It’s been a while since we visited zMax Dragway for the good old NGK NTK NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, but three races into the 2021 season and the Las Vegas four-wide still fresh in his mind, Tipster is prepared to offer his selections for this week’s contest. Not surprisingly, the Las Vegas winners, including Top Fuel’s Steve Torrence and Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Matt Smith, will be given top billing. The same goes for Greg Anderson in Pro Stock, and Robert Hight gets the nod in Funny Car, largely because of his incredible success at the “Bellagio of Dragstrips”. Finally, we’re going with the hot hand in Pro Mod with two-time finalists Justin Bond.
Yes, he lost the Atlanta final, but that was little more than a speed bump in what is already shaping up to be an incredible season. He’s also the man of the hour when it comes to four-wide racing with numerous victories in that unique format. It would be shocking to see a final quad without the reigning and three-time champion.
It’s been a long, steady climb, but the changes made by the Matco team are finally beginning to pay off. They closed out 2020 with a win in Las Vegas and went to the winner’s circle again two weeks ago in Atlanta. Safe to say they’ve put the long slump of 2018-19 behind them. They’ll be at or near the top of the standings for the rest of this season.
Quick, who is the last driver to win a Top Fuel race in Charlotte who is not named Steve Torrence? Yep, it’s this guy, but you’d have to go all the way back to the 2017 fall event to find it. It’s been a while, but recall that was an extremely impressive performance that included the No. 1 qualifying spot and a final-round win over then-teammate Richie Crampton.
Monster Energy/Flavor Pak
The list of Top Fuel drivers who have won a four-wide race is fairly short, but it includes Brittany Force, who won this event in 2016. So far this season, the Monster Energy team has shown few side effects from their long layoff in 2020. They’ve started strong and should only get better from this point forward.
Given his vast Sportsman racing experience, you’d think the four-wide format would be right up his alley. Other than a Funny Car win at the 2019 Charlotte event, it hasn’t worked out that way, but this is still someone who figures to make fewer mistakes than his opponents, and in quad racing, that’s pretty much the name of the game.
So far he’s managed to win rounds at all three events on the tour, but a final-round still eludes the Capco team. That likely won’t be the case much longer. It goes without saying that this is one of the best cars in the field, and here’s another driver who can put his sportsman racing experience to good use navigating the minefield that is four-wide racing.
For what it's worth, she has a pair of wins at zMax Dragway and both of them have come in the Pro Mod class. That was a while ago (2011-12), but it’s not out of the question she adds a third Charlotte title in Top Fuel this weekend. This is a car that runs very well but hasn’t gotten many breaks so far this season.
Last season’s rookie of the year has cooled off a bit following an impressive semifinal finish to start the season, but his driving appears to be as sharp as ever. Admittedly, he’s got limited experience racing in four-wide events, but that shouldn’t prove to be too big an obstacle to overcome.
Auto Club Chevy
Tipster is very tempted to go with Bob Tasca III here because he’s won two of the first three events, but the evidence supporting the Auto Club team is overwhelming. Not only did they win the last Charlotte event in 2019, but they have six wins here dating back to 2009. Also worth noting that of those six wins, two of them have come at four-wide races. He was also a runner-up to Langdon here in the spring of 2019.
Bob Tasca III
Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford
When making these lists, we tend to play the hot hand, and right now, there is no one hotter than the Motorcraft Ford driver who’s won two of the first three races and taken a solid early-season lead in the NHRA Camping World Funny Car standings. He will almost certainly win again in 2021, and it’s likely to come sooner rather than later. He was also a runner-up here in 2011.
Did someone say four-wide race? Some drivers still don’t care for the twice-a-year format, but this shouldn’t be one of them, especially after the success he’s had lately with multiple wins in Las Vegas. The DHL team also went to a final round here a couple of years ago at the fall event, which only helps their cause.
So far, the highlight of his career at zMax Dragway has been the sport’s first three-second run, but he’s also won at this track a handful of times, including the 2013 four-wide race. So far, this hasn’t been quite the title defense he’s been looking for, but that could change at any moment and likely will.
