After a stopover in Houston, we’re back in Four Wide mode this weekend for the annual Circle K NHRA Four Wide Nationals at luxurious zMax Dragway. The last time we ran pro cars four-abreast a month ago in Las Vegas, Brittany Force and Ron Capps came away with wins in Top Fuel and Funny Car (Erica Enders won in Pro Stock, but that class isn’t competing in Charlotte while Pro Stock Motorcycles weren’t in Las Vegas).
Playing the hot hand, Force is our favorite to win again in Top Fuel while Houston winner Matt Hagan is favored in Funny Car. Tipster also likes Matt Smith to become the third different winner in three Pro Stock Motorcycle races this season.
The favorite: Given the insane level of competition in Top Fuel these days, it’s probably not wise to pick a driver to win three-straight races, but no one ever accused Tricky Tipster of being a scholar. To that end, we think Brittany Force and her Monster team have what it takes to pull off an exceedingly rare hat trick. Force has had arguably the best car in the class for a while now and she’ll have four qualifying runs to show it. It’s easy to step on a landmine when it comes to four wide racing, but if she can avoid a starting line miscue (her’s or someone else’s) we like her chances.
The contenders: Steve Torrence has traditionally ruled Four Wide events and following his performance last week in Houston, where he qualified No. 1, he could easily win this race, giving NHRA five winners in six events. Torrence insists the Capco team is testing in the early part of the season but that doesn’t mean they aren’t competitive. Far from it.
Publicly, Justin Ashley handled it well, but a holeshot loss in the final in Houston likely didn’t sit well with him. The best way to shake off that sort of defeat is by winning the next race and fortunately for Ashley, he’s only got to wait a week in order to do so.
The week we also want to take a long hard look at Austin Prock and the Montana Brands team. Prock began the season with a final round in Pomona and he’s been a strong qualifier at most events so far. Quite frankly, he just hasn’t had much luck. Prock happens to be one of the class’ best drivers so the Four Wide format very much suits his style.
The dark horse: You want a real longshot, how about Doug Foley? Consider that he’s already been to a final this year in Gainesville and the zMax race is essentially a home event for the 1-800-Water-Damage team. Crew chief Aaron Brooks continues to make progress with the Foley & Lewis team and one would like to think their best days are ahead of them.
Brittany Force Monster Energy 3-1
Steve Torrence Capco 4-1
Justin Ashley Phillips Connect 5-1
Austin Prock Montana Brands 9-1
Mike Salinas Scrappers 5-1
Tony Schumacher SCAG/Maynard 6-1
Leah Pruett Dodge Power Brokers 8-1
Antron Brown Matco Tools 9-1
Shawn Langdon DHL/Toyota 10-1
The favorite: In five races this season, Matt Hagan has two wins, two runner-up finishes and a semifinal which means almost everything has gone right for the Dodge Power Brokers team. Hagan brings his 15-3 record into zMax Dragway, a track where he’s enjoyed prior success with three wins and the sport’s first 3-second Funny Car run. Much like Brittany Force in Top Fuel, it’s hard to imagine any driver dominating given the level of competition in Funny Car, but Hagan is doing it.
The contenders: Reigning champ Ron Capps and Robert Hight seem to be the best position to give Hagan a run for his money since they’ve both won races this season. Hight has six prior wins in Charlotte while Capps has scored three times, including the 2017 Four Wide Nationals.
While Hagan, Capps, and Hight seem to be the class of the field, their advantage over the rest of the pack is not large. John Force won the most recent Four Wide race here in 2021 and he also won the first time the peculiar format was tried in 2010. After a tough start, J.R. Todd also seems to be turning the corner with his DHL Toyota Supra.
The dark horse: Chad Green and his Bond Coat team have made huge strides in a short time in the Funny Car class and they had a legit shot to make the final last week in Houston. Could he be Funny Car’s next first-time winner? We can’t think of too many reasons why not.
Matt Hagan Dodge Power Brokers Dodge 4-1
Ron Capps NAPA Dodge 5-1
Robert Hight Auto Club Chevy 5-1
Bob Tasca III Motorcraft Ford 6-1
Tim Wilkerson LRS Ford 7-1
J.R. Todd DHL Toyota 7-1
John Force Peak/Blu Def Chevy 8-1
Cruz Pedregon Snap-on Dodge 9-1
Alexis DeJoria Bandero Toyota 10-1
Blake Alexander Head Racing Ford 13-1
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
The favorite: At this point, it’s very tempting to go with either Steve Johnson or Karen Stoffer since they’ve split the first two wins of the season and they’ve got the two quickest bikes in the class. However, something tells Tipster to take a chance on reigning champ Matt Smith this time around. Smith made a bold move last week when he switched from a Suzuk to a Buell before the final and he nearly made it work. He’s almost certain to stick with the Buell this week, especially after a recent rules revision allows him to remove 10 pounds. Smith won the inaugural Four Wide Nationals in 2010 and it seems like he’s got a strong chance to repeat that victory.
The contenders: As we noted, Steve Johnson and Karen Stoffer have the two best bikes in the class and they’re going to be among the favorites at every race this season. Stoffer is the only rider to run in the 6.6s while Johnson won last week’s Houston race with a string of 6.71 runs.
We also think that Angie Smith and Eddie Krawiec will be in the mix. Smith had a catastrophe on the starting line last week when her Denso Buell got stuck between gears and she couldn’t stage. She’ll undoubtedly be looking for a better showing this time around. As for Krawiec, he and crew chief Andrew Hines are getting a solid handle on their new Vance & Hines Suzuki.
The darkhorse: We really like Jimmy Underdahl here, especially after his performance in Houston that included a career-best 6.822 elapsed time and a couple of strong 199-mph speeds. Underdahl’s bike is tuned by Matt Smith, with the help of Greg Underdahl and Gary Stoffer. That’s a lot of experience to draw from. Quite frankly, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be winning rounds.
Matt Smith Denso Buell 4-1
Steve Johnson MacRak Suzuki 5-1
Karen Stoffer Big St. Charles Suzuki 5-1
Eddie Krawiec Vance & Hines Suzuki 6-1
Angie Smith Denso Buell 6-1
Jimmy Underdahl Scrappers Suzuki 7-1
Joey Gladstone Reed Racing Suzuki 8-1
Angelle Sampey Vance & Hines Suzuki 9-1
Jerry Savoie White Alligator Suzuki 9-1
Ryan Oehler Flyin’ Ryan Buell 12-1