USA TODAY US Edition
Dragsters ready to go four-wide in ‘the rock concert of motor sports’
CONCORD, N.C. — When four dragsters generating 32,000 horsepower roar down the strip at zmax Dragway, the thunderous rumbling is music to a drag racing junkie’s ears.
For Jack Beckman, it’s the sound of a thousand piercing guitar solos.
“That almost makes more horsepower then the entire starting grid of (NASCAR’S) Daytona 500,” the Funny Car driver said. “One is 43 cars, the other is four. It’s overwhelming to watch from the grandstands (and feel) the vibrations and the pounding in fans’ chests. It’s the rock concert of motor sports.”
After an inauspicious start, the Four-wide Nationals on Sunday also is more in tune with the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series’ top competitors.
The only race on the circuit’s 23-race schedule to feature a quartet of cars in every 1,000foot pass opened to a tepid reception in 2010. Some stars made embarrassing gaffes while staging their cars in an unfamiliar way, and many signed a petition telling the NHRA and drag strip owner Bruton Smith that they wouldn’t return to race four abreast.
It became an empty threat after Smith threatened to pull the event from his $60 million showplace, which was designed to facilitate drag racing on live TV with two extra lanes of racing that would eliminate the delays often caused by the oildowns left by the sport’s frequent engine failures.
The track instead seems to have found a niche through its unique brand of racing. Though drivers still grumble privately, a new tree of staging lights helped quell complaints last year while reducing the number of mistakes made on the starting line.
There was no getting caught flat-footed at the track’s ticket office. For the last two seasons, the Four-wide Nationals outdrew zmax Dragway’s fall NHRA event (which is run on the traditional two lanes) by bringing in larger crowds for Friday and Saturday qualifying.
It also brings more national news media exposure, making it amenable to those who still prefer drag racing’s traditional
mano a mano style. “We’re getting used to it,” said seven-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher, who is seeking his first Four-wide Nationals win. “Would I want to do it every day? No. But it’s something unique, and if the stands are full, we have to keep doing this. We’re fighting with a lot of other sports. We have to make sure people come to ours.”
Schumacher’s second-round loss last year stands as a cautionary tale for why four-wide isn’t so beloved by those in the cockpit. After smoking the tires, he kept his foot in the throttle because he couldn’t monitor the progress of his competitors.
“I didn’t know what the car in the left and right lanes were doing, so I kept pedaling it, blew it up, oiled the track down and lost 10 points,” Schumacher said. “(The format) forces me to do that.”
Bayne skips Nationwide:
Even though he’s ranked fourth in the standings, Trevor Bayne wasn’t entered for Friday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.
A lack of sponsorship for the Roush Fenway Racing driver forced the move. “We started the year with the idea we were going to run him and spur some additional interest,” team President Steve Newmark said. “But at some point we knew it wasn’t tenable to continue that program this year.”
Newmark said the No. 60 Ford was not shuttered. If sponsorship becomes available, Bayne will resume on a part-time basis. He is scheduled to race in Saturday night’s Sprint Cup Series event for the Wood Brothers, the team he drove for last year when he won the Daytona 500.