Beckman's Top Fuel debut impressive

LAS VEGAS -- His nickname is "Fast Jack," which would seem appropriate for a racer who holds licenses in seven drag racing categories. Jack Beckman, a 38-year-old G-force junkie from North Hills, Calif., has always had his eyes on the prize: Racing and winning on the NHRA trail.

He is a virtuoso on the quarter-mile, with a long, lustrous list of credentials that date back to his teen years when he raced his trusty 1968 Chevy El Camino -- the car in which he took his California driver's license exam at age 16, and a car he still owns. It's the car in which he won his first race, and Fast Jack has been winning ever since. So much so that Frank Hawley hired Beckman to be a supervisor at the West Coast branch of his famous drag racing school in Pomona, Calif.

Regional championships in several drag racing categories became commonplace for Beckman, until 2003 when he won the Lucas Oil World Championship in the Super Comp class, the year that saw him race in an amazing eight different vehicles.

Among his arsenal of rolling stock includes the "Blackbird," a custom built Super Comp dragster with an enclosed cockpit and a mono-strut wing, Jack's way of paying homage to legend "Big Daddy" Don Garlits and his chimerical "Swamp Rat XXXIV" Top Fuel dragster.

This weekend at the sixth SummitRacing.com Nationals at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Beckman fulfilled yet another dream when he entered his first national event in the Top Fuel category after recently completing his NHRA licensing procedures.

The car is owned by Dexter Tuttle and tuned by veteran crew chief Jimmy Walsh with sponsorship for 12 events in 2005 provided by Beckman's friends Rodger and Karen Comstock, who operate Mail Terminal Services.

On Sunday, Beckman will start eliminations from the top half of the ladder after qualifying eighth with his 4.610/310.13 best. It should be noted that Beckman outqualified such accomplished racers as Scott Kalitta, David Grubnic and reigning POWERade champion Tony Schumacher.

It should also be noted that one year ago, Jack Beckman was battling what appeared to be terminal cancer.

The lymphoma that was ravaging his body forced him into chemotherapy, and the once vibrant, athletic, energetic racer lost all of his hair, took on a gaunt appearance, and some who knew him braced for the worst.

But through it all, Beckman was unbending, totally upbeat, and convinced he would beat the disease. He raced during the chemotherapy treatments throughout 2004, posted updates on his Web site informing his friends and fans of his progress, and was told by doctors as the 2005 season rolled into sight that the disease was in remission.

And now, Beckman forges ahead with incredible enthusiasm, passion and a tremendous attitude which has made him as impressive a role model as drag racing has ever produced.

It is rare for a rookie Top Fuel driver to jump into the sport's quickest and fastest class and score a top-half qualifying spot in his first professional appearance. But for Beckman, it's just another achievement for a special individual who doesn't know the meaning of quit.

Bill Stephens covers NHRA for ESPN.com.