After two weeks’ lag from the extraordinary, celebratory 50th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla., NHRA’s Mello Yello troops have traveled cross-country to take part in the second annual DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals on The Strip as Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The Sin City track, superbly built and maintained, showed its mettle as the second drag racing track – after fellow Speedway Motorsports-owned zMAX Dragway – to build and produce four-wide competition for the straight-line set last year. In 2018, it was eventual season-long champion Steve Torrence’s dragster (Top Fuel) and J.R. Todd’s Toyota Camry Funny Car taking home the Wally winner’s trophies; Vincent Nobile, who no longer races in Pro Stock, earned the win in that category.
Racing four-wide is an acknowledged change from competing against a single car or motorcycle. While quite a few drivers scheduled to compete this weekend have winning records on the track, only three of them have four-wide wins on the track across the street from Nellis Air Force base. For instance, three-time Top Fuel champ Antron Brown, who’s won two of the last three spring races at Las Vegas, knows he can run well there, but he made the semifinals last year, losing to Torrence and Schumacher.
John Force is champing at the bit to earn his 150th career Funny Car victory and hopes, with a PEAK/BlueDef wrap on his Chevrolet Camaro SS, that the veteran can bring home that elusive trophy. NHRA’s most successful racer has two spring victories at Las Vegas to go with his two No. 1 qualifier spots. Force won NHRA’s first four-wide race in 2010 at zMAX outside Charlotte. Daughter Brittany Force’s dragster is primed for success here; she’s looking to become the first woman to win at both zMAX and The Strip this Sunday.
The top Fuel entry is a bit skimpy, with only 15 cars on the list as of Thursday. It remains to be seen if Steve Torrence can regain his mojo from 2018, the magical season of his first championship run; with dad Billy along for the ride at this track, can the senior Torrence earn a second Wally this year? Rookie Austin Prock gains his first four-wide experience with John Force Racing; it’s possible this is also Cameron Ferre’s first such race in a four-wide situation, at least on a national scale.
There are 17 entries in Funny Car and the drivers to watch are last year’s winner/champion Todd, along with Robert Hight of John Force Racing. This weekend marks Don Schumacher Racing driver Tommy Johnson Jr.’s 450th national event entry, and the driver/candle maker will celebrate a birthday on Saturday, hopefully with a No. 1 qualifier in his 2019 Dodge//SRT Hellcat – and not another on-track explosion. DSR’s Jack Beckman owns both ends of the track record here, achieved under side-by-side competition in the fall 2017 race.
With no reigning event champion in Pro Stock , the 16-car field is wide open. As has been the case in the first three races of the year, there are 14 Chevrolet Camaro entries, one Dodge Dart (Alan Prusiensky) and Jeff Isbell in a 2019 Mustang. It’s hard to bet against either Summit Racing or Elite Motorsports in this mash-up, even though Summit’s Greg Anderson is in a recognizable slump.
Despite his eight wins at team owner Ken Black’s home track, Anderson has struggled in the beginning 2019 races. Stuck on 91 career Pro Stock wins, four-time champ Anderson realizes his success at the Las Vegas track this weekend would be a major boost for his side of the Summit Racing pits. Thus far in the season, teammate Bo Butner has carried the team to the Winner’s Circle twice, at Pomona and Gainesville. Anderson is hoping to change those stats.
Andrew Hines is hoping to turn his Gators Pro Stock Motorcycle victory into a win at this weekend’s race, but the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Street Rod motorcycle will have to contend with 18 other hungry riders and an added 15 pounds on his, Angelle Sampey’s and Eddie Krawiec’s motorcycles and on the eight EBR/Buell racers. Because of these changes it’s hard to figure out who will get it right – we’ll just have to wait and see.
No need to bring rain gear this weekend, as predictions call for temps starting in the mid-70s on Friday and escalating to mid-80s by Sunday. With low humidity for all three days, the onus will be on crew chiefs to adjust for increasing temps and their effects on both blower-enhanced and naturally aspirated internal combustion engines. It’s a clean slate when they all take to the track on Friday for the first set of qualifying opportunities.