The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series visits the most unique drag strip on the circuit, zMAX Dragway in Concord, North Carolina, for one of the most unique events in auto racing: the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, taking place Friday through Sunday, April 11 through 13. The NHRA Four-Wide Nationals are the only event of the season contested on zMAX Dragway’s four-lane drag strip – the Countdown to the Championship event later in the season takes place on only two lanes at the “Bellagio of Drag Strips.”
All four of the Mello Yello Series categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – will be competing this weekend, with three of last year’s winners – Spencer Massey (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Hector Arana Jr. (PSM) – returning to defend their titles; Mike Edwards won in Pro Stock last season.
Massey has won the last two Top Fuel Wallys from the Four-Wide Nationals. His winning strategy? Taking it back to the basics.
“I always think it goes back to driving bracket cars, seeing the staging lights and not letting anything throw you off,” said Massey. “So much of it is staying focused and not letting it mess with you. Going back to the very first time, I had a feel for it and had a grip on it. You just have to try to make it simple and that’s when you have success. When you overcomplicate it, that’s when you mess up. When I get up there, everything goes into automatic mode.”
For Hagan, 2011 Funny Car champ, racing four-wide means forgetting about the rest of the field, which includes heavy hitters like John Force Racing’s John Force (winner of the inaugural race in 2010), Courtney Force and 2012 winner Robert Hight, Hagan’s Don Schumacher Racing teammates Jack Beckman, Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr., and Kalitta Motorsports’ Alexis DeJoria and Del Worsham.
“It definitely gets you out of your element and out of your comfort zone with that much going on,” said Hagan. “You have to adapt to the situation and really concentrate and stay on your toes. A lot of times when you’re racing against one driver you know their tendencies, but when it’s three other drivers it’s a lot more difficult. You have to put the blinders on and just focus. There’s a lot going on, but it’s awesome for us.”
Jeg Coughlin Jr., 2013 Pro Stock champ, has had a special relationship with the track from the beginning – he was on hand for the groundbreaking at the site, and made one of the first passes down the track when it was completed. In spite of that relationship with the track, he still finds it a little tricky at times.
“You need a different mindset and strategy when you’re racing three other cars,” said Coughlin Jr. “There are ways you can be eliminated that are almost accidental so there’s a premium on focus, especially when you pull up there to make a run. I do try to sneak up there and watch the bikes and if I can, I’ll watch the first few (groups) of Pro Stock cars as well. That’s enough for me to remember. It’s a big deal to have a presence like this in Charlotte and I definitely feel lucky to have won here.”
Pro Stock Motorcycle returned to the event last year, and Arana Jr. was more than happy to return – the unique track is one of his favorites. “I was really glad they brought it back last year because I love that track,” said Arana Jr. “It’s a beautiful, prestigious track to go to, and when you go there, you really feel like you’re a part of something because of how immaculate the track is. The fact that I was able to win that race, that was also really awesome.”
On-track action for the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals kicks off Friday, April 11 with pro qualifying sessions at 1:15 and 4:15 p.m. ET, continuing Saturday, April 12 with two more pro qualifying sessions at 1:15 and 4:15 p.m. ET. Eliminations begin Sunday, April 13 at noon ET.
Source: “NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway Presents Thrilling Challenges Unlike Any Other Event in Drag Racing,” NHRA Media, March 27, 2014