NHRA Funny Car points leader Jack Beckman had been hoping he'd be spectacular this weekend at the Auto Club Finals with the championship on the line. And he certainly set the tone Thursday in his Valvoline/Next Gen Dodge Charger, though not in the way he had imagined.
Beckman, determined to extend his four-point margin over Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps, rode out a massive engine concussion that disintegrated his car's body.
He was uninjured, and no one was reported to be injured as the shrapnel flew into the grandstands.
Beckman's trademark sense of humor was undamaged.
"I have never had that happen, and I'm not signing up for this again," Beckman said. "Anyone who wants to donate a left eyebrow, I'm kind of needing one now.
"As soon as it blew up, the first thing you get in your head is to get the parachutes out. I went for the 'chute levers and the brake. I thought I didn't get the chute but the levers were gone with the rest of the body. Covered the visor with oil. Blew the thing up about a quarter of an inch."
"Other than that," he added, "everything was just fine."
He said what was racing through his mind was, "The body's gone. Don't wreck the car."
Recounting the sequence of events, he described the incident as follows: "I'm trying to keep it off of the wall, and I don't know where the wall is. Then as it started slowing down, bouncing and spinning in its oil ... out of the corner of my eye I could see the wall. I was thinking to myself, 'I hope Capps is either way ahead or way behind.' Outside of that, it was a routine run."
He said he had no warning.
"After all of these cars are going out here and shaking the tires, I talked to (crew chief) Todd Smith and let him know I would pedal it if it shakes," he said. "I didn't want to run early (on Friday) if I have to. I had in my mind to catch it once it goes through the shake zone.
"Then the next phase is 200-400 (feet down track) and lights the tires, you can give it a little bit of a slap. It makes it past that and I felt we were looking good. I was just about to get off of the wheel for the parachutes and then there was no body on the car. There wasn't a whole lot of warning."
Beckman said DSR has a spare Valvoline/Next-Gen body.
"It has some battle scars on it, but it's been good to us," he said. "We're going to feed it another green and white body and hope that's all it takes. I hope we get seven more runs."
Capps was in the No. 13 spot overnight.
Rain washed out the Top Fuel qualifying session Thursday evening after Courtney Force (Funny Car), Allen Johnson (Pro Stock), and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) earned provisional No. 1 qualifying spots.