INDIANAPOLIS 10/18/13 Noted drag racing engineer Lee Beard has announced his retirement as an active crew chief in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Beard, whose most recent victory as a tuner came at the 2013 NHRA Ford Performance Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, Tenn. in June with Steve Torrence at the controls, has a total of 55 wins to his credit, with a remarkable 12 different drivers, including a trio at the prestigious NHRA U.S. Nationals. No crew chief has led more drivers to victory in drag racing than Beard. Beyond his national event wins Beard captured three series championships, the first as the crew chief for the late Gary Ormsby in 1989, with two additional titles having come as a team manager in 1992 and again in 2009.
Sixty-six times Beard-tuned dragsters and Funny Cars sped to the Number 1 qualifying position during his stellar career, with the number of national elapsed time and speed marks set under his guidance being well up into double digits. Beard, with driver Larry Dixon at the controls of the Rapisarda Autosport International dragster, set the Australian national record earlier this year, and is credited with the quickest and fastest times ever recorded outside the United States. Their 4.50-second elapsed time and speed of 332 MPH eclipsed the best ever seen Down Under by a considerable margin.
Colorado born and raised, Beard first came to prominence as a Top Fuel driver in the Seventies, but soon came to realize his real talent was in making the cars go fast, not in driving them. After graduating from the University of Southern Colorado in 1974, Beard teamed with Jerry “The King” Ruth on a Top Fuel dragster, a car with which they captured the Number 1 qualifying position on the way to a Beard’s first major victory, which came at Bandimere Speedway outside Denver. In addition to Ruth, the dozen drivers Beard has led to victory include Whit Bazemore, “Hot Rod” Fuller, Cory McClenathan, Kenny Bernstein and Ed “The Ace’ McCulloch.
In a move to honor the barrier-breakers, major aftermarket companies sponsored a series of special “clubs” to recognize those who’d done something special first. Only Beard and legendary tuner Dale Armstrong have resumes that include drivers with memberships in both the Cragar Top Fuel and Funny Car Four Second Clubs, while both can also point to drivers they’ve helped achieve membership in the Slick 50 Top Fuel and Funny Car 300 Mile Per Hour Clubs. The other honors they have in common include a host of championships and membership on the Car Craft Magazine All-Star Drag Racing Team in the Crew Chief categories. Being named to the All-Star Team is the result of balloting among the publication’s 400,000-plus readers, but each has also been named Person of the Year for their accomplishments, those honors being decided by the staff and management of the publication.
During the height of his career as a race engineer Beard’s peer group included drag racing’s most noted tuners, including Tim Richards, Dick LaHaie, Austin Coil and Dale Armstrong. These five have been correctly credited with having developed and put to use the most innovative concepts ever witnessed in drag racing, concepts and parts that are still being used in the 21st Century.
As the Team Manager for Don Schumacher Racing from 2009 through 2011, Beard worked with six different race teams on various technological projects that included everything from wind tunnel development work through the in-house design and development of their own race-cars. More recently he guided Cruz Pedregon to five Number 1 Funny Car qualifying efforts, including a stunning 3.99-second elapsed time at the Maple Grove, Penn. national event. Beard is one of a very few tuners to have notched a three second elapsed time with a Funny Car racing to 1,000 feet. Along with those stellar qualifying results Beard guided Pedregon to an impressive victory at the season-closing AAA Finals in California in 2012. Beard began the 2013 season working with Dixon and the Rapisarda Autosport International operation, but left that part-time position to work full time with Texan Steve Torrence. Under Beard’s guidance Torrence set three track records and earned runner-up honors in both the Traxxas Shootout and the NHRA U.S. Nationals. During Beard’s tenure with the team Torrence moved from 15th to ninth in the standings, easily qualifying for the 2013 Countdown to 1 championship run.
Although Beard has yet to formally announce his plans for the future, he knows he’s going to stay involved in drag racing in some capacity, but not as a full-time touring professional. The grind of the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello series has, in Beard’s words “seriously cut into my fly fishing time.” Maybe he’s just given us a hint as to what he’ll be doing in 2014.