Jack Beck's Alfa Romeo
A Nebraska native, Jack was born August 21, 1945, in Loup City, NE, and grew up near Litchfield. While he was attending Litchfield High School, he got hooked on cars reading Car and Driver Magazine in the school library. In 1966, he bought a Triumph Spitfire and began attending autocrosses with the Central Nebraska Sports Car Club in Grand Island, NE. After meeting his wife, Judy, while in college, in 1967 they fooled a banker and bought a 1966 Shelby GT 350 that they ran in autocrosses. In 1968, they bought their first Mini Cooper, followed by another Mini Cooper in 1969. Jack followed this up by attending SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) driver schools in Salina, KS, and Castle Rock, CO.
In 1971, Jack raced his first SCCA National Race at Mid American Raceway near Wentzville, MO, and went on to qualify for the SCCA national championship race, then called the American Road Race of Champions (ARRC), which was held at Road Atlanta in Gainesville, GA, over Thanksgiving. With a new engine in the car, Jack ran well, but an incident on the track involving a lapped car resulted in his disqualification. Jack would run the Mini Cooper thru the 1974 season.
In the spring of 1975, Jack and Judy bought the 1971 C Sedan National Championship- winning Alfa Romeo GTA Junior from Dick Davenport. On 4th of July weekend in 1975, Jack won his first SCCA National Race in Ponca City, OK. He would race this car until 1978, when he built an Alfa Romero Spider Junior for the G Production Class. Driving the Spider Junior, Jack won the June Sprints at Road American in both 1979 and 1982. He also finished on the podium at the SCCA Nationals with third-place finish in 1981 and again in 1983.
In 1984, after wrecking the car at the Memorial Day weekend races at Riverside, CA, he rebuilt the GTA Jr. in eight days and went on to win four SCCA GT5 national races in 1984.
Jack decided to build a car for the newly created GT5 class, which would allow space frame construction. With the help of Alex MacLean, a mechanical engineer and Formula Atlantic driver, and good friend of Mike Holland, they built the car that would become synonymous with Jack Beck: the Alfa Romeo.
In June 1985, the combination of Jack Beck and his newly completed Alfa Romeo won their first place race together. For the next 21 seasons, this car, with multiple changes, remained competitive. In 1989, the combination won the June Sprints at Road America. They finished on the podium at the SCCA Runoffs in third place three times and won a whole host of Midwest Division GT5 National Championships. The GT Junior was retired August 21, 2005, setting a qualifying record, a track record and winning the Production and GT Race at Mid-America Motor Plex near Pacific Junction, IA. It also just happened to be Jack’s 60th birthday.
In his racing career, Jack won 20 Midwest Division national points championships, three with the NEOKLA region of the division and the last 17 with the Nebraska region. In addition, Jack finished on the podium five times at the SCCA National Runoffs, won the June Sprints three times, and was selected six times as the Nebraska Region National Competition Driver of the Year.
Jack said that he could have not made it happen without his wife and soul mate Judy, who, in addition to being quite a race driver herself (winning several regional championships), did most of the driving of the tow vehicles during the nights on the road, as well as timing, scoring and radio communications to the driver. She also took spares and supplies to the pits and fed the crew as well.
There was also Rick Young, who built the body work and crewed for Beck for years; Alex MacLean, who designed the chassis and suspension; Bill Preheim, who fabricated the chassis, built the suspension and still helps out; Mike Holland, who helped out for years; Gary Segatti, the best hired gun Jack has ever met; the late Bob Hubbard; Gary Goracke, who helped clients to multiple championships; John Cullen, Jack’s longtime assistant; Bill Vice, who does the machining and cylinder head work;
Rick Romans, who prepared the crankshafts; and Curt Westland, who worked for Jack for many years; as well as a host of others. But driving is only part of the Jack Beck story.
On moving to Omaha, in 1986, Jack incorporated Orion Engineering. Orion Motor Sports is a registered trade name of Orion Engineering, Inc. His success in racing had resulted in requests from fellow racers for engines, gearboxes and suspension components. While holding a full-time job at AMOCO, Jack’s moonlighting of building components for others had gotten to be a bit overwhelming, and so Orion was formed.
Orion began to do car preparation, transport and trackside service for vintage racing clients. It restored and prepared several cars for clients such as Courtney Whitlock of Springfield, MO, and Bob Baker of Omaha. This service quickly grew to include other vintage racers. Throughout the 1990s, Orion provided the car preparation, transport and trackside services for multiple clients, both in the vintage racing area and also for SCCA Club racers, and they did as many as 23 event weekends at the tracks from one coast to the other. SCCA clients included Dick Salem of Lincoln and Paul Lerman of St. Louis, MO.
Orion’s SCCA club racing clients won multiple Midwest Division national championships. In 2000, wanting to downsize from a hectic schedule, Orion reduced its participation to a few vintage events for fewer clients while continuing to support Salem’s SCCA Porsche 911 through the 2002 season. In 2000, Orion started to do the race preparation, transportation and trackside services for the MG Midget of Dick Davis of Fulton, MO. Dick raced the MG Midget through the 2005 season, winning four SCCA Midwest Division national championships and finishing on the podium at the SCCA Runoffs.
In 36 years of racing, Jack says he has been blessed with many accomplishments. Being able to perform at a high level, both in his racing and on behalf of his customers; Being able to master left-foot braking at the young age of 55; Being able to visit and race on most of the premier road race circuits in the United States has been an honor in itself; And surviving the hundreds of thousands of transport miles through the nights, rainstorms, heat and blizzards without a wreck or damage to a customer’s car.
Some of the highlights of his career that stand out are: Winning his first national race to Ponca City, OK in 1975. Winning the June Sprints for the first time in 1979 in the Alfa Romeo Spider that had been involved in a serious wreck the week before at Hutchinson, KS. Watching wife Judy win the reopening race at Continental Divide Raceway in 1980. Being involved with the Ferrari owned by Bob Baker. Jack was responsible for maintaining the car and, with his wife, transporting the car to the 1994 Monterey Historic Races.
Jack said, “I felt like we were transporting the Crown Jewels in a brown paper bag.” This car was the marquee attraction at the historical races that year and was the first Ferrari to win the 24 Hours of LeMans. Jack, with Judy at his side, actually got to drive the car around historic Laguna Seca racecourse. Jack said, “What a way to take your first laps around such a famous course.”
The 2002 SCCA Runoffs, running in the GT-5 class. Despite being involved in an accident on the track, Jack was able to get back on the track and with a tremendous drive, end up with a podium finish.
Today, Jack still operates Orion Motor Sports on North 168th Street in the northwest suburbs of Omaha. Orion continues to supply engines, gearboxes, racing components and services for racing clients throughout the country.