NASCAR & Auto Racing

Four-Wide Nationals still a challenge for drivers, crews

After four years, the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals and its unique four-lane racing format hasn’t lost much of its luster among drag racing fans.

It also hasn’t lost any of the challenges it presents to drivers and crews preparing for zMax Dragway’s annual spring NHRA event.

“To me, four-lane (racing) is a heart attack waiting to happen,” said 16-time NHRA champion John Force, who won the Funny Car title at the inaugural Four-Wide Nationals in 2010.

“It’s great for a TV package, because it isn’t drug out, and the crowds love it. It’s something different. But on the race team side, it can be mass confusion. Anybody can win this race, which is what’s cool about it. It’s hard, but it’s also an adrenaline rush.”

The challenge comes from the Four-Wide Nationals’ format – the only such event on the 24-race NHRA circuit.

Normally, NHRA events run on two lanes, and with four qualifying runs (two in each lane) the crews have enough to get a feel for the traction in each lane, and to adjust their dragster’s handling, clutch and engine timing accordingly.

That workload not only doubles with the two additional lanes, but is magnified with the teams only making one qualifying attempt per lane. That means the crews must lean on the data provided by their track specialists, as well as observing runs made by other teams and a lot of guesswork.

The format also complicates things for the drivers, who deal with staging in the starting lane against just one other driver for most of the season. Add two more drivers, and their workload is increased as well.

“It’s still a challenge for most drivers, but I love it because it is a challenge,” said Spencer Massey, who has won the last two Four-Wide Nationals Top Fuel titles. “Of course, I might not be saying that if I hadn’t won the last two (titles).

“Hey, (zMax Dragway owner) Bruton Smith’s got a track in Las Vegas that can be expanded. Why not have a Four-Wide out West, and one here?”

Leading the pack: Shawn Langdon moved to the top of the leader board, while Ron Capps, Chris McGaha and Michael Ray remained division leaders after Saturday’s final qualifying rounds. They earned lane choice for Sunday’s elimination rounds.

Langdon, the defending Top Fuel series champion, clocked in a run of 3.753 seconds early in the day for his second No. 1 qualifier award this season and 15th of his career.

J.R. Todd, the Top Fuel leader after Saturday’s rounds, wound up second-best at 3.781 seconds, with Langdon’s Al-Anabi Racing teammate Khalid alBalooshi third at 3.793 seconds.

Capps’s run of 4.059 seconds was enough to earn his first No. 1 Funny Car qualifer award this season and 42nd of his career. Robert Hight, the 2012 Four-Wide winner, was second-fastest at 4.074 seconds

McGaha, driving the car that Mike Edwards used in winning last year’s Four-Wide Pro Stock title, took his second No. 1 qualifier award of the season by edging points leader Erica Enders-Stevens by 0.001 seconds (6.523-6.524).

Ray’s first-day time of 6.816 seconds stood up to give him his second Pro Stock Motorcycle No. 1 qualifier award and the fifth of his career. Defending Four-Wide champ Hector Arana Jr. was second at 6.846 seconds.

Steve Johnson, who won the Pro Stock Motorcycle season opener at Gainesville, Fla., failed to qualify. He wound up 17th at 6.998 seconds.

Sunday’s schedule: Elimination rounds will begin at noon Sunday with the four pro divisions, followed by the alcohol and sportsman divisions. The finals in all divisions will begin at approximately 3 p.m.