Beckman the beneficiary in latest Schumacher vs Force battle

2012 NHRA Funny Car champion Jack Beckman will enter his 11th full season with Don Schumacher Racing with some ace tuners heading his crew. It's just the latest in the personnel war between two giants of the sport, as Anne Proffit explains.

Beckman the beneficiary in latest Schumacher vs Force battle
Jack Beckman
Alexis Dejoria, Chad Head, Courtney Force, Jack Beckman
Jack Beckman
Dean Antonelli
Funny Car winner Jack Beckman
Jack Beckman
Antron Brown, Jack Beckman, Greg Anderson, Andrew Hines
Jack Beckman
Jack Beckman
Jack Beckman
Jack Beckman

NHRA’s axis of greatness lies, not at its Glendora, Calif. headquarters but on two streets in Brownsburg, Ind., a few miles from the site of NHRA’s largest and longest competition, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, which take place every Labor Day on the Lucas Oil Raceway dragstrip.

Some of drag racing’s most prominent and successful teams have their headquarters on either Northfield or Southfield Drives in Brownsburg, and the competition between the two largest – Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) on Northfield and John Force Racing (JFR) on Southfield – is for more than victories.

Theirs is also a raging fight to have the best personnel working with their teams. Schumacher currently fields four Top Fuel and four Funny Car squads; Force’s three Funny Car and single Top Fuel entries lie in mortal combat with the guys up the street.

In the past couple of years, there’s been plenty of travel between the two squads. Late in 2014, mega tuner Jimmy Prock led nearly his entire JFR team to DSR’s compound to tune Jack Beckman’s Infinite Hero Dodge Charger R/T, owned by Terry Chandler, to the close of that year and during the 24-race 2015-2016 seasons.

While Beckman made the 2016 Countdown to the Championship six-race playoffs that commenced after the U.S. Nationals and was in the top four (there are only 10 cars competing for a title) up until the season finale in Pomona, the results fell some way short of set-the-world-on-fire status expected from the Prock Rocket, assisted by John Medlen and Chris Cunningham. After the finals, Prock made his way back to Southfield Drive and JFR.

During Force’s recent announcement of daughter Courtney’s new commercial partner, Advance Auto Parts, it was intriguing to see Medlen back in Force’s shop, where he was integral in promoting safety features for Funny Cars. His work there helped make the volatile racecars far less injury-inducing when in the type of crash that nearly killed Force in 2007 and did kill Medlen’s son Eric, an excellent racer and wonderful human being, earlier that same year.

But Medlen’s sojourn at JFR was short-lived. Just before the holiday break, Don Schumacher Racing announced that Beckman, who has had a revolving door of tuners and crew members throughout his decade-long residence at DSR, will have three crew chiefs for the 2017 season.

One is Dean “Guido” Antonelli, 52, who has worked with John Force Racing for more than 22 years in a variety of capacities, most recently as general manager. Meanwhile, Medlen has elected to stay with Beckman and work with Antonelli once again, while Neal Strausbaugh, assistant to Mike Green on Tony Schumacher’s Top Fuel Army entry, will join this Funny Car squad.

It should make for a “murderers row” of crew chiefs/tuners for Beckman, who seems to race well with anyone that happens to be crunching numbers for his entry. In 2012, he recovered from a change of crew and car early in the season to claim his sole Funny Car title to date. This past year, he finished fifth in the point standings, falling behind John Force at the final race of the year.

The ability to harness Antonelli, who has been an assistant crew chief on four title-winning Funny Car teams, was essential to team owner Don Schumacher, who said: “We’re very excited to have Dean join DSR. John Medlen is one of the smartest guys in drag racing and he’s worked with Dean for many years. Terry [Chandler, who owns Beckman’s team as well as Tommy Johnson Jr.’s Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T entry] and I expect very big things from our Infinite Hero team.”

Strausbaugh, 34, starts his 17th season in professional drag racing at Pomona next February; this year marks his 10th at DSR, all of those years working with the Army Top Fuel team that won the 2009 and 2014 titles. Showing what an insular business this is, Strausbaugh worked with Green on the Tommy Johnson Jr. Funny Car at Don Prudhomme Racing, so this makes a full circle for the lanky Illinois native. He also crewed with Green on Darrell Gwynn’s New York Yankee dragster.

“Neal has learned from the best and is one of the brightest there is in the pits,” Schumacher acknowledged. “He has earned the opportunity to be a crew chief and he will get even better working with Dean and John.”

This is the most recent major crew chief/tuner Brownsburg cross-town march in NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series…  but it surely won’t be the last.

 

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