Beattie trucks on toward NASCAR goal


July 09, 2000|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

His classmates at St. Paul's School didn't always understand J. C. Beattie Jr.

"I could check my oil and change my spark plugs, and they couldn't even pump their own gas," says Beattie, now 22, a University of North Carolina, Charlotte student majoring in business and a competitor on the American Speed Association circuit.

Things have changed, of course. His St. Paul's friends understand more, and Beattie, whose family owns ATI Performance Products Inc., a Woodlawn company that makes auto racing parts, has proven himself capable of driving race cars as well as working on them.

Josh Decklebaum, Beattie's friend since sixth grade and one who refuses to be lumped in with Beattie's tormentors, said the early teasing - from others - was a product of immaturity.

"They didn't know what he was about," Decklebaum said. "I didn't, either, at first, but I learned real fast. J. C. and I went to the Jolly Roger Go-Kart track at the ocean. It was just a little go-kart. How hard could it be? He beat me by four seconds! He's just a natural."

In go-karts, Beattie won three national World Karting Association championships. From there, it was on to the Parts Pro Truck Races, a series that is to the Craftsman Truck Series what Busch Grand National is to Winston Cup.

He was a quick starter in the trucks, too, winning the pole for his first race. Last season, his first complete truck season, he finished third in the series' points standings.

"Now," he says, with a smile in his voice, "it has gotten a whole lot harder."

He chose the ASA because costs were controlled in the series that runs what are called "spec" engines - meaning everyone runs the same kind and is not allowed to work on it. Even so, the full-time venture carries a price tag of about $500,000.

But, with the series comes exposure; 17 of its 20 races are carried live on the TNN cable network. That has helped the family business, which is 85 to 90 percent mail order.

Another reason for choosing the ASA was that it is a steppingstone to Beattie's goal of becoming a Winston Cup driver. ASA is a known training ground for the Winston Cup series and a place to make contacts.

Winston Cup drivers Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace, Dick Trickle and Johnny Benson are some of the men who started their careers in ASA. Morgan Shepherd, Ken Schrader and Ted Musgrave are among ASA car owners.

The ASA fields stock cars that weigh about 400 pounds less than the Busch cars but use the same kind of radial tires the Winston Cup Series uses.

"In go-karts, I won my first race and kept winning. In trucks, I finished out of the top five just twice," says Beattie. "Now, in this car, I'm fighting tooth and nail just to make the race. It's fun, but it's also a lot of work."

He has missed qualifying for two races so far this season.

"I'd never not raced because I wasn't fast enough," he says, still sounding slightly puzzled. "It was like going from cloud nine to being kicked down the stairs."

But next weekend's race in Chicago will be only his ninth ASA race, and he is excited by how much he is learning.

"There are still a lot of adjustments for me to make," he says. "No one in Maryland has been around oval racing. My crew chief, Arlie Woody, is from Florida. We have him living here in a Motel 6."

His pit crew is made up of a collection of friends. Some are guys in the ATI shop, one is a pilot friend of his father's, two are his fraternity brothers and another is his UNCC roommate.

Still, Beattie isn't doing badly.

He is 10th out of 24 in the rookie standings and 27th out of 55 in overall points.

By the time he gets to Jennerstown, Pa., Aug. 6, he hopes to have moved up. Beattie considers Jennerstown, a 2 1/2 -hour drive north of Baltimore, his "home track," and he is busy making sure he has tickets for family and friends.

Among those friends will be Decklebaum, who says, "I can't wait to see him race" and adds:

"Racing is his calling. He knows so much about it, and he works so hard at it. When I go see him race, I know I'll be seeing his future, too."

Perception is key

One of the biggest discussions around the Winston Cup garages these days concerns NASCAR's strong consideration of a common template.

That would mean keeping some angles and the lengths of cars the same on each.

The idea is drawing great debate in a sport with popularity partly based on a rivalry among fans of various car manufacturers - Ford, Chevy, Pontiac and, beginning next year, Chrysler.

One might say there isn't much difference among the models now. Remove the identifying logos and paint jobs, line the cars up, and try to sort them out. There isn't much to chose from. But the perception is that they are quite different, and it is that perception that keeps car fans interested.

Put a "common" template on them and the perception might change.

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