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Five things we learned at the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals

The Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was just the second event of the 2021 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series and the first of two four-wide events on the calendar. Here are five key takeaways from the event.
20 Apr 2021
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
Feature
Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals

The Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was just the second event of the 2021 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series, but we learned a lot at the race, the first of two four-wide events on the calendar.

Here are five key takeaways from the event.

No stopping Torrence in four-wides

Reining Camping World Drag Racing Series Top Fuel champ Steve Torrence continued his reign of terror in four-wide events with his win in Las Vegas just a day after his birthday. It was his fifth win in the last six NHRA four-wide events, a string that began with a win at the 2017 Charlotte event and continued with a sweep of both 2018 events and then, after an early out at the 2019 Las Vegas race, another win in Charlotte, where he also had a runner-up in 2015. (Both four-wide events were lost last year to the pandemic.)

Torrence attributes his success to his ability to focus at the Tree, block out everything else, and run his own race, and we all know that when the Capco car goes down the track, most of the time it’s going to get there first.

Torrence was the only one of the four winners to win both of his pre-final quads, including a semifinal holeshot win over Doug Kalitta.

Watch out for Wilk

After a sour ending to the 2020 season in which he won just one round in the final four races of the year, Tim Wilkerson and right-hand man Richard Hartman are on a roll. They didn’t win in Las Vegas but had the car to do so, as his final-round 3.922 was the quickest of the finale only to be outdone by an .095 light that left him finishing third behind Bob Tasca III’s 3.938 and Matt Hagan’s 3.955.

Wilkerson is not known for setting low e.t. (he has just 20 No. 1 qualifying efforts in 530 starts) but usually kills them with consistency. His typical four-wide lights are in the .070s, and those two-hundredths difference this year played a huge hand in the outcome.

Still, Wilk has plenty to be proud of this year, having tuned Hartman to the first four-second and 300-mph Fuel Altered passes at the recent Funny Car Chaos event at Texas Motorplex, and he also tuned Chad Green to a 3.927 in Las Vegas.

Don’t ever count out Erica Enders

Erica Enders didn’t become a four-time world champ and 30-time event winner by not being determined. She had to prove herself early in her Pro Stock career, and even though it took 121 races to reach her first winner’s circle in 2012, she’s never looked back since, even in tough seasons like 2016, where the team’s Mopar experiment didn’t go well.

So, when the Elite team got ambushed in round one in Gainesville then inexplicably rattled the tires on its first two qualifying sessions in Las Vegas and Enders entered the final session not yet in the field, some were wondering if they could turn it around. But they qualified 13th with a get-‘er-down-there pass, then E.E. got busy with her left foot, holeshotting Troy Coughlin Jr. in their first-round quad to earn a transfer spot then did the same thing to arch-rival Greg Anderson in the semifinals.

The team then pulled it all together in the final with their best elapsed time of the meet tied to Enders’ best reaction time of race day to collect the win.

Mason McGaha is for real

After an eight-race 2020 rookie season that included a semifinal finish at the NHRA U.S. Nationals, the second-generation Texas Pro Stock racer launched into 2021 with a semifinal finish at the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, then followed with a final-round appearance at the four-wides, giving him four round-wins already this season and a lofty fourth-place ranking in the Camping World standings.

No one has left on him in his six rounds of racing this year (the sixth being a narrow -.009 red-light in the Vegas final), and if he can come up with some better e.t.s (not sure if this is a power, clutch, suspension, or driving issue), he could make a lot more trouble for the established leavers of the class like Erica Enders and Aaron Stanfield.

Take Steve Johnson seriously

It's easy to not take Steve Johnson seriously, as his exuberant personality can sometimes overshadow the riding skill of Pro Stock Motorcycle riding’s longest-tenured pilot, but S.J. got off to a great start in Gainesville, qualifying sixth and reaching the semifinals before falling to world champ Matt Smith, then went to the final round of the four-wides before a clutch issue stopped him almost cold after the launch.

Prior to the final, Johnson’s four-valve Suzuki was one of the most consistent bikes over the three qualifying sessions, and he followed with a pair of 6.93s in eliminations with his 6.931 semifinal winner being the quickest pass of the round.

Johnson, whose next start will be the 450th of his career, is sitting third in points behind the EBRs of Ryan Oehler and Smith.