Force: Four Wide Drags A Thumb Sideways!

(photo courtesy NHRA)

By any measuring device, last weekend’s inaugural NHRA Four-Wide Nationals was a runaway success for John Force Racing.  But despite an historic victory in the rain-delayed Funny Car final at zMAX Dragway, Brut Force is suggesting that four-wide might better serve all vested parties as an all-star-style, non-points event on the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series schedule rather than factoring into the Countdown to 1 championship points chase.

“I’m hearing positives and negatives,” Force said during a teleconference this week. “If they took the points out of it the money would still be there. At the end of the day, that would make everybody happy. I don’t really know.  In this economy, maybe it‘s a test to see if this works. I haven’t seen the TV ratings. If it doesn’t put people in the stands and the ratings drop and sponsors don’t make sales then it doesn’t work. I go with what works best for everybody.”

Owner/driver Force, the 14-time Funny Car world champion, bagged his second national event win in four races this season and the 128th of his stellar career with a final-round victory against daughter Ashley Force Hood and a pair of rivals from Don Schumacher Racing. Ashley’s final-round result of 4.042-seconds at 316.38 mph set the national speed record and moved her into the No. 5 position in the point standings led by her father.

Still, John Force admittedly is ambivalent about the concept that saw drivers in Funny Car, Top Fuel, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle qualify and compete simultaneously in four lanes instead of the traditional two. While acknowledging that he “had a ball” with the format en route to collecting his latest Wally, Force exited Concord, N.C., with as many questions as he had before the event started.

“Change is good. I’m going to have to learn to adapt,” Force said. “I’m waiting to see what the NHRA has to say about it and the whole organization of drivers, but it was exciting. Any time you win, that’s exciting.”

Four-wide drag racing, featuring  a combined 32,000 horsepower in the Funny Car and Top Fuel classes at the starting line, was hailed pre-race as a can’t-miss sensory experience for those in attendance. Artistically, however, the event arguably fell short because of unseasonably cool temperatures and rain that interrupted ESPN2s originally scheduled final-round coverage on Sunday. Finals were pushed back to Monday morning, with Cory McClenathan (Top Fuel), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) joining Force as champions.

Looking at the business side of four-wide, Force rattled off a laundry list of concerns. “Was the crowd bigger? Did it fill more seats? Did it make our TV package better? Did it run smoother except for the rain we had on Sunday? How did the racers react to it? How did the NHRA react to it? I’m waiting to hear what the majority wants,” Force said. “Was it exciting? Without a doubt. Was it different?  Without a doubt. It’s a whole new ballgame, but does it work in the big picture?

Adding to questions about the practicality of the concept is the fact that only Smith’s all-concrete zMAX Dragway, which opened in 2008, currently is equipped to run four-wide. The next most logical venue for four-wide would be The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, another of Smith’s facilities, which opened in 2000 with four-wide in mind.  But even Force questioned if any other NHRA promoter – specifically citing Texas Motorplex owner Billy Meyer – would be willing to tackle the financial investment necessary to expand to four lanes.

There are many questions that must be answered before this concept is put into full activation.  What questions are on your mind?

Shortly Workingonmyredneck will have an “old” veteran drag racer writing an article on his views of “four wide” drag racing, stay tuned.


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