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Points /Counterpoint: Beckman has some fresh ideas

Mark Oswald, Antron Brown's crew chief on the Matco Tools-Aaron's Top Fuel Dragster, called the Countdown "welfare racing," saying, "You earn the points, then they take them away from you."

While that's certainly true, the Countdown format, with its bunched points at the outset of the six-race playoff, has done this year what it is designed to do. It has stirred the drama heading into the final race of the season.

The bigger question is if the NHRA should manipulate the points. Moreover, should the qualifying bonus points -- which were not instituted to factor into the Countdown but rather to force racers not to test during qualifying sessions -- be such a significant element?

Jack Beckman doesn't think so.


Relying on both his head (his marriage of statistics and logic, of history and its effect) and his heart (his love and respect for the sport), Beckman offered some perspective and some suggestions to improve the championship chase that the sanctioning body should consider.

They would reflect a more equitable spacing in the order and give a more hopeful outlook for racers outside the top 10 in the standings.


"I was never a fan of these qualifying session bonus points," the Aaron's-Valvoline Dodge Charger driver said during the Big O Tires Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Spedway. "Whether we got all of them or none of them, I think it has absolutely tipped over the proportion of qualifying points to a round win.

"Qualifying points were always intended to be tiebreaker points. You could literally take 20 points into race day, which is 100 percent of what a round-win is worth. I don't get this," Beckman said.


The drag-racing instructor, who won a Super Comp national championship, looked backward to envision what could be the future.

"Up until 1995, the best you could do for qualifying No. 1 was take eight percent of a round-win into race day. In 1995, when they cut the round points from 200 down to 20, the most qualifying points you could take into race day was 40 percent of a round-win. Today we're at 100 percent," he said.


"It's not that I'm against having qualifying bonus points," Beckman said. "It needs to be a realistic percentage of a round-win. It's drag racing. If we're going to give away points for qualifying, we're back to Bonneville. We're just speed trials at this point."

Beckman gave the NHRA what he considers a more reasonable solution about the resetting of the points after the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis.

He said, "I had suggested at one time, 'Why don't you cut everybody's points in half after Indy?' There are two big problems, in my eyes, with the points reset. The first is that a person could have earned a 10-round advantage over the person behind him. And now they have a half a round advantage, or in the case of first place, a round and a half.


"Secondly, 11th place can't ever ascend into the top 10. You've created a glass ceiling for them. Now, statistically, they'll say nobody ever came from outside of the top 10 to win the championship. But the 11th-place guy could have finished second or third or fourth or fifth, and that's important to their sponsors," he said. "So maybe if we just cut the points in half, where somebody's got a 10-round lead, they've still got a five-round lead. But 11th through 15th are still very much in contention for a top-10 finish."


"I voiced my opinion to NHRA. They might be willing to look at something there," Beckman said.

"It's interesting. People go through life a little sheepishly at times and say, 'Ah, you know, I don't complain. You just got to make do.' Let me tell you: I don't think Americans are complainers. I think good Americans are people that voice their opinions when they see something that they think is inequitable. They say, 'Hey, I think this can be changed. It can be made better.' "

He said he isn't complaining at all. Instead, he said, he wants to help refine the sport.


"I love this sport. I am probably still the biggest fan, and I'm a historian of drag racing. I spent the off-weekend between Phoenix and here up at Bakersfield at the Hot Rod Reunion, surrounded by the true legends and pioneers of the sport. And I want to continue to see our sport thrive," he said.

"And it's a tough balance between a pure sport and pure entertainment. We clearly are a large part of both of those, but we need to keep in mind that the definition of drag racing was for two cars -- with the exception of the first Charlotte race -- to go down the racetrack and one car declared a winner and points to be awarded based on how you've performed throughout the year.

"In the past we got points for low E.T. of the meet, top speed of the meet, E.T. world record, and miles-per-hour world record. But we did away with the miles-per-hour world record when Connie Kalitta went 290 an insurance companies were a little squeamish about having the speed trap 66 feet beyond the finish line. So we shortened that, did away with points for that."

He said he understood the NHRA has all kinds of viewpoints to consider when fashioning its policies but indicated he's optimistic that an open dialog will continue between the NHRA and the racers and team owners.

"The people making decisions aren't making them knee-jerk," he said. "Everything NHRA does is for a reason, and I think that there's respect on both sides. I can respectfully disagree with some of that logic, but I do understand they're using logic. It's a tough call to try to balance everything that they've got to do out there."

Tough, yes, but making tough decisions is the NHRA's job. And officials would do well to listen to opinions from those such as Beckman.

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