READING, Pa. – Jack Beckman continues to inch toward the Funny Car points lead. Well, he's getting there pretty quickly.
Beckman won at Gateway Motorsports Park last weekend to get within 30 points of Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps as the Countdown to the Championship reached the halfway point. On Friday and Maple Grove Raceway, Beckman made the second-quickest pass in Funny Car history by racing 1,000 feet in 3.989 seconds at 320.58 mph to grab the provisional No. 1 for the 28th annual Uni-Select Auto Plus NHRA Nationals.
Other No. 1s on Friday were Morgan Lucas in Top Fuel, V. Gaines in Pro Stock and Eddie Krawiec in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
But it was Beckman's run people were talking about, because if he backs it up within one percent in Saturday's remaining two qualifying sessions by getting within one percent of Friday's run, he'll own the national record.
"There's not a whole lot to tell, it went by so fast," Beckman said. "The way that it happened is what was spectacular."
That's because Beckman and Jeff Arend were told to shut their cars off shortly after performing their burnouts because of oil laid on the track by a car before them. Beckman's Schumacher Electric Dodge team decided to take the car back to their pit area and replace the clutch.
"We had to tow back to the pits after we were shut off, put a brand new clutch in the car," Beckman said. "They got me belted in in the pits. It's more scary being in the towing up to the staging lanes than it is making the run. We were flying to get up here.
"It was just stunning to see the guys, faced with so much challenge on that run, step up, get it perfect, come up here and run that well. I was impressed with the crew, especially the two clutch guys. They had to get a new clutch in there and make sure it was perfect. You don't just throw the parts in there."
But the clutch – and the rest of the car – performed perfectly.
"I said to them when we get up to the staging lanes, 'It would suck if we went through all this and then smoked the tires," Beckman said. "Fortunately, it worked out well."
The only run quicker than Beckman's was teammate Capps' pass of 3.964 seconds at Englishtown, N.J., earlier this season. Capps did not back up that pass, so the national record is Matt Hagan's 3.999-second pass set in Charlotte last year.
Beckman said his team would likely go after the national record Saturday, which would earn him 20 bonus points. But he acknowledged the other Funny Car teams would swing for the fences, too.
"I'm not sure that one's safe tomorrow," Beckman said. "I'm not a weather guy. There is nothing wrong with this race track, so as long as the track doesn't get too warm, I'm not so sure another car or two is going to put up a three-second lap tomorrow."
Mike Neff was second with a pass of 4.017 seconds at 318.84 mph, with Alexis DeJoria third at 4.032 seconds at 319.07 mph.
Lucas put the GEICO/Lucas Oil Top Fuel dragster on the edge of a fifth No. 1 qualifier on the season with a 3.760-second lap at 326.95 mph in the twilight of the second qualifying session. He said the car was a handful to get down the track, and he had to scrub off a little time getting it straight after the launch.
"As good as a 3.76 is, if A). I would have driven it straight and B). the blower belt stayed on; it would have run a 3.74 or 3.75," Lucas said. "I'm still shocked a .76 stayed No. 1 with the way other guys were running in the first session. I'm really proud of the team."
Former teammate Shawn Langdon was second with a pass of 3.762 seconds at 328.38 mph, with Spencer Massey third at 3.763 seconds at 321.12 mph.
The surprising Gaines went to the top of the Pro Stock chart with a pass of 6.544 seconds at 209.36 mph in the second session in the Kendall Oil Dodge. Gaines doesn't have a pole in 371 career Pro Stock races, and his best qualifying spot this year was No. 3.
"How about that? That's pretty amazing," Gaines said. "Obviously, it was a good run. The short times are really, really good. I guess will know after I say it, but I shut it off at 6.40 into the run, so I guess we're lucky it went as fast as it did. Certainly, it had a little more left in it."
What will it take to stay No. 1 with cooler temperatures and quicker speeds predicted for Saturday?
"A rainstorm," Gaines said with a laugh. "No, obviously, we've got a good combination. We all read the weather forecasts, and it's hard to say what it's going to do. If the conditions change dramatically, it throws a whole new opportunity out there. We'll see what we can do."
Points leader Allen Johnson (6.545 at 211.39 mph) was second, with Jason Line (6.553 at 211.43 mph) third.
Pro Stock Motorcycle points leader Krawiec sped to the provisional No. 1 with a fast lap in the second session, going 6.821 seconds at 196.19 mph. Krawiec, who extended his points lead to 33 with his win at Gateway last weekend, has three No. 1 qualifiers this season aboard his Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson.
"Every time you come to Reading and you have the opportunity to run in October it means good air and good conditions," Krawiec said. "We have that today. A little bit of overcast skies, and the track's really tight, and that makes for good ETs and good 60-foots. The end result is, with weather coming, we wanted to make sure we could get down the track the first session and then come out and try and work on our setup the second session. I think it showed."
Krawiec was trailed Friday by Hector Arana (6.834 at 194.46 mph) and Andrew Hines (6.853 at 195.93 mph).