Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – CONCORD, NC – A strong start to Jack Beckman’s 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season includes the former Funny Car world champion winning in Gainesville, a runner-up at the four-wide event in Las Vegas, a No. 1 qualifier and the points lead through five events.
But it was the performance Beckman and his team had last weekend in Houston that gives the 27-time event winner even more confidence heading into this weekend’s NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway. Despite a number of issues throughout eliminations in Beckman’s 10,000-horsepower Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger R/T, the team advanced to the semifinals, letting the veteran know his team could be building something special in 2018.
“In Gainesville we definitely showed when the gremlins don’t bite us we have one of the best cars out there, but on Sunday (in Houston), we struggled mightily but still stretched our points lead,” Beckman said. “I think those are the type of weekends that help win championships, when things are not going the way you would like but you still salvage a good finish. I think Houston was an anomaly and we’ve got a solid gameplan heading into Charlotte.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Ron Capps (Funny Car), Chris McGaha (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of a race that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including a broadcast of the finals on Sunday, April 29 at 6:00 p.m. (ET). The fan-favorite race, which is one of the biggest spectacles in motorsports, is the sixth of 24 events during the 2018 NHRA season and has often been home to strong performances for Beckman.
He was the runner-up to Capps at the race last year and has two NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals wins to his credit (2015, 2011). Coupled with his runner-up to J.R. Todd earlier this month in the first four-wide race in Vegas, Beckman has proven to be up to the challenge that is four-wide racing. He enjoys the concept and the fanfare that zMAX Dragway first introduced in 2010, and it has frequently brought out the best in Beckman, the 2012 Funny Car world champ.
“I enjoy it because it takes us completely out of our element and it forces you to think about how to execute things properly,” Beckman said. “I have always taken the philosophy that my job is to adapt to whatever the schedule is, think about it and practice. I’m still very much a fan and when you see more people in the stands that means more people in the pits. That interaction with the fans in the pits, that makes a big difference and I really enjoy it.”
Beckman lauded the work of his team, led by crew chiefs John Medlen, Dean Antonelli and Neal Strasbaugh, who have provided a quick and consistent car competing against a star-studded Funny Car class that includes Todd, who has won back-to-back races, defending world champion Robert Hight, Phoenix winner Courtney Force and Don Schumacher Racing teammate Matt Hagan, who won in Pomona. Beckman stretched his lead over Hagan to 52 points with his gritty performance in Houston, but the goal is to continue to take advantage of opportunities Beckman hopes are there this weekend at zMAX Dragway.
“It’s important to not let opportunities get away and it’s obligatory when you do have the best car to park it in the winner’s circle,” Beckman said. “That means everybody is doing everything right, but that’s an incredibly difficult thing to do. Right now, we’ve got one of the more predictable and consistent cars, and because of that one of the quicker cars out there. I think we have an overall great package and we have to try to continue to capitalize on that.”
Defending Top Fuel event winner Steve Torrence has two wins in 2018, and shares the points lead with Tony Schumacher. Others to watch include Houston winner and defending world champion Brittany Force, three-time world champ Antron Brown, and Pomona winner Doug Kalitta.
Chris McGaha already has a 2018 win in Pro Stock, trailing points leader and defending champ Bo Butner. Others to watch include Vegas winner Vincent Nobile, Deric Kramer, and Greg Anderson.
LE Tonglet will look for another win at Pro Stock Motorcycle at zMAX Dragway, facing off with defending champ and Gainesville winner Eddie Krawiec, Hector Arana Jr., and Andrew Hines.
The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service makes the third of 12 stops in 2018 at zMAX Dragway. Mike Castellana is the defending winner in the Pro Mod class, which made its four-wide racing debut last year. The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport.
Those in attendance will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with a few of the most renowned names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This will feature meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals include Shirley Muldowney, Buddy Martin and Bobby Warren.
As always, fans can 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 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.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 4:00 and 6:30 p.m. on Friday, April 27 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, April 28, at 2:00 and 4:00 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 12 p.m. on Sunday, April 29.