Brown, Beckman finally win big

POMONA, Calif. -- Seven months ago, Jack Beckman was viewed as the sacrificial lamb at Don Schumacher Racing.

On Sunday at Auto Club Raceway, he was viewed in a different light -- 2012 NHRA Funny Car champion.

Talk about Cinderella. In one of the most surprising runs to a championship in NHRA history, Beckman went from the afterthought step-child to the top driver of the season.

He joined his Don Schumacher Racing teammate Antron Brown on the podium. Brown became the Top Fuel champion when DSR driver Tony Schumacher lost in the final round of the Auto Club Nationals to Brandon Bernstein.

It made Brown the first African-American to ever win a major auto racing title.

Brown had a great dragster all season. Beckman didn't have a great Funny Car. He won the title by two points over his DSR teammate Ron Capps when both drivers lost in the semifinals.

For Capps, it was devastating, the fourth time he has ended the season as the runner-up.

For Beckman, it was elation, a stunning championship season that seemed unimaginable seven months ago. Beckman was asked to give up his car and crew to help Capps and his big-money sponsor, NAPA, swapping teams when Capps was down and Beckman was up.

"It's incredible to be here now," Beckman said. "It wasn't my decision [to make the swap]. I thought we would be lucky to finish in the top five. People called and said I got the short end of the stick, but this is a business and Don always has given me a car that could win. I knew he would again."

Don Schumacher hired Todd Smith to tune Beckman's car, which had been Capps' struggling car. But magic happened. Things clicked with Smith, Beckman and the crew.

Capps was winning with Beckman's old team and Beckman was winning with Capps' rebuilt team. What seemed hopeless in April became a championship team in November.

Overcoming adversity is nothing new for Beckman, 46 and a cancer survivor. Beckman had Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2004 and underwent eight grueling chemotherapy treatments. His doctors told him he never would father children.

Wrong again. Jason (5) and Layla (1) were at the track Sunday with Beckman's wife, Jenna, when dad won the title.

Beckman was sitting in his car waiting to make his semifinal run Sunday when Capps ran in front of him against rookie Courtney Force. In a dramatic matchup, Courtney edged Capps by about four feet at the end.

In a touch of irony, it was Beckman who helped teach Courtney how to drive a dragster, signing her NHRA license as her instructor at Pomona six years ago.

"I need to get her address," Beckman said. "I need to send her something special for Christmas."

Courtney, who lost to Cruz Pedregon in the final, didn't want to be the driver to decide the title.

"I hate being in the middle of this," she said after beating Capps. "But I had to go out there and do my job."

Beckman didn't raise his arms in celebration when he saw the win light for Force.

"Honestly, I can't root against Ron and that team," Beckman said. "Those were my guys, and I know I easily could have been on the other end of this. You dream about this, but I kind of have mixed emotions."

After losing in the semifinal to Pedregon, Beckman got out of his car, walked over to Capps, and hugged him.

Capps was crushed. Everything was put in place for him to win this title. He has a hard time speaking moments after losing.

"I don't know what to say," Capps said. "It was a heck of a season. I'm so proud to drive this car. I'm happy for Don Schumacher, but oh man, it's heartbreaking. It's going to be tough to sit at that table [Monday night's postseason awards ceremony]. I know Jack's my teammate and all, but you just feel sick over this."

Beckman said the championship happened because Rahn Tobler, his old crew chief who switched to Capps, helped Smith learn the ropes when he first arrived.

"Rahn and that team did everything they could to make sure Todd and this crew had everything it needed after the switch," Beckman said. "I can't say enough about these guys. My name goes in the record books, but they are the reason it goes in there."

Beckman, however, is the man who kept his head up and stayed positive no matter what was thrown at him this season, including this weekend.

On Thursday, Beckman sat in his car while it became a four-wheel grenade, burning off one of his eyebrows while flames engulfed his car as its body shattered into a hundred pieces. The next day he was the top qualifier.

On Saturday, Beckman watched Capps become the No. 1 qualifier, making his lead over Capps only two points entering Sunday's eliminations.

None of it mattered -- not changing teams, changing cars, changing crew chiefs, not even an exploding hot rod three days earlier. When you beat cancer, every other challenge seems a little less difficult.

"Maybe it gives you a better perspective," Beckman said. "It changes your frame of mind. Losing a round of racing isn't the end of the world when you're just glad to be alive. I'm just really glad to be here."