He scored his four-wide win at the 2017 race here and treats it like a badge of honor. That makes perfect sense since this is as much a driver’s race as any on the tour. Now the big question is, can he win again? Of course, he can, but the NAPA team is still refining their combination after an eventful offseason. It will come together, perhaps as quickly as this weekend.
Blue Def Chevy
When it comes to the Charlotte four-wide, Tipster can’t help but think of the first event, when this guy fumbled and stumbled his way through qualifying and appeared to be thoroughly confused by the staging process. Then, he magically found his rhythm and knocked out the rest of the field on Sunday. He won’t sneak up on anyone this time, but anyone who thinks he can’t win this race is fooling themselves.
Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford
Solid. Solid. Solid. So far, the Levi, Ray, & Shoup car has done almost everything this year except win a race. It’s been quick, and it’s been consistent, and quite honestly, there isn’t much standing in their way other than a bit of luck. And yes, this is a former four-wide winner who closed the deal here in 2016.
Tipster gets the feeling that the Snap-on car won’t be listed at the bottom of the sheet much longer. They are clearly trending in the right direction even after a pair of early losses in Las Vegas and Atlanta. Better days are ahead for the two-time world champion. Bank on it.
Hendrick Cars.com Camaro
The great Enzo Ferrari once noted that you don’t need aerodynamics if you’ve got ample horsepower. Well, in drag racing terms, you also don’t need to lead the reaction time charts if you’ve got the fastest car in the class, which is what we’ve got going on here. He’s plenty fast, and his driving has been good enough to seal the deal twice in three races.
Then again, old Enzo never met Ms. Enders, who rarely misses the mark with her clutch foot. The Elite team might not have the best car in Pro Stock at this very moment, but they’re close enough to get the job done. Bonus points are also applied for her win last month in Las Vegas, which also happened to be a four-wide event.
Get Biofuel Camaro
So far, it’s been semifinal, semifinal, and semifinal for the first three events of the season, and that’s enough to keep him within striking distance of the championship leaders. There’s not much distance between No. 3 and No. 8 here, but he’s got a slim edge.
Janac Motorsports Camaro
Didn’t do much in Gainesville to open the season, but he’s looked much better since including a couple of round-wins in Las Vegas and Atlanta. All of that has been enough to move him to the fourth spot in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series points standings. Granted, we’ve got a long way to go this season, but he’s in a very good spot.
Harlow Sammons Camaro
His qualifying results have been very solid as of late, and with that, round-wins should follow. To that end, he hit a bit of a speedbump in Atlanta, but this would be a good time to fix that, especially since he’s had success in this format with a big Charlotte four-wide win in 2017.
Lucas Oil Camaro
A starting-line hiccup in Atlanta cost him what was almost certainly a trip to the semifinals, but for a young driver in a tough class like Pro Stock, it’s all part of the learning process. This class has never been more competitive, at least from a driving standpoint, and kids like this one are the reason for it.
Total Seal Camaro
The last time we raced Pro Stock at zMax Dragway, way back in the fall of 2019, this guy made it to the final round against Deric Kramer. He certainly hasn’t forgotten how to drive or how to win, and based on his solid qualifying results from Atlanta, the power is there for another deep run into eliminations. Should he win here, it would be anything but an upset.
Harlow Sammons Camaro
He faced a tough draw last time out in Atlanta when he had to race the four-time world champ in round one. That didn’t go so well, although he did make a competitive run. If anyone had told him at the start of the year he’d be ranked No. 5 in the standings, he’d have gladly signed up for it. Now, it’s up to him to stay there.
Suddenly, his advantage over the rest of the field isn’t as great as it once was, but we’re going to go ahead and give him the top spot again this week because he’s still pretty darn good, and this is technically a home race. He’s also got two wins here in both four-wide and conventional two-wide formats.
Vance & Hines Buell
Seemed like it took forever but he finally got into the Denso 200-mph Pro Stock Motorcycle Club in Atlanta. With that successfully completed, he can focus on race wins, and this is a great spot to do just that since he’s got eight wins here in 12 final rounds, which makes it easily one of his most successful tracks.
Wonder how many times he was told that after winning his first race, the floodgates would open? We wouldn’t exactly call it a flood, but it is safe to say his second win came much quicker than his first, and it’s easy to get the feeling that he’s not done yet. Confidence is a wonderful thing, and he’s got plenty of it right now.
