CLERMONT — Jack Beckman proved an old drag racing adage Sunday, Sept. 1 — the one that goes, “If you can’t be fast, be spectacular.”
“We were all of the above,” said Beckman, who ran a slower elapsed time than Cruz Pedregon, detonated his car in the lights, yet still picked up the $100,000 check for winning the Traxxas Funny Car Shootout at the NHRA’s U.S. Nationals.
Shawn Langdon won the Top Fuel Shootout, edging Steve Torrence by 0.007 of a second in the final.
Each shootout field consists of the first seven winners on the current tour, along with a lottery pick. Beckman, the defending series champion, rolled into Indy without a victory and made the Traxxas race on the basis of his position in the points — seventh.
That pitted him against the No. 2 seed, teammate Ron Capps, in the opening round. Beckman’s Dodge Charger ran 1,000 feet in 4.062 seconds at 310.20 mph, while Capps’ Hemi labored to a 4.118.
A round later, Beckman’s supercharged, 8,000-horsepower fuel coupe ran a 4.082 at 310.55 mph to put away Courtney Force and her Ford Mustang. Force trailed Beckman across the finish line with a 4.099 at 314.75 mph.
So the 47-year-old Beckman could be fast when necessary. Pedregon, meanwhile, relied on his reflexes to defeat quicker opponents in the first two rounds.
A two-time Funny Car champ, Pedregon left the starting line first and made a 4.068 hold up against John Force’s 4.056. A .000 light is perfect, and Force hit the gas in .070.
Pedregon nailed an .027.
He did it again in round two, where he slapped the pedal first and beat Tim Wilkerson’s Shelby Mustang, 4.124 to 4.107.
Pedregon saved the best for last, hopping up his Toyota Camry for the final against Beckman. But this time, Beckman left first, jumping out to an .023-second lead.
He needed all of it.
The Cruzer’s swoopy sedan reached the finish line in 4.066 seconds at 308.35 mph — right behind Beckman’s 4.086 at 310.77 mph.
Before he could even hit the chutes, Beckman’s engine grenaded, scattering red, white and blue Dodge confetti 50 feet into the air. Only the nose remained attached to the car, which bucked wildly on its giant Goodyear slicks as Beckman wrestled it to a stop.
The cause of the explosion?
“The same as every other cause,” Beckman later said. “Nitromethane.”
At the top end of the track, Beckman climbed up on the left rear tire and raised his arms in exultation — nearly falling on the oil-soaked rubber.
“I’m actually kind of at a little bit of a loss for words right now because it’s really surreal,” said Beckman, who drives for Don Schumacher Racing. “I intended to be down there with an intact Dodge Charger and a bunch of happy guys, and they’re happy, but now they’ve got to work five more hours than they would have had to tonight.”
Although he won a $100,000 check from Traxxas, the NHRA promptly fined Beckman $1,500 for delaying the race.
“He’s about five grand in the hole,” said Langdon, who kept his dragster in one piece while winning the Top Fuel shootout
Langdon, the series points leader, failed to qualify for the 2012 event. He started Sunday’s race by defeating Brittany Force on a holeshot, 3.874 seconds to 3.866.
But in the second round, he was forced to rely on his Alan Johnson horsepower to overcome Antron Brown. The defending world champ left first and ran a 3.880 at 316.08 mph, only to see Langdon roar past with a 3.821 at 322.34 mph.
“I actually didn’t see my win light,” said Langdon, 29. “I didn’t even know that I’d won. I pulled off the track thinking I’d lost.”
He didn’t. And neither did Torrence, who advanced first by toasting Tony Schumacher and then the driver who stopped him in last year’s finals, Spencer Massey.
In the money round, Langdon left first and pulled away, running a 3.821 at 320 mph to defeat Torrence’s 3.828 at 323.04 mph.
“The only way we could top this off would be to win Indy and win the championship,” Langdon said.