By Gary P Jackson
A wild Sunday at the 59th Annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, the oldest, most prestigious national drag race in the country. While qualifying continued to set the 16 car fields for Monday’s final round of eliminations, the annual race-within-a-race, the Traxxas Nitro Shootout, the $100,000 to win spectacular, was being contested.
The Traxxas Nitro Shootouts consist of eight Top Fuel and eight Funny Cars, seven of which are event winners from the season, leading up to Indy, and one fan vote/lottery winner. This year’s fan/lottery winners were Tim Wilkerson in Funny Car, and rookie Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, daughter of NHRA’s winningest driver, 15 time world champ John Force, and sister of Funny Car stars Courtney Force and three time Indy champion Ashley Force-Hood.
In Top Fuel, Shawn Langdon started his march to the final round by taking out Brittany Force, who was the provisional number one qualifier for the Nationals, with a holeshot. Langdon’s 3.874 beat Force’s quicker 3.866.
The final round was also a close one, as again Langdon had the better reaction time .062 to .091 against his opponent, Texas’ Steve Torrence, who was in his second straight Traxxas shootout final round. Langdon won with a 3.821 to Torrence’s 3.828.
In even more good news, team owner Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Thani, of Qatar was in town, and announced a 5 year contract extension with Alan Johnson, and Top Fuel drivers Langdon, and Khalid alBalooshi.
Funny Car was even wilder, with Jack Beckman’s really explosive win.
In the final round, Jack Beckman, the reining Funny Car world champion, took on the always tough two time champion Cruz Pedregon. As the cars reached the finish line at over 300 mph, Beckman’s car had an engine failure that produced a spectacular explosion, which in turn caused the carbon fiber Dodge Charger body to disintegrate.
Before the finals, Beckman had to get past number one seed Courtney Force in the semi-finals, doing so with a 4.08 elapsed time. Beckman was the picture of consistently in the Shootout, winning the first round over teammate Ron Capps with a 4.06 [quickest of the round] and back to back 4.08 runs against Force and Pedregon.
Besides making the highlight reels, Beckman took the win over Pedregon with a holeshot, his 052 to Cruzer’s .075 reaction time made the difference at the finish line as Beckman’s 4.08 beat Pedregon’s quicker 4.06 pass.
Video of the final rounds of the Traxxas Nitro Shootout:
In 2012, Shawn Langdon had to watch as the eight drivers who qualified for the inaugural NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Top Fuel competed for the $100,000 prize during the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. This year, he made sure he would participate in the event by winning the season opener in Pomona, and he brought the win home for the Al-Anabi team.
Steve Torrence was denied in the final for the second straight year. Following big wins against Tony Schumacher and Spencer Massey, he lost a close race to Langdon. Langdon got a .062 to .091 starting-line advantage and edged Torrence in a 3.821 to 3.828 decision.
“I wanted to get in bad last year, and we weren’t able to do that,” said Langdon. “It was a great feeling just to get in and be a part of it. There’s a lot of attention drawn to this one event. I’m hitting the gas in the finals for $100,000. It gets you in the stomach. There have been two moments in my career in the Top Fuel class that I got that kind of little, gut feeling with the butterflies rolling: the first time I ever sat in the car and the final just now.”
“Being a kid, I think back to the days at Pomona when I would watch guys like Kenny Bernstein, Don Prudhomme, and Joe Amato race the shootouts at the end of the year. I always had big interests in those events because it was always eight of the best drivers in the class competing for a lot of money. If you can’t get up for that, I don’t know what you can get up for.”
Langdon earned his keep in the cockpit by defeating Brittany Force on a 3.874 to 3.866 holeshot in the opening round. His car did the job with a 3.821 to 3.880 victory in the semifinals against Antron Brown.
“I didn’t see the win light in the semi’s, and I pulled off the track thinking I lost,” said Langdon. “I shook Antron’s hand and wished him luck in the final, and he just looked at me like I had three eyes. I was a little bummed out. When they told me I won, it felt like I had a buyback into the final.”
Langdon’s win comes on the heels of an earlier announcement that Qatar, Al-Anabi Racing, and Alan Johnson agreed to a five-year contract extension. Team owner Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Thani was on hand for the win.
