INDIANAPOLIS – Jack Beckman is in uncharted territory heading into the 60th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, which takes place Aug. 27-Sept. 1 at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.
But a strong performance in his 10,000-horsepower Valvoline Max Life/MTS Dodge Charger at the world’s most prestigious drag race would be just the turnaround his 2014 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season needs.
Beckman is currently in 11th place in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship and is on the verge of missing the Countdown for the first time in his career as a full-time driver. He trails Tim Wilkerson by 16 points for the final playoff spot, making an already huge event even bigger for the 2012 Funny Car world champion.
It is also one of the must-see storylines heading into the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, as NHRA competitors in all professional classes will be looking to stay in the top 10 or move into the top 10 with a memorable showing at the last race of the regular season.
“We’ve painted ourselves into a corner,” said Beckman, who won the Traxxas Shootout in Funny Car at Indy a year ago. “We’ve put ourselves into a position where we have to be (darn) near flawless at Indy to get in there. Now that’s just the battle. But that’s the only thing I can think about right now is Indy. Our goal is to run for the championship, which it isn’t possible if we’re not in the Countdown. If we can’t get this Valvoline car into the Countdown, I’d be devastated, but it means that we didn’t earn it.”
Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and John Hall (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event.
The Funny Car battle between Wilkerson and Beckman is the tightest race for 10th place in any of the four professional categories, but Wilkerson, who has finished in the top 10 in each of the past six seasons, won’t let that affect his approach.
“There’s not really any added pressure, just the same sort of pressure we feel at every race, where we put it on ourselves to do our sponsors proud and do ourselves proud,” Wilkerson said. “I try to not let it affect the way we tune the car or the way I drive.”
As for paying attention to what Beckman does during the weekend, Wilkerson, who trails Del Worsham by 52 points for the ninth position, is only worried about his own performance. That is, unless he sees Beckman or Worsham next to his Levi Ray and Shoup Ford Mustang in the opposite lane during eliminations. Eight-place Cruz Pedregon has also not secured his berth into the Countdown and will also be racing to get into the playoffs as well.
“We definitely pay attention, but the bottom line is that the way we approach each run down the track doesn’t really have anything to do with what other people are doing,” Wilkerson said. “If we line up in eliminations against Jack Beckman or Del Worsham, then you can scoreboard watch because all you want to see is the win light. Other than that, we’re all too busy to be spectating. If we just win rounds, we don’t have anything to worry about.”