It is a scene unlike anything in drag racing. When the Christmas Trees flash green at zMAX Dragway for the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, four 8,000-horsepower nitro machines will power down the dragstrip in one of the most incredible spectacles in all of motorsports.
But to have success at one of the most unique and thrilling races in the sport, the goal for the drivers is to make it seem as though they’re the only ones out there.
“The cool thing is you don’t notice how different it is if you’re the car out in front and that’s the goal: to not even notice a difference,” said Top Fuel standout Spencer Massey. “You watch all these lights show up, you stage it up, hit the gas and feel the thunder.”
Without question, the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, now in its fifth year, presents one of the most powerful sights and sounds on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series circuit. It marks the fifth of 24 events during the 2014 season and takes place April 11-13 at Bruton Smith’s famed “Bellagio of Drag Strips.”
The world’s top racers will once again try to stay out in front at the one-of-a-kind thrill show at the world’s only four-lane, all-concrete drag strip. Massey (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (PSM) were last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised on ESPN2.
Massey has enjoyed immense success at the Four-Wide Nationals and will be after his third straight win during the event, which would be the most for any NHRA driver. As for preparing for the race and the unique challenges it provides, Massey harkens back to his early days of racing.
“I always think it goes back to driving bracket cars, seeing the staging lights and not letting anything throw you off,” Massey said. “So much of it is staying focused and not letting it mess with you. Going back to the very first time, I had a feel for it and had a grip on it. You just have to try to make it simple and that’s when you have success. When you overcomplicate it, that’s when you mess up. When I get up there, everything goes into automatic mode.”
Hagan, the 2011 Funny Car world champion, broke through for his first Four-Wide victory a year ago and the track and event has always been special for him. He became the first driver to break into the three-second zone in Funny Car at the 2012 fall race at zMAX Dragway and marveled about the energy and atmosphere surrounding the Four-Wide event.
“To be able to put a Wally on your trophy case that says you won the Four-Wide race, that’s huge,” Hagan said. “It’s just a cool event and I’m excited to drop the hammer there again. You never know what’s going to happen. It’s super loud and super-fast. I love that place.”
But with more than 30,000-horsepower running at once, there’s bound to be distractions. Hagan said he is in constant communication with his crew chief leading up to a run, helping make him aware of what light he needs to be looking at and every other variable involved in a race of the magnitude of the Four-Wide.
There’s also the matter of facing a highly competitive field that includes defending champion and current points leader John Force, who won the inaugural Four-Wide Nationals in 2010, and other former event winners Robert Hight and Jack Beckman, as well as championship contenders Ron Capps, Courtney Force, Del Worsham, Cruz Pedregon, Bob Tasca III and Alexis DeJoria.
“It definitely gets you out of your element and out of your comfort zone with that much going on,” Hagan said. “You have to adapt to the situation and really concentrate and stay on your toes. A lot of times when you’re racing against one driver you know their tendencies, but when it’s three other drivers it’s a lot more difficult. You have to put the blinders on and just focus. There’s a lot going on, but it’s awesome for us.”
The Pro Stock Motorcycle class returned to action at the Four-Wide Nationals a year ago and it was immediately an event Arana Jr. circled on the calendar. As the reigning champion he takes plenty of confidence into the race, but will be challenged by the likes of defending world champion Matt Smith, who won the inaugural Four-Wide race in the class, as well as his father, Hector Arana, Eddie Krawiec, Andrew Hines, Michael Ray and Steve Johnson, a past winner at zMAX who won the first bike event of the season in Gainesville.
"I was really glad they brought it back last year because I love that track,” Arana Jr. said. “It's a beautiful, prestigious track to go to, and when you go there, you really feel like you're a part of something because of how immaculate the track is. The fact that I was able to win that race, that was also really awesome.
“You really have to be on your game and stay focused. Another tough part is you have one shot at each lane, and then you have to know which lane you want for Sunday. You've got to be close so you'll have a shot at each lane."
Jeg Coughlin, the 2013 world champion, and his Mopar teammate Allen Johnson, who raced to back-to-back wins at Phoenix and Gainesville, have started the season strong in their new Dodge Darts. Johnson, the 2012 world champion, has never won at zMAX Dragway, while other standouts competing for their first victory at the Four-Wide Nationals include recent Las Vegas winner and new series points leader Erica Enders-Stevens, Vincent Nobile, V Gaines, Jason Line, Dave Connolly and Shane Gray.
Coughlin was part of the group invited to break ground on the drag strip and make the first pass when the track was completed, forging a special relationship with the facility. But that doesn’t make winning the Four-Wide event any easier.
“You need a different mindset and strategy when you're racing three other cars,” Coughlin said. “There are ways you can be eliminated that are almost accidental so there's a premium on focus, especially when you pull up there to make a run. I do try to sneak up there and watch the bikes and if I can, I’ll watch the first few (groups) of Pro Stock cars as well. That's enough for me to remember. It's a big deal to have a presence like this in Charlotte and I definitely feel lucky to have won here."
In a thrilling Top Fuel final last season, Massey defeated Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tony Schumacher, eventual 2013 Top Fuel world champ Shawn Langdon and Brandon Bernstein. Massey will face tough competition as he goes for the three-peat and hold off the likes of Antron Brown, points leader Doug Kalitta, Steve Torrence, Winternationals winner Khalid alBalooshi and Phoenix runner-up Brittany Force.
Knowing the fanfare involved with a race that draws so much attention, a third victory at the Four-Wide Nationals would mean just as much as the first one.
“It’s an honor to have so much success at a track that has much so prestige,” Massey said. “It’s something that’s hard to do and being able to experience it is awesome. It’s definitely cool to have it on the resume.”
As always, fans will have the chance to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. Fans are provided with direct access to the teams, allowing them to watch the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy cherished face time with their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Series qualifying begins Friday, April 11, with sessions at 1:15 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, April 12, at 1:15 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, April 13.
Be a part of the action all weekend with a 3-Day Pass to the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals starting at $99. Tickets for children 13 and under are free with any paid adult ticket; to purchase general admission or reserved seats please visit www.zMAXDragway.com or call the box office at (800) 455-FANS (3267).