties late last season for Jack Beckman’s 10,000-horsepower Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger R/T, Beckman admitted he could have felt considerable pressure by the move.
After all, Prock has been the crew chief for a number of legendary NHRA drivers, including 16-time world champion John Force. But instead of pressure, Beckman chose the alternative.
“The other side is I’m going to drive the baddest hot rod out there and win a whole bunch of races,” said Beckman, who won the opening leg of the NHRA’s Western Swing in Denver. “I decided to look at it that way and it’s a pleasure. We’re not going to win every race, but we have a car that can.”
Prock and Beckman have formed a terrific team, one that picked up its fourth win of the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season in Denver to move to second in the Funny Car points standings.
It’s the second win in three races for Beckman, the 2012 Funny Car world champion, and it also keeps Beckman’s dream alive to sweep the legendary Western Swing. Up next is this weekend’s NHRA Sonoma Nationals at scenic Sonoma Raceway.
Khalid alBalooshi (Top Fuel), Courtney Force (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are the defending winners of the event, which will be televised by ESPN2. It is the 15th of 24 events during a 2015 season that has seen an impressive resurgence from the talented Beckman.
After a disappointing 2014 that saw the team try just about everything to emerge from a slump, only to come away with no answers and no spot in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, Beckman has recovered impressively in 2015, trailing only Don Schumacher Racing teammate and reigning world champion Matt Hagan in the points standings. If anything, Beckman and his team simply continued to push forward, even if the 2015 season started with a fizzle in Pomona.
“Last year, we had all the right people and all the right parts, and I didn’t forget how to drive the car,” Beckman said. “We had good mechanics on the car, we just couldn’t get the results. The frustrating thing was there was no smoking gun. (This year), we go to Pomona and DNQ and leave 18th, and I was fine with it because I knew we were going to be OK this year. This is just the fruits.”
It’s all happened in a hurry as well following the slow start in Pomona. Beckman, who has 19 career wins, has steadily climbed up the standings since then, winning in Charlotte, Topeka, Norwalk and Denver. Beckman was especially impressive in Denver, knocking off No. 1 qualifier Force in the final round, adding to the ongoing rivalry between DSR and John Force Racing.
It was Beckman’s second final-round win against Force in 2015 and his finals win in Norwalk came against JFR’s Courtney Force, a far cry from the struggles that led to an 0-6 record a year ago against the JFR team.
“I have all the respect in the world for John Force,” said Beckman, who sits an impressive 11-0 versus Force teams this season. “From my seat, there’s an immense amount of respect there. But maybe because of that you want to beat him even more than an average Funny Car. So, for me, winning is its own reward and fuels its own desire, but when John Force is in the other lane it’s just a little more special.”
Beckman has also embraced working with the talented Prock as the team has made considerable steps all season, posting three-second runs on numerous occasions. But to keep his winning ways going in Sonoma, Beckman will have to fight off a host of stars that include teammates Hagan, Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr., as well as the JFR contingent of John Force, Courtney Force and Robert Hight. Other standouts in the loaded Funny Car class are Cruz Pedregon, Alexis DeJoria, Del Worsham, Tim Wilkerson and Tony Pedregon.
But Beckman is confident in his chances at every race, in part because of the brain trust around him. Beckman has also held up his end with solid reaction times and his usual strong driving, focusing on the fact that his team has to be consistent and, as he put it, “good all the time.”
“We know Jimmy’s capabilities and you know John Medlen’s reputation, and I hope (the Denver win) starts to put [assistant crew chief] Chris Cunningham on the map, too,” Beckman said. “I wish you could see the way they interact up there. Chris is so much more than an assistant up there. They’re all bouncing ideas and the harmony there is just perfect.”
In Top Fuel, Sonoma presents for a driver to set the stage for a championship run. Reigning world champion and current points leader Tony Schumacher (2007 and 2008), Larry Dixon (2008), Antron Brown (2012) and Shawn Langdon (2013) have all claimed victories at Sonoma during their championship seasons and all four are title contenders once again. Others to possibly add their name to that list include perennial title contender Doug Kalitta, a five-time Sonoma winner, Denver winner Steve Torrence and reigning Auto Club Road to the Future Award winner Richie Crampton, who has three wins this season at the controls of his Lucas Oil dragster.
In Pro Stock, Line’s win over V Gaines last season set the stage for an epic championship rivalry between the two-time world champ and Enders, who claimed her first world title in 2014. Line will be looking to tie teammate Greg Anderson, who has four wins and the points lead in 2015, for the most Pro Stock wins at Sonoma with four. Enders, 2012 world champ Allen Johnson, Denver winner Larry Morgan, Chris McGaha and rookie Drew Skillman all figure to be drivers to watch in the 200-mph factory hot rod category.
The Pro Stock Motorcycle world championship came down to Krawiec, who posted his first win of the season in Denver, and eventual world champ and teammate Andrew Hines. Teammate Hines, perennial contender and 2013 race winner Hector Arana Jr., who won in Chicago, Englishtown winner Jerry Savoie, two-time season winner Karen Stoffer, Matt Smith, and Hector Arana are all among the pre-race favorites in the two-wheel class at Sonoma.
Sonoma Raceway will also host the NHRA Pro Bike Battle, a specialty bonus event for the Pro Stock Motorcycle category. The event will take place on Saturday, Aug. 1 and feature eight riders vying for the top prize. Pro Stock Motorcycle riders began earning points for the event at last year’s NHRA Sonoma Nationals.
The NHRA Sonoma Nationals also will feature thrilling side-by-side competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.
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 get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying begins Friday, July 31, with sessions at 4:15 and 6:45 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, Aug. 1, at 1:10 and 4:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 2. The NHRA Pro Bike Battle will take place on Saturday, Aug. 1 with rounds at 1, 3 and 4:55 p.m.
To purchase tickets, call 800-870-RACE (7223) or visit www.racesonoma.com/tickets.