Jack Beckman claimed his first Gainesville Funny Car victory with a holeshot win in his Infinite Hero Dodge Charger R/T against teammate Matt Hagan at the 49th NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Dragway. Hagan and Beckman made nearly identical runs in their Dodge Charger R/T Funny Cars powered by Pennzoil, but Beckman’s reaction time advantage earned him the win, with his 4.035-second pass edging Hagan’s 4.034.
After earning the No. 1 qualifier on Saturday, Beckman secured his first victory since St. Louis 2017. “Winning this race was such a bucket-list thing,” Beckman said, “The Gatornationals came on the schedule in 1970, that year was a big year for our sport and it has been at this track ever since and I’ve never gotten close.”
Beckman raced against Jim Campbell, Del Worsham, and Shawn Langdon before entering his first final round of the season.
Not only did Beckman get to finally achieve his goal of winning ‘the Gators,’ but Sunday’s victory was also a sentimental one for the driver of Terry and Doug Chandler’s Infinite Hero Foundation Funny Car.
“I flew in a day earlier, and on Thursday I went to the Hall of Fame [dinner]. I got to present Johnny Gray with the Pat Garlits award in honor of Terry Chandler, whose name is still on the side of our car and is the one who made all of this possible. There are 21 of us who have jobs today because of Terry Chandler and how big her heart was, and now her husband Doug wants to carry it on. He’s loving it because he knows Terry is looking down and saying, ‘Alright — my boys did it.’”
Sunday’s win was the 27th of Beckman’s professional career and first of 2018. He moved from sixth to ranked second in the NHRA Funny Car points standings.
Three-time Gatornationals Funny Car champion Ron Capps earned a spot in the top half of the field after running low E.T. of qualifying rounds three and four, picking up six valuable bonus points.
On race day, Ron Capps’ first opponent was Bob Tasca III. Tasca and his team weren’t taking Capps lightly, when they clocked their best run of the weekend (3.981), but it was no match for Capps’ 3.959.
In round two, the 2016 World champion had lane choice versus Courtney Force. Capps was first off of the starting line and never trailed for the win. He drove his NAPA AUTO PARTS Dodge Charger R/T down Gainesville Raceway in 4.060-seconds and into the semifinal round.
It was a battle of the DSR Dodges in round three as Capps took on his teammate Matt Hagan. Capps pulled away first but hazed the tires early. Unfortunately for Capps, Hagan was able to make a clean pass, setting off the win light and ending Capps’ day.
“You know, it’s such a big race, the Gatornationals,” said Capps. “These big races seem to take a little bit more to get over. And the further you go on Sunday, like we did getting to the semifinals, you feel like you have a good shot. The way I look at it, the more runs we give [crew chief] Rahn Tobler, the more competitive our car is going to get, and I really felt like we had a handle on it. For some reason, it smoked the tires at the hit of the throttle, and we haven’t done that in a long time.
“We’ll have to look and see what it did and go on to the next race. It was a tough track, tough weekend for crew chiefs, with the weather changing day in and day out. We’ll take the semifinals and go on, but we really felt it was our shot to get the NAPA AutoCare guys into the Winner Circle.”
After qualifying in the top half of the field, most recent Funny Car runner-up Tommy Johnson Jr. faced Cruz Pedregon in round one. Johnson was first out of the gate and never trailed, driving Terry and Doug Chandler’s Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T to the win with a clean and straight pass.
In round two, Johnson once again had the starting line advantage. Unfortunately for Johnson, his opponent Shawn Langdon was able to pull ahead early into the run and take the win against Johnson’s tire smoking effort.
“We’re making a little progress, but we’re going to have to keep working at it,” said Johnson. “We’ve got good data on the six-disc [clutch]. When track conditions are good we run well and qualify well. We just need to keep learning what adjustments to make when the track conditions change and it gets hot out.
“So, we’re making some strides, we’re still going a round or two. If we can continue this progress, we’ll get better and better.
“I’m looking forward to going back to Vegas. We went there and won last year, and it’s always one of my favorite tracks, where we seem to do well. It’s a good racetrack to go to and rebound, get some round wins, get some more data on the six-disc clutch and hopefully top it off with another win.”
ROUND ONE — Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 3.995, 325.69 def. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 4.083, 298.87; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.894, 330.55 def. Dave Richards, Ford Mustang, 8.232, 85.43; Courtney Force, Camaro, 4.003, 277.20 def. John Force, Camaro, 4.218, 232.71; Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.934, 327.43 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.183, 305.29; Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.943, 324.75 def. Gary Densham, Mustang, 4.145, 273.61; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.976, 328.38 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 7.821, 131.27; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.959, 324.28 def. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.981, 325.30; Del Worsham, Camry, 4.013, 324.75 def. J.R. Todd, Camry, Broke;
QUARTERFINALS — Capps, 4.060, 317.64 def. C. Force, 8.255, 88.83; Hagan, 4.027, 291.26 def. Hight, 4.067, 265.53; Beckman, 3.973, 318.54 def. Worsham, 4.032, 315.56; Langdon, 4.025, 313.37 def.Johnson Jr., 4.841, 172.10;
SEMIFINALS — Hagan, 4.056, 310.91 def. Capps, 9.134, 81.86; Beckman, 4.478, 199.35 def. Langdon, 9.414, 81.39;
FINAL — Beckman, 4.035, 323.58 def. Hagan, 4.034, 322.04.
photos by Tim Hailey, story by Hailey, NHRA and team reports