NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Four-wide mania

22 Sep 2009
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

Sunday's four-abreast extravaganza at zMax Dragway was a sight to behold, even on TV, my vantage point for the weekend. National DRAGSTER Associate Editor Candida Benson, who was covering the event for us for NHRA.com and has been around the drag races long enough to see plenty, texted me, "OMG coolest thing ever!!!!!!" (yes, six exclamation points).

The eight drivers who took part in the two pairings – one each for Top Fuel and Funny Car – were equally as enthusiastic, especially the two winners, Spencer Massey and Mike Neff. Both won their four-car matches on a holeshot, and in fact, Massey's great light helped him reach the finish line ahead of Antron Brown and Brandon Bernstein, both of whom had better elapsed times. I bet that Massey, who had a better reaction time than all three, would like to have that triple play added to his reaction time stats as well as the three "round-wins."

As could be expected, all eight drivers were exicted and honored to be in on the history-making exhibition, using such descriptions as "exciting" and "honored" <g> ... except, of course, for John Force, who related it to something about charging the cheerleaders shower in high school that's better left unexplored. Then again, if you were the quarterback of a team that didn't win a single game, it's understandable why your highlight took place off the gridiron.

Long before zMax was finished, I wrote a couple of columns about four-wide drag racing in the past, and it seems like a good time to share that information again, but with some new info and new pics.

Though a lot of the four-car racing was done at Byron/Rockford Dragways in Illinois and in Budd's Creek, Md., it was a widespread phenomenon from coast to coast. I've received e-mails from both coasts with tales of four-car bashes of various types, including all manners of race vehicles. (I even found a reference in Hot Rod magazine that back in the 1930s, the SCTA class finals runoffs on the dry lakes at Muroc sometimes featured up to a dozen cars[!], which obviously was a lot easier on the lake's wide-open spaces and with a flag starter and human win judges than what would have been required for computerized timing.)

(Above and below) Top Fuelers versus Super Stockers? You betcha.
Rico Paris, near lane, took on three other fuelers at Rockford (Ill.).
Four-wide jets in Fontana, Calif.
Four-wide floppers!
Four-across door cars in York, Pa., in 1969 with the cars of Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins, "Dyno Don" Nicholson,"Jungle Jim" Liberman, and Sox & Martin.
(Above and below) The four-car race in Fresno, Calif.; from left are Jim Herbert driving the Lizard, Berry Bros.-Stark, Raitt-Hyatt Syndicate II with Dwight Salisbury driving, and Gotelli-Safford.

Veteran Mark Pieri, Top Gas winner at the 1966 Springnationals and a three-time Division 3 Top Gas champ (and multi-time UDRA champ) who also competed in Top Fuel as well as Top Alcohol Funny Car and Dragster, took part in one of the craziest four-car bashes ever in October 1964 in Byron, Ill., pitting two fuel dragsters against two Super Stockers.

Pieri is in the far left lane in the Chicago-based Guzzler entry of Bud Roache and Don Mattson; the late Ron Correnti, another grizzled fuel-racing veteran, was in the stocker next to him. Next to Correnti is the famous "Greek," Chris Karamesines, and Pieri said he thinks that Ed Reshanski was in the far right lane.

“If memory serves me right, the door cars were staged 50 or 75 feet behind the starting line," recalled Pieri. "The flagman waved one flag for them to start, and when they reached the starting line, he waved the other flag for ‘the Greek’ and I to give chase. It was an exciting race. We only did this one weekend, a two-out-of-three-type deal, and, fortunately, we didn't have any problems.”

Domenic Paris, son of former Top Fuel racer Rico Paris, also passed on a pic, which he believes is from the same weekend at Rockford Dragway as Pieri’s pic.  “I was maybe 6 or 7 when this photo was taken, but I remember it like it was yesterday,” he wrote. “My father is in lane one.”

Chuck Rearick raced a Jr. Fuel dragster at Rockford and Great Lakes Dragway in the 1960s when they were mixed with the Top Gas cars. With four cars hitting the starting line at the same time, confusion sometimes reigned. “With push-start cars from the big end, it always got interesting with four cars trying to make the turnaround in the staging area,” he recalled. “What made it more fun is we did not have reversers, so the crew had to pull us back and forth to get us lined up. You also had to keep in mind that it was a four-lane racetrack, because if you forgot and kept it in the center of a two-lane track, you took out the lights … which Ron Leek tried to charge us for.”

Stephen Justice sent me a newspaper article from a May 7, 1967, four-car match in Fresno, Calif., at the track’s inaugural Golden Nationals that featured a unique team format. Gotelli & Safford were teamed with the Syndicate II team while Jim Herbert was paired with the Berry Bros. and Claude Stark. The format awarded points for first- through fourth-place finishes in three rounds, with first place getting four points, second three points, third two points, and fourth a single marker. Safford-Gotelli won the first round, ahead of Berry, Herbert, and the Syndicate, which broke the rear end and was replaced in round two by Dwight Salisbury at the wheel of the Armenian dragster. The results were identical in the second round, so the teams were tied at 10 points apiece. Herbert won the third round, ahead of Stark, Safford, and Salisbury. The final score was 17-13 for the Herbert and Berry Bros./Stark team.

Justice also remembered Fontana Drag City running four jet dragsters at the same time (Doug Rose in Art Arfons' Green Monster, Lucky Harris in Malone's US-1, J.D. Zink in Romeo Palamides' Untouchable, and Al Biscay in Palamides' Untouchable Twice).

Vic Raupe of Guthrie, Okla., remembers seeing four abreast at fabled Green Valley Race City in Fort Worth, Texas, in the mid-1960s. “Because of the huge number of mid-‘60s muscle cars, track owner and great promoter Bill Hielscher used the superwide track for four cars at a time,” he wrote. “This made for more time trials and an early end to eliminations to meet curfew hours. I remember one Saturday night, there were so many Chevelle SS396s, GTOs, and others of this era that in eliminations three cars would lose and one would return for the next round.”

Floridian Wayne Albert was told of four-lane racing at Miami-Hollywood Speedway, using the staging lanes that were parallel to the track, and Jim King of Lodi, Ohio, reported four-lane racing in the long history of Dragway 42 in West Salem, Ohio.

One interesting note that came out of all of this four-wide mania was an interview that John Force Racing publicist Dave Densmore did with crew chief Austin Coil, in which Coil not only talked about the famed Chi-Town Hustler participating in four-wide racing but also about driving one of the Hustlers in a four-wide race at Rockford in 1969.
“We had both our new car and our old car out there because we were testing the new car to make sure it was all right,” Coil said. “Somebody didn’t show up who was supposed to be there, so they made us an offer to run both cars. I drove the new one, and Pat Minick drove the old one. I think we made three runs.
“I drove [the Chi-Town Hustler] a couple times, later on,” Coil added. “The last time I drove was in Jacksonville, Fla., in, like, February of 1970, maybe.”

Wow, who knew?