Vance & Hines Buell
Showed a tiny bit of rust in Atlanta with a bad light in the semifinals, but that’s not much of a concern going forward. The new Vance & Hines Buell bikes are going to be a handful, even though the competition in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class has gotten much tougher lately. He’s going to get his fair share of round-wins.
Reed Motorsports Suzuki
Still bruised and battered from a testing accident last month, that didn’t stop him from turning in an inspiring performance in Atlanta, where he qualified No. 2 and nearly went to the semifinals. We’ve known for a long time how much talent is here, and it looks like his year we’re finally going to get to see it on display.
Flyin’ Ryan EBR
He can be a slight bit inconsistent, but when he’s on, he’s good enough to win races, which makes for a refreshing change from the days when one or two bikes used to dominate an entire season. The last time we raced four-wide, a month ago in Las Vegas, he was the last rider standing. Four-wide sweeps are tough, but then again, he’s the only rider in the class who can even think about one this season.
Mission Foods Suzuki
Cut a great .008 light against Pollacheck in the semifinals in Atlanta, but it wasn’t enough to get the job done. Regardless, the Mission Foods Suzuki is for real, and even though she’s never had much luck in Charlotte, it only takes one weekend for that to change. Right now, she’s No. 4 in the class and will need to win a couple of rounds in order to stay there.
Reed Motorsports Suzuki
Much like teammate Gladstone, he’s finally got enough bike under him to win rounds consistently. He didn’t get much of a chance to do that at the last race due to breakage, but his qualifying results have been solid, and it’s just a matter of time before the win lights start to turn on. The next first-time NHRA Pro winner? It could easily be Reed, and it could also be this weekend.
The current points leader put on a clinic during his Atlanta victory with four runs on Sunday between 5.72 and 5.74, and that is after a rules change forced the ProCharger teams to make major changes to their combination. For the record, his driving was also pretty solid, including a holeshot win in the final round. Right now, he’s got the best Pro Mod car in the land, but not by much.
A lot of people will remember him for his bad crash here in the final a few years ago, but it’s also worth pointing out that he won here the last time we ran at the end of 2019 and has been runner-up on two other occasions. He’s also coming off a solid run in Atlanta with another final-round finish. First win of the season should happen sometime soon.
Gainesville winner was in the thick of the battle in Atlanta with a string of 5.7-second runs but just happened to get caught up in a slight holeshot loss to Brandon Snider in the quarterfinals. Those things happen from time to time, and they usually serve as motivation to improve next time out. He won this race in 2018, and it’s not at all out of the question that he could do so again this time around.
Most of the cars that regularly run in the NHRA Pro Mod series can run 5.7s but few do it as often as the former champ, who once again set low elapsed time in Atlanta with a 5.71. His day ended early on Sunday when he got loose and tagged a timing block. That is also the nature of Pro Mod, but we still like his chances to get something done here.
The first race of the season should be considered a success after he qualified No. 5 and picked up a round-win. He had a shot to upset Jackson in the quarterfinals, but it didn’t happen. Charlotte happens to be a good track for him with two wins in three finals, so this would be as good a place as any to pick up another victory.
J&A Service Corvette
Left ahead of Bond in the semifinals in Atlanta but didn’t make the run he was looking for. Prior to that, he won a round on a holeshot, so the news wasn’t all bad. Tipster often says the top 10-12 vehicles in any Pro class can win at any given time, and this is certainly one of them. In fact, he’s usually more competitive than most, which means he should challenge for the championship.
Smith Racing Camaro
If you’re a drag racing fan and someone says North Carolina, the first two things that come to mind should be zMax Dragway and Rickie Smith. Shocking as it may seem, “Trickie Rickie” hasn’t won a Pro Mod race here. He was a runner-up to Mike Janis in 2019 but remains winless. He doesn’t need another win to cement his legacy, but it would be nice to see one here.
Gray Contracting Camaro
Still learning the ins and outs of a 250-mph Pro Mod car but he’s catching on quickly, even though Atlanta was a disappointment. For what it's worth, he’s now wheeling the same car that won the last four-wide event here in 2019 with team owner Mike Janis driving. Would it be too much to expect a repeat victory? Not really, the components are all there.