Before winning at Charlotte two months ago, Jack Beckman hadn’t visited the winner’s circle since September 2012.
Beckman didn’t wait 30 months to return, blasting down the Heartland Park Topeka drag strip in 3.982 seconds to beat John Force in the Funny Car final Sunday at the NHRA Kansas Nationals.
“This is actually a little bit cooler than Charlotte, because Charlotte was almost surreal,” Beckman said. “It had been so long.”
That race is a unique three-round, four-wide format, so Sunday’s win was the first in the traditional mano-a-mano format since that victory at St. Louis in 2012.
Beckman became the first driver in NHRA history with three straight passes under 4 seconds during first-round eliminations and then ran a fourth in a row unopposed in the quarterfinals.
He later added his record fifth run under 4 seconds of the weekend in the final and admitted that the victory was sweeter since it came against Force, a 16-time Funny Car champion with a NHRA-record 142 wins that includes a record nine at Heartland Park.
“It does (mean more),” Beckman said. “It just does. It’s John Force. You’re getting a chance to play against Babe Ruth. It’s just so unique in our sport that a guy that’s 65 and the best that’s ever been in this sport can still mix it up with us. … I can’t wait to tell my grandkids that I’ve got to compete against John Force.”
Beckman’s unprecedented display of speed gives him 17 career victories, including a 2012 win at Heartland Park on the way to his only Funny Car crown.
He is the first Funny Car driver in NHRA history with more than two runs under 4 seconds at a single event or during a single day.
Beckman also boasts 11 career runs under 4 seconds, which moved him ahead of Force (10) for the most in NHRA history.
Tim Wilkerson posted the 50th Funny Car pass under 4 seconds during first-round eliminations, but that was the tip of the iceberg.
It was the first of seven runs Sunday under 4 seconds, which makes Heartland Park the fastest Funny Car track in history with 15 such passes.
Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., owned the previous record with 10 runs under 4 seconds during its last four events.
All 15 passes under 4 seconds at Heartland Park were recorded this weekend. There were only 19 such runs in the Funny Car division during all 24 races in the 2014 season.
It also turned out to be a special weekend for Richie Crampton, who won Top Fuel with a run of 3.738 seconds against Larry Dixon in the final.
Crampton, who had been a clutch specialist on Morgan Lucas’ crew before moving into the driver’s seat last season, has now won four races since last June.
Only points leader Antron Brown and second-place Tony Schumacher, who recorded the fastest elapsed time of his career in the first round of eliminations (3.719), have won more times with five each during span.
But nobody’s running as well as Crampton at the moment with three finals and two wins in the last five events.
“I’ve still got a little bit to learn as a new driver,” Crampton said. “I still kind of consider myself a rookie, but obviously I drive a championship-caliber race car for a championship-caliber team.”
His four career wins move him past David Grubnic for the most in NHRA history by an Australian-born driver.
“I’ll have to go and see Dave in the next couple weeks, but it’s pretty neat to win four events,” Crampton said. “I think that’s the most that an Australian has won in the pro categories over here in the NHRA, so top of the moon right now.”
Crampton ran his fastest career elapsed time and broke the track record in 3.710 during the quarterfinals. That same round, Dixon broke the track speed record at 329.91 mph.
Perhaps nobody had a better weekend than reigning Pro Stock champion Erica Enders, who moved into first place in the points standings with her third win of the season and 15th of her career.
Enders had the low elapsed time with all seven passes — three qualifying rounds and four elimination rounds — during a thoroughly dominant performance.
“It’s definitely a feat, especially in Pro Stock as competitive as it is,” Enders said. “Hats off to my guys. They’re just absolutely incredible.”
Enders beat Greg Anderson by 0.007 seconds in the final with a time of 6.584.
“He got us last weekend in Atlanta … so I was happy to pay him back just a little bit, but all in good fun,” Enders said.
Rain interrupted the racing several times, but usually only for a few minutes at a time. That changed at 3:38 p.m. when the rain picked up, causing a delay of more than two hours.