“On top of the win, we’re out here at Indy, my mom came out, Sheikh Khalid is out here, and we announced our five-year agreement this morning,” said Langdon. “We’re having a good time. The car is running excellent. I couldn’t ask for anything more. The only thing left is to win Indy and win the championship.”
Jack Beckman, far lane, began the Traxxas Nitro Shootout Funny Car final in a coupe but completed it a winner in a convertible after a finish-line explosion after defeating Cruz Pedregon for the $100,000 winner prize.
There is an old adage that states, “If you can’t win, be spectacular.” Jack Beckman decided to be both, winning the NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Funny Cars in very spectacular fashion after the engine let go in his Valvoline MaxLife entry as he crossed the finish line, shredding the body and sending Beckman on a wild, bouncing ride through the shutdown area. Beckman was uninjured in the incident.
“The first four seconds were fantastic. The next 10, not so good,” said Beckman of the final-round run. “Pomona when it blew up, it blew up earlier in the run, and the way the fire came out and what was left of the body, there was a little bit more fire up in my face. This one, it didn’t blow oil all over my visor like it did in Pomona, so I could see the whole way. I’m not sure I recommend that either. As soon as you lose the body, you lose all downforce, so the thing starts bouncing off the ground and you start sliding in your own oil, too. Man, I just did not want to wreck that chassis. We do have a back-up car, but you don’t want to go every qualifying run and then switch chassis out there, so we’ll put a body on it. The problem is when they blow up that hard, it tweaks a couple of things in the chassis, too. We’ve got the whole night to fix it. We’ve got another MaxLife body we can put on it, and we’re the only ones with the chance to double up. I kind of like that.
“It gave me no warning whatsoever. Just like Pomona, it didn’t lay over. It didn’t do anything, and to be perfectly frank about this, when you’re in competition, even if it dropped a hole down there, you’ve got to stay in it. You’ve got to get it to the finish line, but there was nothing: good, good, good, good, boom.”
The spectacular finish came after a great side-by-side race with Cruz Pedregon in which Beckman himself played a key role in taking the $100,000 top prize in the bonus event for Funny Car competitors. Beckman left the starting line first against Pedregon, .052 to .075, and that helped guide him to a 4.08 to 4.06 holeshot victory.
“You’ve got to race smart,” said Beckman. “The first two rounds were also qualifying, and we get those little points, so I wanted to stage as shallow on both of those rounds. In the final round, it doesn’t matter because it didn’t count towards qualifying, and there’s nothing to lose by staging deeper other than you don’t typically stage deeper. As it turned out, it worked out perfect for us.”
“The fact that we haven’t won anything this year makes it that much bigger,” added Beckman, who got into the Shootout based on points after there were only six winners prior to Indy. “I’m actually kind of at a little bit of a loss for words right now because it’s really surreal. 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. You never know if your last win is your last win, and you try to learn to appreciate every single one of them. This is an odd one because we’ve got to go right back out tomorrow and race, and this one’s a different race. But yeah, it feels fantastic. I won the Skoal Showdown in the only year I competed in it, so to get another eight-car shootout win is amazing. It’s one of those things where years from now you look back and go, ‘Wow, what an amazing day.’ ”
Beckman’s 4.08 in the final was his third straight 4.0 run. He posted a 4.062 that was the quickest winning time of the first round to get past teammate Ron Capps. Beckman then clocked a 4.08 to defeat Courtney Force and advance to the money round.
Pedregon’s fate in the Traxxas Shootout was determined entirely on the starting line. He was on the losing end of a holeshot in the final, but Pedregon used holeshots to get to that title round. In the first round, Pedregon turned a .027 to .070 lead at the Tree into a 4.06 to 4.05 victory over last year’s Traxxas Shootout winner, John Force. In the semifinals, Pedregon’s .050 to .085 reaction-time advantage carried him to a 4.12 to 4.10 win against Tim Wilkerson.
Courtney Force was the number one seed in the Traxxas Shootout, based on her dominating win at the season opening Winternationals in Pomona, California:
Courtney’s sister Brittany Force was the number one qualifier going into the final day of qualifying for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, got into the Shootout on the fan vote/lottery:
Tim Wilkerson won the fan/lottery vote in Funny Car:
For complete video of the Friday through Sunday NHRA Chevrolet U.S.Nationals qualifying click here.
Final Eliminations are Monday, with coverage starting at 12 pm [Eastern time] on ESPN2.