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We asked Jack Beckman to share some of his top tips with us for bracket racing. “Fast” Jack Beckman, as we’re writing this, is in a battle royale with Ron Capps for the NHRA funny car world championship—he’s heading to the Finals at Pomona leading Capps by four points. In 2011 Jack raced the Valvoline NextGen Dodge Charger nitro funny car for Don Schumacher Racing to the runner up in the championship and would like to move up one spot this year.
Jack started his racing career bracket racing an El Camino—we forgive him for racing a non-Mopar. He moved into Super Comp and in 2003 beat out over 1,400 other racers in the country to win the NHRA Super Comp world championship. In addition to his racing experience, Jack has been teaching at the Frank Hawley Drag Racing School for over 11 years and had taught more than 7,000 students.
We figured that with his experience racing and teaching drag racing he’d be great to talk to about bracket racing. Here’s what he had to say.
Whether you’ve been racing for one month or ten years don’t ever overlook the fundamentals. I see people who have been racing for twenty years and still can’t stage a car straight. If you asked them, they’ll swear that they always stage perfectly. If you try to correct them they’ll throw their helmet and tools at you, so I don’t ever try to correct those people. But just because someone’s been doing something for a long period of time doesn’t mean they’re good at it, doesn’t mean what they’re doing is correct and if they’re the person that’s helping you get good at racing, this could be an issue. A video camera is a wonderful way to double check a lot of things, if you have an opportunity to film yourself from behind that’s the best way. Viewing the video you might find a lot of issues that you didn’t think existed.
Don’t forget the fundamentals. You have to do a proper and consistent burnout and not only stage the car same each time, but also stage it straight each time. If you manually shift your car then you need to hit your shift points each time—a shift light is a good way to do that. Lift and brake safely at the other end, from burnout to turnout do it right and do it consistently. A lot of the fundamental things get overlooked by a lot of people and they can get away with it a lot of the time, but it will cost them sooner or later.
At some point, you need to ask yourself what you want out of racing, why are you doing this? Are you racing because you truly enjoy it, or are you saying that you enjoy it but you’re throwing your tools and helmet at the track? If you are then find something else to do. If are racing because you want to be the best, then stop going to the movies with your buddies, stop going out to dinner and get a heater for your garage. Because you have to be willing to put in the time commensurate with the results you want to achieve. If you just want to go do it and have fun, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but keep in mind that most of the time you’re going to get beat by some of the people who spend their evenings and weekends in the garage working on their race cars when they’re not at the track.
Know the track. Any track that I go to that I’m not familiar with I go down to the top end. I look at the shutdown area; the turnouts and the emergency overrun area at the finish line. You may think, well yeah he does that because he drives a 320 mph funny car, but I did it when I drove an 11 second bracket car. Because the time that something goes wrong you don’t have time to survey all of that stuff. Keep safety as a priority, you don’t have to be thinking when you’re reacting to the Christmas tree, but it should have been something that you planned for before that.
Be safe. The safety harnesses in the car and your helmet are designed to be worn a specific way. Make sure that the harnesses are installed and worn the right way and do so all the time. Because when you’re upside and rolling you don’t have time to tighten the harnesses or install them the way they should have been the first time, or to replace that helmet that you dropped off the work bench and had a crack in it. Don’t overlook this stuff.
On the racing side of things, I think that people have a wonderful capacity to analyze things, think through things and come up with logical predictions for things when they’re back in their pits and not under a time crunch. When you do all of this thinking back in your pits, take notes. When I raced my Super Comp car, I had a clip inside my dragster that held a piece of paper with my dial-in range, my delay box range, the timers for my throttle stop if I was running an index class, all listed on there. So that when I got into the lanes and my class was running and the pressures of racing and all of that come upon you, I could fall back on the thinking that worked for me back in the pits and not have to start that process all over again with the possible crunch of them pulling your lane first or out of order, or whatever. You want to do all of your thinking in the pits and then take that thinking with you on paper or notes so that in the lanes what you’re doing is making a decision, not trying to think it all through.