It was a year ago when National Hot Rod Assn. funny car driver Scott Kalitta died in a accident on the track at Old Bridge Township Raceway in Englishtown, N.J., site of this weekend’s races.
Jack Beckman, a driver from North Hills, was waiting his turn to qualify when Kalitta had his tragic accident.
“We didn't qualify last year for the SuperNationals, as the NHRA cancelled the rest of the qualifying that day when Scott had his accident,” said Beckman, a driver for Don Schumacher Racing. “It didn’t matter to me. It’s the first time that I could ever think of in my racing career where qualifying didn’t actually seem all that important.”
The fallout from the fatal wreck was the change in race distance, from a quarter-mile to 1,000 feet. The shorter distance was implemented for two reasons: to reduce the speeds of the top fuel and funny car dragsters and to create a greater distance to slow down the cars after their runs. The debate continues as to whether the top fuel and funny car divisions will ever race at a quarter-mile distance again.
“It’s never going to be the same,” he said following Kalitta’s death. “It’s not like one day we went, OK, well, we’re over that. You’ll never get over it. There is a time frame when it hurts almost constantly. And then when you get past that it’s a memory and a tugging at the heart when you think of the people we have lost.”
Beckman enters this weekend’s races in fifth place in the funny car standings and has won two events this year. But he said returning to Englishtown will be bittersweet.
“We'll have a chance to honor Scott amongst all the crews and the teams and remember him for the great racer and person he was,” Beckman said.
Ron Capps, Beckman’s teammate, leads the funny car standings and won at Englishtown in 2006.
“We’re going to one of the more historic races we have on our schedule this weekend,” said Capps, who has a 58-point lead over Tony Pedregon. “Really, I was overwhelmed by finally getting to win this race a few years ago.”
Del Worsham, a driver from Chino Hills, is fourth in the funny car standings. He is coming off a second-round loss at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill., on Sunday.
“We’re fourth in points so we lost a couple of spots with our second-round loss last week, but that’s OK,” he said. “I’m still optimistic about this weekend in Englishtown; our car showed some good promise in Joliet for the summer races we are about to start running.”