How to Tune a World Championship Funny Car

It Takes Ten People to Win a Nitro Funny Car Race

Words and photos by Richard Kratz

All of motorsports comes down to a team of people doing their utmost to beat other teams of people on a race track. NASCAR, Formula1, Indy Car, or NHRA, the type and format are irrelevant. No one does it all by themselves, even at the most entry level sportsman racing event every owner-driver has friends who help on the building of the car and probably a few that come to the races and help out at least some of the time.

In the pro ranks the concept is the same but the infrastructure is much larger. On the ludicrous end of the scale are the big Formula1 teams like Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren who have something like 600 workers dedicated only to building and supporting their two car race teams. NHRA is actually on the smaller team end of the spectrum with a typical team having nine pit personnel supporting one car and driver. Of course, teams have more people than that when you include people holding down the fort back at the shop, fabricators and machinists who don’t travel with the team and support personnel like PR, hospitality and administrative people.

One of the rewards for winning the world championship is the right to wear the number “1” on your car for the year. This very cool version on Beckman’s car features the names of all of the men who have earned the coveted number over the years. Thanks to John Force doing it 15 times, there are fewer names then you’d think.

This is the story of one NHRA team, the nine men who crew the Don Schumacher Racing Jack Beckman Valvoline/MTS Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car. This team earned the 2012 NHRA Funny Car World
Championship in an epically close battle and now gets to wear the coveted #1 on their car.

Drivers tend to get all of the attention and often the people behind the scenes and in the pit are out of the thoughts of fans. But the crew is never out of the thoughts of the drivers and all smart drivers know that any success they have on the track is due in large part to their crew chief (or chiefs) and crew specialists in the pit. Poor decisions or workmanship by a crew can make the best driver look bad and conversely a great crew can make a decent driver look like a hero. We’re guessing good drivers try to take care of their crews.

In 2012 the Valvoline/MTS Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car went through a well publicized wholesale shake up with drivers Ron Capps and Jack Beckman essentially changing teams and the Valvoline/MTS losing its crew chiefs and Don Schumacher hiring replacements. New crew chief Todd Smith and new assistant crew chief Terry Snyder came onboard under far less then ideal circumstances. The car they inherited wasn’t working very well, they had no testing of their own under their belt and the season was already in full swing. The story of how the team righted their ship, fought all year long to make the countdown and then brought the championship fight to the last race of the year and won the big prize by a scant two points is a story all in its own. But not the story we’re going to tell here.