Beckman Wins Phoenix

CHANDLER, Ariz. (Feb. 24, 2008) – Piloting the Valvoline/Mail Terminal Services Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car, Jack Beckman captured his first Funny Car victory of the season today, the fourth of his career, and propelled himself into the No. 2 spot in the 2008 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car point standings.

This was Beckman’s sixth appearance in a final round since he joined Don Schumacher Racing for the last five races of 2006, and he now can boast a 2-0 round win record over his final-round opponent today, Robert Hight.

En route to the final, Beckman, suffering from the flu this weekend, posted three of four straight passes, winning first against John Force Racing driver Mike Neff with a 4.874-second elapsed time at 318.02 mph, then defeating his DSR teammate Gary Scelzi in the second round with another stout 4.884/320.20.

His only slip was in the semifinal against Jim Head, where he slowed to a 5.612/191.35 but still claimed the win. Co-crew chief Rick Cassel (with Tommy DeLago) attributed that blip to a “tuning error,” which was duly undone for the final round.

The final match-up saw the popular cancer survivor face off against Pomona winner Robert Hight, also from the John Force Racing stable. Hight had the edge at the starting lights, a .066 reaction time (.000 is perfect) to Beckman’s .090, but it was Beckman straight as an arrow and first at the finish line with another stellar 4.868/320.20 pass. Hight lost traction early, reaching the stripe in 8.030 seconds at 105.28 mph.

For the all-new Valvoline/MTS crew, assembled just weeks ago, this was a stunning victory.

“I went through chemotherapy,” said Beckman of his illness, “so I get a flu shot now every year, but I guess the flu this year is immune to that shot. I’m living proof. We drove the motor home out here (from North Hills, Calif.) and I had to make an appearance on Wednesday. You get up in the morning and you just feel like hell. I’m thinking it will go away tomorrow and it didn’t. And you look at the back of the cold medicine and it says ‘do not operate heavy machinery.’ I don’t know if that counts as a Nitro Funny Car. I didn’t want to take anything, but after the second round I finally had to take some Tylenol. It was just getting hot in that thing. I’m glad it wasn’t a 95-degree day in the summer. We would have been in big trouble.

“Your head’s kind of fuzzy all day long and we went out there and won the semis and I told (announcer) Alan Reinhart at the top end, Ooh, great, we’re going to the semifinal. I couldn’t even keep track of winning two or three rounds there. And it’s a little bit surreal because of that, but more so because of what the crew was able to pull off on this deal.

“In the off season Jerry Toliver came on board as another Schumacher car and basically the Valvoline/MTS car started from scratch. We had an empty trailer, bare chassis and a crew that had never worked together as a group of nine. And they assembled everything, ordered new tools for it, re-stocked the trailer, put new motors together, so they hadn’t torn a car apart as a team until we came here for the test session, and I think it was nice to get 12 runs here in the test session. My God, are they jelling now. Two races into it we’ve already gotten to the winner’s circle.”

As for the rest of the season, “I don’t think there’s a Funny Car driver or team owner here that would get arrogant or try to make any predictions for this year,” Beckman said. “It’s going to be a dog fight all year long. You’ve got 21 teams showing up for most of the races. Everybody who qualifies is tough. Look at us, we squeaked in in the 15th spot and had a good car on race day. If you can get in, you can win. And I just think this year you’re going to see a whole lot of big names on the DNQ list, and we’re gong to start sharing the wins amongst all the teams here.

“It’s just so gratifying for Valvoline and MTS to do this. Valvoline is with us not just as a sponsor. They’re working with us as a technical partner, so what we’re doing is trying to blow the motor up, and what they’re doing is reformulating the oil to try to keep it running on all eight cylinders. And we were OK, we kept it all in the crankcase this weekend. That’s good.”

Co-crew chief Cassel was almost at a loss for words. “It’s unexplainable,” he said. “We put this whole thing together about six weeks ago, with a whole new crew, and everything new. We’re all just kind of surprised it’s fallen together this quick, but we’re happy. Jack is doing a great job.”

Proud team owner Don Schumacher was short and to the point: “A great job by the group!”

Next up is the 39th annual NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., March 13-16.

FUNNY CAR POINT STANDINGS, after two events:
1. Robert Hight, 189 (runner-up today)
2. Jack Beckman, 162 (winner today)
3. Cruz Pedregon, 147
4. John Force, 110
5. Gary Scelzi, 104
6. Scott Kalitta, 86
7. Tommy Johnson Jr., 85
8. Gary Densham, 84
Ashley Force, 84
10. Bob Bode, 83

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