NHRA: ‘Fast Jack’ Beckman ready to unleash thunder and lightning at Bristol

NHRA
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To paraphrase a line from one of Garth Brooks’ biggest hits, the thunder will roll this weekend and NHRA Funny Car driver Jack Beckman hopes lightning will strike for him.

The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series moves into Thunder Valley, otherwise known as Bristol Dragway in eastern Tennessee – across from its more well-known big brother, Bristol Motor Speedway – for this weekend’s NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.

And while each of the 11,000 horsepower motors in Funny Car and Top Fuel will make it seem like it’s thunder rolling down the track, Beckman wants to strike like lightning and earn not only his first win of 2019 but also his first win ever at Thunder Valley.

Funny Car driver Jack Beckman. Photo: NHRA.

It’s been an interesting year,” Beckman said in a NHRA media release. “At the beginning of the year, we had one of the best cars, but after Gainesville we had a little magic out of the car.

We stayed after Richmond and tested and Chicago was the first time I felt we were back. The car is listening and things are working well, and that’s going to pay off when we continue to go to these hot tracks. That test session and getting things turned around couldn’t have come at a better time.”

Indeed, Beckman’s performance in his Don Schumacher Racing Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat has increased sharply in the last two races. He reached the semifinals at Chicago (lost to Robert Hight) and again lost to Hight in the finals of this past Sunday’s race at Topeka, Kansas. It was Beckman’s second final round appearance of the season.

To come so close, it’s very clear he’s knocking on victory’s door. This weekend could be the day he finally kicks that door down and motors on into the winner’s circle.

A win puts everyone on the right track,” said Beckman, who is a two-time runner-up finisher at Bristol. “You can’t guarantee a win, but you have a better chance of winning if everyone is in a positive mood.

It helps to have some history with the team, especially when you make a mistake like I did in Chicago. But we’ve done some good things and they know I’ll get back on track. All of us are going to make mistakes, but being close and having history together, that helps. Overall, everyone is putting in a great effort.”

Beckman has one of the most colorful nicknames in the sport: “Fast Jack.” It’s served him well and is quite appropriate, as he won the Funny Car championship in 2012. He also previously shared the record with teammate Matt Hagan for fastest speed in Funny Car (335.57 mph), a mark that Hight broke this past weekend at Topeka at 337.66 mph.

While he’d love to have the speed mark back, a win is more important. And with the following race at Norwalk, Ohio in a couple weeks, where Beckman has the most wins (three) of any Funny Car driver there, the Southern California native could be peaking at just the right time.

A win puts everyone on the right track,” Beckman said. “You can’t guarantee a win, but you have a better chance of winning if everyone is in a positive mood. It helps to have some history with the team, especially when you make a mistake like I did in Chicago.

“But we’ve done some good things and they know I’ll get back on track. All of us are going to make mistakes, but being close and having history together, that helps. Overall, everyone is putting in a great effort.”

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Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
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More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”