JOLIET, Illinois – When it comes to special occasions, NHRA Funny Car driver “Fast Jack” Beckman likes to rise to the occasion.
Beckman (3.955 seconds at 324.05 mph) won his first race of 2016 Sunday, defeating Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps (4.522 seconds at 194.74 mph) in the K&N Filters Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Route 66 Raceway.
But it was more than just Beckman’s 23rd career Funny Car win. It was the 800th Funny Car win in NHRA history – not coincidentally in the 50th season of Funny Car competition, too.
Beckman also captured the 700th win in NHRA Funny Car annals, as well. In addition, crew chief Jimmy Prock tuned Gary Densham to the 500th Funny Car win, turned the wrenches for Robert Hight to the 600th win and now tuned Beckman to the 800th win.
“Those are some pretty cool stats,” Beckman said.
What hasn’t been cool, though, is that prior to Sunday, Beckman has struggled to reach victory lane this year.
“I haven’t seen the winner’s circle since (last fall),” Beckman said. “Even though we had been to three final rounds this year, we really didn’t have our car.
“We never made it more than 200 feet in any of those prior rounds and we were struggling. We set the national record earlier this year, qualified No. 1 four times, but we just couldn’t put it together.”
Even though it was Beckman’s first Funny Car win of 2016, it only adds to the bigger picture of Don Schumacher Racing in 2016. It’s the seventh Funny Car win of the season for DSR in the first 13 races, including four by Capps.
Speaking of Capps, even though his red-hot ways of late were cooled off, he still made a noteworthy achievement, scoring his 600th round win in career NHRA competition.
“With the new Charger bodies, the windshield is much further back and we can see out the sides a lot more, which isn’t always a good thing,” Beckman said. “I saw a whole lot of NAPA front fender out there (Capps’ car) and I went ‘Oh’, and when I got to ‘no,’ it disappeared.
“When a car disappears out of your peripheral vision that fast, it usually means they’ve smoked the tires and you know that unless you have a huge problem, there’s no way they’re getting around you. It was a great feeling watching that win light come on.”
Now that he’s broken his winless streak, Beckman is feeling more confident – but he’s also still a bit cautious not to get overconfident.
“This doesn’t mean we’re going to be dominant come next race,” Beckman said. “But what it means is I feel a lot more confident when we tow into the gates that we can make more consistent runs.
“And once you make more consistent runs, you can turn the wick up and make quick runs.”
When NBCSports.com asked Beckman if “Fast Jack” is back, he said with a smile, “Remains to be seen – but I think so.”
Here’s some of the highlights of the first three rounds of eliminations:
* 16-time Funny Car champion John Force (4.007 seconds/319.82 mph) was an uncharacteristic first round loser, falling to Capps (3.927/323.12).
* Also a surprising first round loser was Tim Wilkerson (11.327 seconds, 75.19), who fell to Bob Tasca III (3.990/316.23).
* Defending 2015 NHRA Funny Car champion Del Worsham (4.566/184.85) lost in the first round to Courtney Force (3.955/317.87). Force (6.319/102.93), in turn, lost in the quarterfinals to Jack Beckman (3.939/325.92). Then in the semifinals, Beckman (3.923/325.06) knocked out the last remaining John Force Racing car, that of Robert Hight (3.970/323.12).
* Cruz Pedregon (6.201/105.73) was a first-round loser to Hight (4.016/317.34). Hight (3.917/328.06) then took out Alexis DeJoria (3.967/319.07) in the quarterfinals before losing to Beckman in the semis.
* After getting through the first two rounds, Matt Hagan (10.888/77.35) got through the first two rounds, but fell to Capps (4.003/314.02) in the semifinals.
The NHRA enjoys next weekend off before returning to action July 22-24 with the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway near Denver, Colorado.