Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – LAS VEGAS, NV – The plan for Jack Beckman is to have a chance to race for a NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championship at the final race of the season.
But for that to happen, the former Funny Car world champion knows he must perform at the penultimate race of the 2019 season, the Dodge NHRA Nationals Presented By Pennzoil, which takes place Oct. 31-Nov. 3 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Beckman heads to the race second in points, 70 behind leader Robert Hight going into the final two events of the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. The veteran standout has had his share of big moments in this year’s playoffs, advancing to a pair of finals in his 11,000-horsepower Infinite Hero Founder Dodge SRT Hellcat, but rising to the occasion in Vegas will be imperative if Beckman has any hopes of chasing down Hight to end the year.
“Our goal is to win a championship,” Beckman said. “I think it will be a big mistake for any team to look past Vegas and look toward Pomona just because Pomona is going to offer points-and-a-half. If you stumble first round in Vegas, you’re not going to get those rounds. We can’t look past the next run right now. You can’t afford to give away any points.”
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), J.R. Todd (Funny Car), Bo Butner (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including live final eliminations coverage starting at 4:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Nov. 3. It is the fifth of six races in the Countdown to the Championship, and the 23rd of 24 events in a 2019 NHRA season that’s come around at the perfect time for the 2012 Funny Car world champ.
Two of his six final rounds have come in the playoffs, including a victory at the opening race of the Countdown to the Championship, allowing him to move into the championship conversation. But Beckman suffered a red light in the final round at Charlotte and has just one round win at the other two playoff races, meaning the goal is consistency in Las Vegas. It can be a tense time with a world title on the line, but Beckman will look to remain focused down the stretch.
“In a perfect world, you treat Q1 the same as the final round at Pomona,” said Beckman, who has 29 career wins. “In reality, driving the car is no easier or more difficult whether it’s qualifying or a final round, it’s just the pressure we put on ourselves. I stumbled in the final round at Charlotte and you can’t do that. If we’re going to win this championship, the car has to be to right and the driver has to be right. I just have to do go up there and do my job. I can thrive under pressure, I just didn’t have my head where it needed to be in the final round, and it’s time to get it back.”
It’s far from a two-car race for the title as well, raising the stakes in Vegas even more. Beckman leads John Force by just four points, while Dallas winner Matt Hagan and Bob Tasca are also lurking. But Beckman is confident at this point in the season, praising a team, led by crew chiefs John Medlen and Dean Antonelli, that has made the most of its opportunities. The team didn’t test during the preseason and has limited those sessions, but they’re currently performing as well as they have all year heading to Las Vegas.
“It forced us to be more efficient with our testing and incorporate more of it during the regular season,” Beckman said. “But that’s over. Now every single run counts. You want to do everything you can to come out on top. The faster the horse you ride, the better a jockey you become. From a driver’s standpoint, your confidence is always going to be best when you’re driving a fast car. Being confident helps me perform better and having a fast car never hurts your confidence.”
Torrence clinched his first Top Fuel world title a year ago in Vegas en route to the victory, but it will be a different story in that regard this year. Torrence is currently locked in a tight points battle with the likes of Doug Kalitta, 2017 world champ Brittany Force and his father, Billy.
Butner is the reigning event winner in Pro Stock and he’ll need a win to stay in the title hunt. The former world champ is 74 points behind leader Erica Enders, who jumped into the lead with her St. Louis win. But the likes of Matt Hartford, Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Jason Line remain close.
Arana Jr. will look for a second straight win in Vegas to help finish his Pro Stock Motorcycle season on a strong note. Andrew Hines is after another world title after an impressive season, but Karen Stoffer, Jerry Savoie and Eddie Krawiec will look to make things interesting in Vegas.
The Dodge NHRA Nationals Presented By Pennzoil also features thrilling competition in the season-finale of the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service, as well as the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport. Stevie “Fast” Jackson has clinched his first world championship in the NHRA Pro Mod class, while Sidnei Frigo is the defending winner in the category.
After nitro qualifying, watch spectacular jet cars, including Segal Motorsports’ Shelly Segal running “FireStarter,” Tim Smith running “American Freedom Fighter,” Tony Franco driving the Lucas Oil Terminal Velocity and Lucas Oil Racing TV Missile driven by Tom Bogner. Known for exciting pre-run flame shows and after burner pops, jet cars are thrust driven vehicles propelled by jet engines.
Along with the exciting on-track action, the Dodge NHRA Nationals Presented By Pennzoil will honor first responders with NHRA’s “Salute to First Responders” celebration.
NHRA fans can take part in the Mello Yello Walking Tour to see the cars and teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend Pro Stock School and Nitro School to learn how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will also host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers as well as the Sealmaster Track Walk hosted by NHRA announcer Joe Castello. Another can’t-miss experience is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans are invited to congratulate the winners of the event as they celebrate their victories.
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 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 12:45 and 3:15 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 1, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Nov. 2, at 12:45 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 3.