Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – GAINESVILLE, FL – Jack Beckman is proud of the fact he was able to win for the first time in his Funny Car career at Gainesville Raceway a year ago. But the former world champion is now eager for a second straight win, especially considering the magnitude of this weekend’s massive 50th annual AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals.
The 50th anniversary celebration of one of NHRA’s biggest races isn’t lost on Beckman, who remains a huge fan of the history of the sport. But the Funny Car standout has a chance to make his own indelible mark in the history books in his 10,000-horsepower Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, trying to make history during an incredible weekend that includes the pinnacle of the NHRA Legends Tour and the “Unfinished Business” showdown with eight legendary NHRA drivers in a head-to-head competition.
“I’d rather be the guy who also won back-to-back Gators and the 50th than the guy who won the 49th,” said Beckman, who is currently third in the Funny Car points standings. “I’ve won some great events, but I’ve never won one of those special anniversary Wally (trophies). There is not a single one of my national event trophies that wasn’t a big deal, but to win the 50th Gatornationals and get that anniversary trophy, that would be special.”
Richie Crampton (Top Fuel), Beckman (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the must-see event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including finals coverage on Sunday, March 17 at 7:30 p.m. (ET). It is the third of 24 races in 2019 and the legendary weekend provides a number of can’t miss moments. More than 20 NHRA Legends will be on hand, while legendary drivers while Don Garlits, Don Prudhomme, Shirley Muldowney, Ed McCulloch, Warren Johnson, Joe Amato, Kenny Bernstein and Terry Vance will compete in the “Unfinished Business” race to help make it an unforgettable weekend.
Beckman is anxious to experience all of that, but his clear focus will be on trying to win the historic event and grab his first win of 2019. He has been close this year, advancing to the final round in Pomona, but an early-season win of this magnitude would go a long way in building his Don Schumacher Racing team’s championship aspirations.
“I’m really, really good at enjoying the moment and when it’s time to be a fan, I’m a great fan,” Beckman said. “But on Friday when it’s time to put my racer face on, that’s the only thing on my mind. Driving the car is something I want to shine at. I don’t think I’ve driven to my potential yet this year. I think I’ve done okay, but I know I can do better.”
Having it come together in Gainesville would be ideal timing for Beckman, but a second straight Gatornationals win won’t be easy. Robert Hight won in Pomona and has the points lead, and the class also includes stars like J.R. Todd, the defending world champ, John Force, Bob Tasca and DSR teammates Ron Capps, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Matt Hagan, who won in Phoenix. But Beckman will be energized by the special moments this weekend and he plans to take advantage.
“At Gainesville, you can just picture going to the track and know the stands are packed,” said Beckman, who has 28 career Funny Car wins. “When you push around to the burnout box and have the body propped up and line up behind the waterbox, you can look to you left and right and it’s packed from starting line to finish line. That’s a pretty special feeling and I’m excited to be part of it this weekend.”
Richie Crampton will look for back-to-back Top Fuel wins in a class that features standouts like defending champ Steve Torrence, Brittany Force and Antron Brown.
Bo Butner started his Pro Stock year on a strong note with a win in Pomona and the points leader will face off with Phoenix winner Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Jason Line.
Pro Stock Motorcycle makes its annual debut at Gainesville, as defending world champ Matt Smith will look to keep Eddie Krawiec from his fourth straight win at the event. Others to watch include Hector Arana Jr., Scotty Pollacheck and Andrew Hines.
The event is also the season-opening race for the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service and features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where future stars of the sport hone their skills, as well as the Mickey Thompson Tires NHRA Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series.
On Sunday, Grammy Award-winning country music artist Lee Greenwood will perform “God Bless The U.S.A.” as part of NHRA’s Salute To First Responders during the pre-race ceremonies.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers with an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity 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 1:15 and 5:00 p.m. on Friday and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday at 12:00 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday.