Speedway Motorsports’ zMax Dragway outside Charlotte, NC was first to jump on the Four-Wide bandwagon and will, in April, celebrate its ninth consecutive spring four-across NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event. One of the company’s western outposts, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, held its first such contest and it was a rousing success.
NHRA’s spring race at Las Vegas hasn’t always gotten the support its late-October event engenders. Of course, the latter race is the penultimate event in NHRA’s 24-race Mello Yello season, with championships on the line in all categories. It’s bound to have more attention thrown its direction because of those championship ramifications. Speedway Motorsports knew it needed a carrot to bring customers into the spring race’s gates.
Last year staff at Las Vegas announced they would add two lanes and make the spring NHRA race into a four-wide contest. The competitors, now accustomed to racing four-across, had few issues with doing so at The Strip, normally a grand venue with good weather. And this year’s inaugural DENSO Spark Plugs Four-Wide NHRA Nationals, the 19th spring race in Sin City, proved to be a genuine success.
The weather was good; the fields for Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock (no Pro Stock Motorcycle at this event) were full or over-subscribed and, blissfully, there were no oil-downs in the Pro classes. Fans came out in droves for the first four-wide contest west of the Mississippi; NHRA declared both Saturday qualifying and Sunday eliminations sell-out crowds, and the enthusiasm definitely helped the racers’ mindset as they came to the water box each of three, rather than four times.
The only events held last weekend that didn’t utilize all four lanes were the K&N Horsepower Challenge for eight Pro Stock contestants, held on Saturday, and all Lucas Oil Sportsman qualifying and races. Greg Anderson earned his third straight and seventh K&N trophy over teammate and reigning class titleholder Bo Butner, taking home an extra $50,000 for his efforts.
Anderson, who bested Erica Enders’ Camaro in the first round of K&N eliminations, sacked a close victory over five-time class champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. in the second round – they were just .002 seconds apart after their quarter-mile battle. On the other side of the eight-car field, Butner used a .006 reaction time to best eventual race-winner Vincent Nobile, then trailered Drew Skillman with a slender .002-sec win light.
In the third all-KB Racing K&N Horsepower Challenge final, Butner blew any opportunity by fouling out at the lights with a -.163 early departure at the Christmas Tree, while Anderson cut a .024-sec light for the win. During Saturday afternoon qualifying, Anderson also earned No. 1 qualifier with a best time of 6.669 seconds at 206.45mph. Although he was quickest and fastest on Saturday, Anderson wasn’t able to double up and add another $25,000 for the win on Sunday’; he was out in the semifinals to McGaha and Nobile.
Although Mello Yello competitors were hesitant about racing in four-wide competition when it first began nearly nine years ago, most everyone has come around to the requirements of this type of racing. Drag racers traditionally don’t like much change – witness the outcry when Top Fuel and Funny Car went to 1,000 feet – and racing four abreast created the same amount of howling. Couple that with early issues on-track at zMax Dragway and it’s understandable there was some whining about it.
The lessons learned in Charlotte appear to have played out well for Speedway Motorsports, together with NHRA’s exemplary track preparation, as there were few complaints from competitors about anything on The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Then again, why should they complain? The racing was good, the fans were happy and the DENSO Spark Plug NHRA Nationals winner’s circle was populated by first-time 2018 victors, tightening up the competition for the late-season Countdown to the Championship.
NHRA takes this weekend off and reconvenes in Houston April 20-22 at Royal Purple Raceway.