Behind the Wheel with Funny Car Driver Fast Jack Beckman
Written by Douglas Glad on November 12, 2019
Jorge Nunez - Photographer;
1968 El Camino SS: Behind the Wheel With NHRA Funny Car Champion “Fast Jack” Beckman
The rich and famous aren’t like the rest of us. Or are they? Despite hundreds of hours on national television driving like a hero, catching fire, blowing up, then jumping out of a roof hatch for the interview, Jack Beckman is a regular guy with an amazing life story, and he’s just plain likable.
The story of “Fast Jack” and his El Camino goes all the way back to a baseball-playing, skateboarding, skinny kid from California’s San Fernando Valley in the early 1980s. Hooked on drag racing at age 7 while hanging on the fence at historic digs like Orange County International Raceway and later the high-desert LACR, Jack saw a fuzzy vision of what he could become if it was in the cards. But first, he had to toil and suffer.
The 1968 El Camino came from Jack’s dad as a second-owner SS396 originally purchased at Rancho Chevrolet in Reseda, California. After high school, Jack joined the Air Force to serve as an avionics technician, dragging the car to his station at Cannon AFB in Clovis, New Mexico. The closest track was in Colorado, so Jack would drive 500 miles each way to see the Mile High Nationals and sneak the El Camino out to Lubbock, Texas, for some 15-second runs.
After four years, he left the Air Force and returned to California to work on his drag-racing dream. To fund the effort, Jack worked as a Westinghouse Elevator repair man. The flexible hours and copious overtime pay allowed him fund some nitrous-sniffing 10-teen runs using a roller big-block in the ElCo, but Jack knew if he was to be a hero, he needed something serious. The ElCo was parked for a big-block Super Comp dragster called the “Black Bird.” To tune up his skillsets, he enrolled in the Frank Hawley Drag Racing School, where he met its legendary namesake. Hawley immediately saw Jack for what he was: a fast-talking, not trash-talking driver in a bee-yellow El Camino. One year later, Hawley hired Jack to help run the Pomona-based drag racing school. It was the official end of the elevator-repair job and a new life for Jack.
Jack had his dream job and a competitive Super Comp rail that won him the SC championship in 2003. Things were looking good until he was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2004. In typical Jack Beckman high-energy fashion, he continued to race and endure chemotherapy at the same time. This kind of heroic effort was noted by everyone in the sport, including Dexter Tuttle and The Comstocks who gave Jack his first Top Fuel ride in the MTS big-show car. In 2005 he ran 12 races in the MTS Top Fuel Dragster. By 2006, he was back to Super Comp competition when, on the way to a race at the scenic Top Gun Dragstrip in Fallon, Nevada, Don Schumacher from DSR called and offered seat time in Whit Bazemore’s Funny Car. Jack turned the truck and trailer around, drove back to California, boarded a plane and completed a 330- and 660-foot licensing pass in the Funny Car at the sacred Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis. The test gained him a seat on the DSR team for the latter half of 2006 and a full ride for the 2007 season. In 2008, the recession hit, ending the full-time Hawley gig at Pomona. By then, it didn’t matter, Jack had made it to the majors.
The El Camino quietly bore witness as Jack went from Valley kid to the 2012 NHRA Funny Car champion. In 2016, Jack rolled it out of storage and decided to restore it. “My temporary driver license was in the glovebox. It was a time capsule. I did this for the sake of the car, not to build a car.” Once word got out that Jack was fixing the car, guys with the good stuff appeared to help. “John Hotchkis and Joe from MSD showed up first. They helped the budget.” With a garage full of Jegs boxes, Jack pulled the body off the frame and sent the car to Neil’s Rod and Custom in Idaho for 8 months to get straightened and painted. After that, the car was hosed with parts from most of the aftermarket as people heard about what Jack was trying to do. Most of the interior is from OPG with a Redline Gauge Works treatment on the dash, TMI seats, and an Ididit steering column. The drivetrain is a streetable RaceTrans TH400 with a Dice Converter and a Strange 9-inch housing that uses A-body suspension mounts and a Truetrac-locked 3.73:1 gear. It rolls on Wheel Vintiques 17×9 and 17x7s on Baer 12 and 13-inch brakes. Under the hood is a replacement 396 with a Comp hydraulic roller and a Vintage Air FEAD. It’s not a race engine, it’s more about sounding good and getting there. It has a basic Edelbrock Performer intake and RPM heads, MSD Atomic EFI, and makes about 500 hp at a reasonable 6,000 rpm. “If I want a timeslip, I’ve got a Funny Car,” Jack says. Despite plenty of powder coating and billet trinkets from Eddie Motorsports, the car is way more about handling Los Angeles traffic with a smooth ride than attending car shows. With tunes from Arc Audio, he built it to cruise and that is what he is going to do, on his birthday to Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank.