(Photos courtesy NHRA)

2016 NHRA season in review: Funny Car driver ‘Fast Jack’ Beckman

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MotorSportsTalk continues its season-ending reviews of the top drivers of the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

From Dec. 12 through Jan. 4, we’ll feature one daily in-depth review of a driver that finished in the top-five in each of the four professional classes (Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle), as well as a compendium of select other drivers that did not finish in the top-five.

The list of drivers we’ve already posted is below. Today, we feature Funny Car driver Jack Beckman:

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2016_Jack_Beckman

Driver: Jack Beckman

Age: 50

Hometown: Norco, California

Team: Don Schumacher Racing

Sponsor/car: Infinite Hero Dodge Charger

Crew chief: Jimmy Prock

2016 season finish: Fifth in Funny Car.

2016 season statistics: 24 races, 2 wins, 3 runner-up, 4 semifinals, 10 quarterfinals. No. 1 qualifier 6 times. Round-by-round record: 35 wins, 22 losses.

Career statistics: 252 races, 24 wins, 25 runner-up, 45 semifinals, 73 quarterfinals. No. 1 qualifier 21 times. Round-by-round record: 332 wins, 221 losses. 7 DNQ. Won the 2012 NHRA Funny Car championship.

What went right in 2016: Beckman was one of the more consistent drivers in Funny Car, reaching the quarterfinals or higher in 19 of the season’s 24 races. … Lived up to his colorful nickname of “Fast Jack” by exceeding 330 mph several times during the course of the season. … Was one of the most consistent qualifiers with 19 times qualifying sixth or better, including six No. 1 qualifier positions.

What went wrong in 2016: If there was any part of the schedule that Beckman would like to have back, it’s the six-race stretch from Denver through the start of the Countdown to the Championship in Charlotte. After winning at Chicago, Beckman suffered first-round exits at Denver, Indianapolis and Charlotte, and quarterfinal exits at Sonoma, Seattle and Brainerd. Ironically, he then came back to win the race after Charlotte – at St. Louis. … But then he suffered quarterfinal losses in two of the four remaining Countdown races, dropping him from a potential contender to an ultimate fifth-place finish.

What to look for in 2017: Rumors continue to fly that crew chief Jimmy Prock will return to John Force Racing, which if true means Beckman will have to find a new crew chief for 2017. … Beckman is one of the toughest competitors in Funny Car. The biggest key will be to get off to a strong start in the first six races (from the season opener at Pomona through Houston). In that same stretch in 2016, Beckman quickly fell behind and dropped to seventh in the standings before bouncing back to second after reaching the finals four times in the following seven races (1 win, 3 runner-up finishes). If he can get off to a stronger start in 2017, it could set the tone for the remainder of the season.

Season reviews already posted:

— Antron Brown (12/12)

— Ron Capps (12/13)

— Jason Line (12/14)

Jerry Savoie (12/15)

Doug Kalitta (12/16)

Tommy Johnson Jr. (12/17)

Greg Anderson (12/18)

Eddie Krawiec (12/19)

Steve Torrence (12/20)

— Matt Hagan (12/21)

— Shane Gray (12/22)

— Andrew Hines (12/23)

— J.R. Todd (12/24)

— John Force (12/25)

— Bo Butner (12/26)

— Angelle Sampey (12/27)

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Rahal determined to regain winning touch in 2019 IndyCar season

Photo by Shawn Gritzmacher, INDYCAR
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AUSTIN, Texas – Graham Rahal entered the room with a smile on his face and a chip on his shoulder.

It was IndyCar “Media Day” and Rahal wasn’t happy with the way last season went at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He was less happy with the fact some aren’t considering him a serious threat in 2019. He playfully chided with one media outlet for failing to mention his team as one to watch in 2019.

“We use that as motivation to show everybody how we are viewed,” Rahal said. “We are here to win.”

Rahal just turned 30 in January but is entering his 13thseason in big-time Indy car racing. He entered the 2007 Champ Car Series season when he was just 17. He missed his high school prom because he was racing at Houston.

“That was the luckiest day of my life,” Rahal said. “I didn’t have to go to the prom. It doesn’t get any better than that.

“Plus, I got my second career podium that weekend.”

Rahal drove to victory in his very first race in the combined IndyCar Series in the 2008 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He was hailed as the “Poster Boy of Unification” and a future star. What followed was a seven-year drought before he captured his second-career win in a thrilling race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

He won two races in 2015, one in 2016 and two in 2017. He was expected to contend for victories and possibly the championship last year but struggled through a disappointing season and finished eighth in the standings.

“I’m looking forward for chance this year,” Rahal said. “Last year was a tough one for me and for the team. I’m looking forward to what my new engineer, Allen McDonald, has done so far. He is an accomplished engineer and brings a different mindset to our program this year from what we had last year. He and (fellow engineer) Eddie Jones are very close friends and that will help us from the standpoint they are on the same page.

“We needed a bit of life brought back to the team.”

Rahal believes his challenges are to get everything in order before the season starts. The team has defined the areas where it was lacking in 2019. The team needed to improve in research and development after starting behind last season.

“I’m excited for what I see, and I know in the end it will all pay off,” Rahal said. “It’s just a matter of when.

“There is a lot to be excited about for us. We are in a great position as a team. We have great sponsorship and that will allow us to push forward and do the things we need to do.”

Rahal believes at 30, he has a long time ahead of him to win races and championships and maybe even the Indianapolis 500. In order to reach those goals, however, Rahal’s team needs to regain the competitive level he displayed prior to last year.

“We’ve been fortunate to win six times,” Rahal said. “A lot of people come into this sport and never win. I fully recognize there is no reason we can’t win a lot. I don’t care what anybody writes, what anybody thinks – I really feel that when it comes to race day, we perform better than 99 percent of the other people out there.

“As a team and for myself, we have to qualify better. If we can qualify better, we’ll be a thorn in everybody’s side. We know the rear of our cars just aren’t good enough. When we need to find that extra tenth or two, it’s just not there but absolutely, we want to win.

“I don’t come here year after year to just drive around. Our sponsors don’t invest in us year after year to not see us win. We feel that. But our cars aren’t good enough and we know that.”

Rahal believes the team has identified the problems with the setup of its car. It has a deep engineering staff but hasn’t had a chance to develop the damper program and other important areas that provide a competition setup.

Takuma Sato, the winner of the 101stIndianapolis 500 when he was with Andretti Autosport, scored the team’s only victory in 2018 with a win in the Portland Grand Prix. The two are back this year and have built a respect for each other.

“He’s a good guy,” Rahal said of Sato. “Other than Helio Castroneves, Takuma is probably the happiest man on the planet. He’s a great guy and fits in well with our organization. We pride ourselves on being a family and he fits in extremely well to that.

“We need to do a better job for him as a team. He won a race last year, but we can both do better to win with both cars.

“The Andretti cars are the best right now and the Penske cars will be good. We have a lot of space to close up on those two teams but hopefully, we can do it.”