With only eight elimination rounds left in the 2012 Full Throttle Drag Racing Series, Jack Beckman leads the Funny Car standings and has contenders Ron Capps and Mike Neff within 54 points.
But to hear all three of them tell it, they have more problems than a sick chicken.
Beckman said his stellar weekend at the most recent race, at Reading, Pa., masked the fact he had clutch damage and a "finicky" Valvoline/NextGen Dodge Charger. Don Schumacher Racing colleague Capps said his NAPA Dodge had a hiccup at Reading and a crummy steering box, to boot. Neff, of John Force Racing, said he's "just happy to be in contention" and has been beset by gossip that his team wasn't racing heads-up the day he won at Maple Grove Raceway.
They'll take their assorted issues to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend for the Big O Tires NHRA Nationals, the penultimate race of the season. And Beckman said it, but each of them knows that "you can't have any screw ups, mechanical issues, or tune-up question marks." Performance at this race is critical.
"With only eight rounds left and in a sport where when you lose you don't get those next few rounds, if somebody goes out second round at Vegas, they lose out on three rounds: that one, the semis and the finals. I think all three of us would agree, we want to be able to contest all eight rounds to have a legitimate shot for the championship," Beckman said.
Capps indicated that DSR utility player Tommy Johnson helped him dodge a potentially fatal bullet by drive-testing the NAPA car a couple of weeks ago at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.
"We hadn't tested all year long, so we put our old stuff back in it and the car went right down the track and [crew chief Rahn] Tobler figured out what the problem was, which is a great sign. He also found a steering box that was going bad, which could have been disastrous the first qualifying run in Vegas," Capps said." So that test was, I think, huge for us, and so are those kind of weekends [such as at Reading], just getting out of there and saving face a little bit, getting a couple round wins. I think now we can put that behind us and go forward."
It's a different perspective for Neff, for his car isn't giving him fits. The tuner-driver just recorded his career-best elapsed time (4.017 seconds) and sped (318.84 mph) in the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang.
"We've been running better here lately," he said, content that he is making progress from last season, when he led nearly the entire so-called regular season, then steadily fell down through the order during the Countdown. The arrow on his chart is pointing upward.
"A few races back, Ron obviously had a pretty substantial lead, and Jack has been running great. Fortunately we felt good to have a good weekend in Reading and get out of there making some positive ground, especially with Jack setting the record getting that extra 20 points there," Neff said. "It's an exciting time right now. This is why you put all that work in over the last winter and go through this whole season to come to the very end here and you just want to have a shot, especially with the way the Countdown system works now."
Beckman said Neff "probably had a little bit of a slump a few races ago and he seems to be figuring it out at just the right time." His driving-school instructor skills have taught him that "there's hardly ever a year where you have a nitro Funny Car team go every single race without going into a slump. I would define a slump as losing a handle on the tune up on your car, and sometimes it lasts for one race and sometimes it lasts three or four races."
Capps, he said, "had a lot of issues at Maple Grove" but knew "they had built up such a substantial lead that they're still very, very much in contention."
He said he also had to learn to face a few curveballs but that his came in the previous race at St. Louis. The final day of qualifying at Gateway Motorsports Park was a challenge for him, as were all four eliminations rounds that Sunday when he earned his third victory of this year.
"Sometimes from the grandstands, it looks like a team is really on top of everything, but once you dive inside you realize we're chasing a whole lot of maladies with the car. When we got to Maple Grove, we reset both ends of the national record, but we tore a lot of stuff up. When we beat Ron in the second round, we ruined a third of our clutch and had to rebuild that before the semifinals and hurt some more stuff in the semifinals," Beckman said.
During the series' much-deserved two weeks off the road, Beckman's Todd Smith/Terry Snyder-led crew completely disassembled the car," in Beckman's words, "to try to get a handle on why this thing is acting a little bit finicky lately."
Tobler and John Collins have been doing similar detective work on Capps' car, and Neff is going over his own ride to make sure everything is in place.
Of course, those three need to hold off DSR's fourth-place Johnny Gray and two-time champion privateer Cruz Pedregon, the No. 5-ranked driver, who are hoping miracles will happen this weekend.
Now throw in Tim Wilkerson, who said this week, "The bad news is we slipped back down to ninth, but the good news is we have a lot of very close company. One good day on Sunday and we can shoot right back up. I think, by now, we can see who the top three are going to be, but anyone who thinks they can see into the future and decipher how the other seven spots are going to sort out is crazy. We're all so close we'll be swapping spots during qualifying, with the little bonus points.
"With two races to go, fourth is within reach, but we'll need to be good to do that. There's no reason to baby it or take the safe and easy route when you can move up a spot or two with a couple of good qualifying runs," Wilkerson said. "We have nothing to lose."
But Beckman, Capps, and Neff do -- and they have everything to win.
All articles and photography published in CompetitionPlus.com are protected by United States of America and International copyright laws unless mentioned otherwise. The content on this website is intended for the private use of the reader and may not be published or reposted in any form without the prior written consent of CompetitionPlus.com.
|< Prev||Next >|