It’s 4-Wide Time in Las Vegas!

It’s time for NHRA’s Mission Foods Drag Racing Series participants to block out the events they’ve worked since the start of the 20-race 2024 season. Those three events, at Gainesville, Pomona and Phoenix were two-abreast drag races; it’s time for 4-Wide competition on The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the first of two such competitions in a row – and the only two 4-wide races NHRA contests.

Everyone in the straight-line community either loves or hates the 4-wides; with competitors lined up to race these two contests, it can get a wee bit contentious. And figuring out how to stage, roll in and keep producing outstanding reaction times and either 1,000-foot or quarter-mile speeds is tough when there’s two more competitors than “normal.”

Still, some racers have learned to excel in the pair of 4-wide challenges, chief among them four-time Top Fuel champ Steve Torrence, who has won six of these contests over the past six seasons. Torrence, 40, will be trying for his seventh victory in this challenging type of drag racing and is the only driver – regardless of category – to have earned more than three such trophies since the first 4-wide race was held in 2010 at zMAX Dragway outside Charlotte.

Steve Torrence is looking for a seventh 4-Wide victory – Anne Proffit photo

A 54-time dragster winner, Torrence initially “didn’t like it at all, mainly because it took us out of our usual routine and out of our comfort zone,” he said. “But we did what we had to do to master it, we started having success and, well, that’ll change how you think pretty quickly. I became a really big fan,” Torrence admits. At Las Vegas, Torrence has advanced to the final quad four times in five appearances; in Charlotte, Torrence won four consecutive times from 2017 through 2021. There was no 4-wide race at zMAX in 2020.

This weekend there are 16 Top Fuel racers on the entry list. Torrence, his father Billy and the balance of the field will be chasing current points leader and double race winner Shawn Langdon, who is having a superb start to his season with Kalitta Motorsports. Billy Torrence is currently in second place, just 18 points back, followed by Pomona winner Justin Ashley, 31 points in arrears. Steve Torrence in fourth place needs to make up 35 points, while 8-time champ Tony Schumacher is 47 points behind Langdon in fifth place. The balance of the top 10 are 3-time champ Antron Brown (-69), 2-time titleholder Brittany Force (-761), reigning champ Doug Kalitta (also -71), Josh Hart (-95) and Clay Millican (-109).

Antron Brown will attempt a second straight Las Vegas 4-Wide Top Fuel win – Anne Proffit photo

All of these standings could easily change in this very different drag race, and one driver unfamiliar with both the 2- and 4-wide concept could shake things up in this category, even though this event marks only his fourth race in Top Fuel. That would be Tony Stewart, owner of a two-car nitro team bearings name. “Smoke” hadn’t intended to race in this class after nearly earning Top Alcohol Dragster championship honors in his first year of straight-line racing. But when he and wife Leah Pruett prioritized their family in 2024, Stewart assumed the seat of his wife’s 11,000-horsepower dragster. Thus far he’s performed well; Stewart advanced to the Top Fuel semifinals in the NHRA Arizona Nationals, giving the driver 12th place standing – and plenty of time to advance. Last weekend’s result marked his first two round wins in the tough category.

Joining Stewart in attempting to upset NHRA’s balance of power are Terry Totten, Shawn Reed, Rob Passey, third-generation racer Krista Baldwin and Jasmine Salinas. Salinas has taken over the reins of her father’s dragster as Mike Salinas deals with medical issues; his daughter is still attempting to win her first round of competition but is learning how to race these high-horsepower machines each time she hits the track. Baldwin, racing with new equipment after running her grandfather Chris Karamesines’ rail in her first go-rounds, is gaining confidence and round victories.

Jasmine Salinas is quickly learning the Top Fuel trade – Anne Proffit photo

Langdon is not the only Kalitta Motorsports racer making waves in the early part of 2024 competition; 2018 Funny Car champ J.R. Todd who, like his teammate can drive and win in any nitro-powered machine, stands atop the large and powerful contingent of Funny Car racers, but his Toyota GR Supra has only a two-point lead over class newcomer and Phoenix winner Austin Prock, driving three-time John Force Racing champ Robert Hight’s Chevrolet Camaro SS. Todd understands momentum and what it can do when a car, driver and team are hitting on all cylinders. It was 10 years ago at this race that Todd got his first start in Kalitta’s Top Fuel car and he ended up finishing second in that year’s final standings. A decade later, Todd helped team owner Connie Kalitta to his first-ever double-up in the 2024 season-opening Gatornationals and leads the Flopper points.

Daniel Wilkerson is in his first Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge this week – Anne Proffit photo

But he still has to look in that rearview mirror because Prock is right there. The third-generation racer won the pre-season PRO Superstar Shootout at Bradenton Motorsports Park and was victorious last weekend for his first Funny Car victory – to go with the four Top Fuel wins Prock already brought home for John Force Racing. Prock has picked up two No. 1 qualifiers and a single victory in three races as Hight’s stand-in. Not only must Prock battle the points leader, Todd, but his team owner John Force, who won the rain-delayed Winternationals in Phoenix last weekend, has the lure of 17 championships dancing through his head – and he’s only 51 points behind Todd in third place. Four-time and reigning champ Matt Hagan of Tony Stewart Racing is 73 points behind in his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, followed by Toyota GR Supra racer Ron Capps, (-92) who debuted a brand new car in competition at Phoenix. Capps thinks the Las Vegas track will help his team sort out the new chassis: “It’s a track you don’t have to worry about, as far as track surface goes,” he said.

