by Lee Ackerman
Omaha, Neb. - Jack Beckley was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa on August 16, 1918, the middle of seven children. Beckley was a successful high school athlete, but he became hooked on racing when he was 16 years old in 1934 when he and his brother Kenny started helping on the race car of Omaha driver Carl Forberg. Forberg went on to become a great midget driver and finished seventh in the 1951 Indianapolis 500.
During World War II Beckley
worked on the flight line of Lockheed Aircraft Company in Burbank, California
and it was there that he met and married his wife, Harriett.
After the war be became
involved with Southern California midget drivers Danny Oakes, Johnny McDowell,
and Eddie Haddad. In 1949, Beckley received his big break when he was asked to
prepare an Indy car for Jack McGrath to drive in the Indianapolis 500. The car
ran great in time trials as McGrath posted the third fast time on Pole Day good
enough to earn and outside front row starting position for the 500. Despite
McGrath falling out of the race early, Beckley was hooked and never returned to
Beckley stayed with McGrath
moving with him to the Jack Hinkle racing team in 1950 and was with him when he
finished third in the 1951 Indy 500. In 1954, Beckley was asked to help the
great Bill Vukovich in his quest for a second straight Indy 500 win. Vukovich
won the race with Beckley on board and then Jack moved to the Lindsey Hopkins
team. It turned out to be a 17-year relationship.
While at Hopkins racing, the
Council Bluffs native was the Chief Mechanic for several great drivers
including Jim Rathmann, Roger McCluskey, Tony Bettenhausen, Bobby Marshman,
George Amick, and for a few races in 1962, the legendary A, J. Foyt.
In 1973, Beckley moved to
Patrick Racing and worked with Chief Mechanic George Bignotti to prepare the
car that Gordon Johncock drove to victory in the 1973 Indy 500.
In 1976, Beckley turned to
and officiating position in racing and assisted Technical Chairman Frank Delroy
for two years before Delroy and several other United States Auto Club officials
perished in an airplane crash. Beckley assumed Delroy’s position and stayed in
that capacity until retiring in July 1991. After retiring, he often returned to
help out as a consultant every May with the Indianapolis 500.
Although Beckley was never
officially the Chief Mechanic on an Indianapolis 500 winning car, he was Chief
Mechanic on cars that won 12 National Championship events between 1950 and
1968. Cars Beckley prepared qualified on the front row at Indy seven times and
led segments of a number of Indy 500s.
Jack and his wife Harriett
moved to Glendale, Ariz., were Jack passed away in January 2006 at the age of
87. For all who followed the Indianapolis 500 during the 50’s and 60’s, the
name Jack Beckley was synonymous with the Indy 500.