The challenging nature of the Four-Wide format provides an extra measure of pride for those racers who are able to conquer side-by-side-by-side racing including John Force Racingteamamtes, Austin Prock and Robert Hight, who celebrated wins in Top Fuel and Funny Car, respectively. Deric Kramer (Pro Stock) and Gaige Herrera (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also claimed professional wins at the Circle K NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte.
Prock collected career win No. 4 and his first of the season in the Montana Brand dragster and his first win new crew chief Chris Cunningham, who last year was the assistant on Hight’s car. Prock raced to a 3.684 to edge out Leah Pruett’s 3.708. Josh Hart finished third and four-wide dominator Steve Torrence fourth after a very-early red-light.
"When Steve hit the gas, it startled me, but I kept my composure," Prock said. "When I heard him leave, I'm like '[Shoot] Am I late?' I'm going down there and I saw his header flame out the corner of my eye and then I missed seeing my win light so I didn't even know I won until I turned the corner."
Prock’s weekend got even better when his teammate Robert Hight, tuned by Prock’s father Jimmy and brother Thomas, won in Funny Car. Three of Prock's four wins have been doubles with JFR Funny Cars.
"When I heard over the PA that Robert had won and three out of my four wins I've doubled up with the Funny Cars. it definitely distracts you, because I like I love seeing them win as much as I like seeing our team win," he added. "I just closed my eyes and said, 'Just please clear my mind' and go up there and do what you're up here to do. and you can celebrate with them if you do your job,"
Prock won all three of his quads, starting with an easy first-round race with a strong 3.686 when everyone else had problems. Prock then turned on th flashing light again in round two with a 3.715 that finished easily ahead of Pruett’s second-place 3.75.
Before finishing second to Prock twice in the last two rounds, Pruett’s Rush Truck Centers dragster won its first-round quad with a 3.702 to finish ahead of surprise second-place finisher Pat Dakin.
Hight grabbed his second win on the season as the Phoenix champ won all three of his quads and won the final on a holeshot over second-place Alexis DeJoria, 3.888 to 3.872. Ron Capps (3.923) and John Force (3.924) finished third and fourth. The victory is the 63rd of Hight’s career. Hight's win boosted him to third place in the standings while DeJoria's runner-up moved to her second, both trailing Matt Hagan.
"You get excited when you hear that [Hagan] lost first round, and you know the doors open and the opportunities there, but you can't let that affect you," he said. "You've got to stay focused and just go one round at a time. First round, I had a horrible light but got my act together second and third. This was a big day for us. We needed this to get right back in this hunt. He and I are the only ones to win this year. So he's got one on me and I need to catch him.
"This is a big weekend for us. The car went down the track every run and hats off to NHRA and the Safety Safari. They've had challenging conditions all weekend, I know they've worked long, long hours, They couldn't get rubber on the track early in the week because it was raining., and they just did a great job. They really deserve to be sitting up here, not me."
Hight’s Prock-tuned Flav-R-Pac Camaro qualified third but was the only car to make a three-second run on all four qualifying passes. He kept up the pressure on Sunday, winning his first-round quad with a 3.92 ahead of surprise second-place Mike McIntire Jr. and won his second-round quad with a 3.875 to finish ahead of his boss, Force.
DeJoria, still looking for her first win of what has been a very promising season with the Bandero Premium Tequila Toyota, had low e.t. of eliminations in round one with a 3.854 to finish ahead of Chad Green, Matt Hagan, and Dale Creasy Jr. As she did in the final, DeJoria finished second in her second-round quad, this time to Capps, on a tight 3.881 to 3.883 count.
Kramer ended a nearly four-year winless drought when he wheeled his GetBioFuel.com Camaro to the Pro Stock title in Charlotte. Kramer has slumped for the better part of the last two years but his Michael Hiner-led team recently showed significant signs of improvement including a final-round appearance at the recent four-wide event in Las Vegas.
Kramer made the quickest pass of the final quad with a 6.555 and that was more than enough to seal the victory as Las Vegas winner Dallas Glenn finished second with a 6.581 in his RAD Torque Systems Camaro. Low qualifier Matt Hartford had the best light with an .014, but shook the tires and shut off while Fernando Cuadra Jr. red-lighted at the start.
Kramer now has five wins in nine professional finals. His last victory came at the Charlotte fall event during the 2019 season.
“First off, the GetBioFuel.com Camaro is a fun car to drive,” said Kramer. “That’s enough to keeps me out here but once you hoist a Wally, you want more. The moment you win your first race all you want to do is win another. Then you get a drought that is so long, you start to think you’ll never win another one. When it finally happens, the euphoria washes over you.
“We’ve been struggling with car the last couple years. Got to the final at the last [Las Vegas] race so we knew we were making progress. You get more and more laps and it makes you more comfortable. When the car is consistent and fast, it takes the pressure off of you.”
Kramer started the day No. 11 in the Championship standings, but has now jumped all the way to the No. 4 spot. Kramer’s path to the final round included a second-place finish to Hartford in round one and a win against Hartford, Greg Anderson, and Aaron Stanfield in the semifinal round.
Despite the loss, Glenn remains the championship leader after beginning the season with two wins and a runner-up finish and an 11-3 record in the first five events of 2023.
Two races down, and two wins for \Herrera, who is quickly paying dividends to the Vance & Hines team that hired him this off-season. After dominating the season-opening Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals, Herrera remained unbeaten with a second victory at the Circle K Four-Wide Nationals.
Herrera rode the Mission Foods Suzuki to a holding off a quad that included world champions Eddie Krawiec and Matt Smith, was well as veteran Steve Johnson, who also happened to be the top four qualifiers for the event.
Herrera had the quickest reaction time of the final quad with a .013, and that spelled bad news for the rest of the field as he finished the job with a 6.710, the best run of the event. Smith finished second with a 6.784, just ahead of Krawiec’s 6.784.
“This is an unbelievable start to the season going back to back,” said Herrera. “This is special having my grandparents and my dad here. The whole Mission Foods Vance & Hines team is working their butts off and it shows. I’m on cloud 9 right now. When I got this deal, we talked about hopefully winning a few rounds and being a presence in the points but I don’t think I expected my to win back-to-back. It’s a lot to take in. I’ve run for thousands of dollars in grudge races, but this is a whole different level of pressure.”
“In the semi’s we had the kill switch come out when I put it in high gear,” said Herrera. “My head hit the windscreen and I pulled in the clutch and I thought I was done for. I just hoped for the best and it worked out.
Herrera qualified in the No. 1 spot for the second straight event and easily won the first quad. His only hiccup came in the semifinal round when the kill switch in his Suzuki Hayabusa malfunctioned. Herrera slowed to a 6.857 at just 170 mph, but carried enough momentum to win the quad. Herrera is now a perfect 7-0 in round wins this season.