Alexis DeJoria has two Las Vegas wins (but none in 4-Wide competition) – Anne Proffit photo

The balance of the top 10 are equally capable of making it through two quads to get to the final round of competition on Sunday: Bob Tasca III’s Ford Mustang (-107), Paul Lee in his Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat (-116), Alexis DeJoria, finally turning a corner after some lackluster outings is 118 points back in her Toyota GR Supra – and has two Las Vegas wins to her credit, followed by Chad Green (-122) and Daniel Wilkerson (-142), both racing Ford Mustangs. With 20 Funny Car entries, just making the field will be a challenge for everyone, including two-time champ Cruz Pedregon’s Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, Terry Haddock’s Mustang, Dave Richards’ Toyota, Blake Alexander’s Mustang, Steven Densham (Mustang), Jim Campbell (Chevy Impala), Jeff Diehl’s Camry, Jason Rupert’s Mustang and Alex Miladinovich, racing a Mustang. It’s a full field and a competitive group.

Jeg Coughlin Jr.’s return has enhanced the competitiveness of Elite Motorsports – Anne Proffit photo

It’s a true battle royal in Pro Stock, easily the most technical and difficult class racing in the Mission Foods series. While it doesn’t always appear that way, since most of the cars are attached to two teams and racers mostly choose Chevrolet Camaros, the battle between Elite Motorsports and KB Titan Racing is tough. Elite Motorsports is led by six-time champ Erica Enders, while Greg Anderson is the titular head of KB Titan Racing. Both have single victories in this three-race season, yet lag consistent points leader Dallas Glenn of KB Titan Racing going into Las Vegas. Glenn, the Pomona victor, has regained his footing after a rough 2023 season. Now Enders is four points behind him, five-time champ Anderson is 28 back, while consistent fellow five-time champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. is fourth (-120) and his Elite teammate Cristian Cuadra, racing a Mustang is fifth, 127 points behind Glenn.

Greg Anderson loves to race in Sin City because he gets to spend time with Ken Black, his team owner for 20 years – Anne Proffit photo

The rest of the Pro Stock top 10 are fairly spread out with Elite’s Aaron Stanfield (-136) and David Cuadra (-159), followed by KB Titan’s Brandon Foster (-164), Elite’s Troy Coughlin Jr. (-173) and KB Titan’s Matt Hartford, who is 174 points behind squadmate Glenn. With 21 cars on the entry list, this is another class where making the field is definitely a big part of the battle. Camrie Caruso, injured at Phoenix with a broken left fibula, is on the list but won’t be able to compete for at least a month, possibly two months; she’s currently in 14th place.

Look for Deric Kramer, rookie Sienna Wildgust, Kenny Delco, Eric Latino, Chris and Mason McGaha, Jerry Tucker, Joey Grose, Stee Graham and Fernando Cuadra Jr., also in a Mustang, to try and shake up the standings. Fernando Cuadra, who was hoping to rejoin the Pro Stock wars at this race, still hasn’t been cleared to compete. Last year, Dallas Glenn was the Pro Stock winner, but with his momentum last week, Anderson is determined to keep his team surging in the standings. “It’s a bigger challenge than most tracks and I love that,” Anderson said. “I absolutely love a bigger challenge!”

There will be many challenges for the latest group of Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge competitors, who were semifinalists in Phoenix. Two quads in each of Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock will face off in the third round of qualifying on Saturday with final quads going head-to-head in the final grouping for each category. Hoping to repeat his 2023 win in the 4-Wide Las Vegas race, Antron Brown is taking part in Saturday’s Mission Challenge, racing Steve Torrence, Shawn Reed and Langdon. The second quad features Billy Torrence, Doug Kalitta, Justin Ashley and first-timer Tony Stewart. In Funny Car, Matt Hagan earned his fifth Las Vegas trophy at 2023’s 4-Wide, yet the Virginian isn’t in the Mission Challenge this week. Prock, Daniel Wilkerson, John Force and Todd compete, while the second quad features DeJoia, Cruz Pedregon, Paul Lee and Blake Alexander. Pro Stock’s pair of Mission #2Fast2Tasty quads feature Anderson, jet Coughlin Jr (a five-time Las Vegas victor), Jerry Tucker and Troy Coughlin jr. The second quad features Elite’s Erica Enders, Aaron Stanfield, Cristian Chaldea and reigning event winner, KB Titan’s Dallas Glenn.

Brendan Foster has been very competitive in Pro Stock so far this year – Anne Proffit photo

Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series fans will enjoy the return of Top Alcohol Dragster and Funny Car this weekend, along with Competition Eliminator, Super Stock, Stock Eliminator, Super Comp, Super Gas, Top Sportsman, Top Dragster, the first 4-wide race for Factory Stock Showdown, which will complete its Pomona race at this venue and Factory X.

The weekend will begin with sunny, warm and windy conditions for Friday’s pair of qualifying sessions, continue with similar conditions on Saturday, then experience at least a 10-degree temperature drop for Sunday eliminations, according to weather services. A very slight chance of light showers exists for Saturday night.

About Anne Proffit 1269 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

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