Guest Instructor - Michael Beard
Had it not been for a chance encounter, Michael Beard’s sports resume may have been most highlighted for being picked last in gym class.
That encounter wasn’t even his own. It was the result of an afternoon ride through the rolling hills of central Pennsylvania in the summer of 1989, taken by his father, Stephen Beard.
“Dad had disappeared for the better part of a day,” said Beard. “That kind of thing just never happened, so when he got home, obviously the family wondered where he had been.”
“I found Beaver Springs Dragway!” his father pronounced.
Beard’s father had raced street cars in the heyday of hot rods, but he had gotten away from the sport of drag racing for the better part of twenty years.
“I had heard stories off and on when I was kid about tracks like Kreamer, Green Pine, and Numidia Raceway, and stories about racing his ’56 Ford with a 401 Buick motor,” recalled Beard. “When he discovered Beaver Springs, he took the whole family to watch the next week, and the week after that, he entered his 4-speed ’74 Dodge D200 pickup in the Trophy class. Racing was different from the old school class racing that he was used to. It was my job to figure out what all this ‘bracket racing stuff’ was about. That November, he bought me a ’71 Duster Slant-Six for my birthday, which we had about $800 in. We worked on it all winter, and I started racing in the summer of 1990. At my first race, I had my driver’s license for 16 days. I went four rounds, and I was hooked.”
Beard's first car a 6-cylinder '71 Duster, and first win, just weeks after getting his driver's license (1990).
In his first full year at Beaver Springs, 1991, Beard shattered the Trophy class points record en route to the Trophy class championship, the High School title, and Driver of the Year honors, all in the 18-second daily driver.
“It didn’t have any gauges to speak of, and I let it shift itself. All I had to do was concentrate on driving. I spent a lot of time looking in the rearview mirror, not only to judge top end, but also to see if I could determine my opponent’s reaction times!” said Beard.
He made his own logbooks and tracked stats for everything he could, including his opponents’ runs, and ran split times on a calculator, diligently carried in a fanny pack, like any good card-carrying geek of the era.
“I didn’t know anything about cars. I fell in love with the strategy and the numbers game of bracket racing. I raced for years before I became a car guy. It’s only recently that people don’t run screaming when they see me with a wrench in my hands. I still try to stick to driving, and leave the important stuff to people like Scott Macy and Tim Sloan.”
Beard’s commitment to the thinking end of bracket racing continued to pay off when his dad built the “Dust Devil” ’74 Duster in 1992, a car that Beard still has today. He made his first quantum leap in 1993 when he bought his first practice tree, a Biondo Final Round II, which allowed him to test theories and learn more about reaction times. To this day, the starting line is likely Beard’s strongest suit.
Beard's current IHRA Stock Eliminator ride, the Duck Tape Volare (Piedmont, 2008)
The national spotlight first found Beard with his 1994 NHRA Div. 1 Bracket Finals win in Heavy Eliminator (Footbrake), which helped earn him the title of NHRA Div. 1 ET Driver of the Year. That set the stage for three consecutive track championships and Driver of the Year honors at Beaver Springs Dragway, from 1996 through 1998. He also dabbled in footbraking his Duster in Super/Pro in 1998, where he was named Rookie of the Year.
About that same time, Beard met Billy Nees, who schooled him in the dark arts of Stock Eliminator racing. Beard debuted a 4-cyl front wheel drive ’85 Turismo that summer (winning in his first outing while the unmodified car was still running mid 20-sec E.T.’s).
Nees coarsely noted, “Michael, ya gotta understand something. You can win the track championship at Beaver Springs for the rest of your life: Nobody’s going to know, and nobody’s going to care. You have to get out there.”
$5K No-Box win at Pittsburgh (2003)
Beard campaigned the Turismo for a nearly full NHRA Div. 1 schedule in 1999, which resulted in a respectable 11th place finish in the points. It planted the seed for a love of Class Racing that would develop later in his racing career.
In the midst of all the racing, Beard earned his Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science at Bucknell University, with a minor in Education. During his time in college, the Internet was just starting to gain its roots. Beard created the third drag racing related website on the Internet, “Michael Beard’s Introduction to Bracket Racing”, which later became StagingLight.com. Later, he pitched the idea to bring NHRA to the World Wide Web, and worked with National Dragster editor Phil Burgess to create the fledgling NHRA Online.
In 2000, Beard took a position with IHRA as the Director of Creative Services. He overhauled and maintained IHRA’s website, contributed to Drag Review magazine, with journalism, photography, and graphic design. He worked many facets of IHRA’s Bracket Finals events, anywhere from working the gate to photography, announcing, and race coverage. He also acted as Bill Bader’s liaison for sportsman racers.
While working in an official capacity for IHRA, Beard remained an active competitor, but on a reduced scale. He left IHRA in the summer of 2002 to work for Quaker City Raceway in Salem, Ohio, in order to be able to compete on a national level in IHRA. Beard and race team partner Matt Zapp inked a marketing partnership with Duck Tape brand duct tape and Loctite, and Terry Knott offered Beard the chance to drive his ’73 Dart Sport in Stock Eliminator.
In his rookie season in IHRA Stock, Beard clinched the 2003 World Championship in a remarkable 63 days. In addition to the World Championship, Beard has accrued two Pro-Am Championships, five National Event wins, and a dozen Pro-Am titles.
The 2003 IHRA Stock World Champ, at Duck Tape's headquarters in Avon, Ohio (2003)
“When we won the World Championship, I knew at that point that I wanted to run my own business, so that I could take off and go racing when I wanted,” said Beard. “I also had the goal to have my own Stocker, and Terry helped me buy the Duck Tape Volare I’ve been racing now since 2005. Eventually, I took the graphics business on my own, and moved to North Carolina to be in the heart of the racing world.”
When he’s not Class Racing, Beard stays sharp by bracket racing at small local venues and big money races alike. He earned the 2007 Rockingham Dragway Footbrake Championship, and has twice qualified for Bracket Finals teams in two different Divisions, culminating in a virtual sweep of the 2009 IHRA Div. 2 East Summit Team Finals, where he won three out of four races, including the main event. All told, Beard has amassed 16 Championship titles, and 147 career wins in 215 final round appearances.
Amidst all of his success, one day still stands out from the rest. Beard inked his name in the record books in 2008 by running himself in the finals of the $10K Sunday race of the World Footbrake Challenge II, something that impacted his personal life as much as his racing career.
“After the race, I called my girlfriend Jill and asked her to marry me,” recalled Beard. “She laughed. I said, ‘I always told you that when I got out of debt, you could have a ring. Well, I runnered-up today…. AND I won.’ Six months later, we were married!”
Winner and Runner-up in the same race! World Footbrake Challenge II (2008)
Beard, 36, resides in Seagrove, NC with his wife Jill, where he operates his StagingLight.com graphic design and printing business… in between racing that is!