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DENSO NHRA 4-Wide Nationals: Our Drivers Chime In On The New Format In Las Vegas

Since 2010, Concord, North Carolina’s zMAX Dragway was the exclusive four lane drag racing facility on the NHRA tour. The spectacle of seeing all three of the professional classes – Pro Mod isn’t technically a pro class, although it was included in the four-wide format for 2017 – lined up four at a time was something fans flocked to witness, and seeing, hearing and feeling 44,000 horsepower roar to life at the same time is something that is easily worth making the trek from wherever you live!

Late in the 2017 season, it was announced that The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was expanding to four lanes to add a second 4-wide event to the calendar. Like zMAX, Vegas hosts two events per season, but only one will utilize all 4 lanes. While a second event certainly adds some draw to the Spring event in Vegas, some have expressed concern about it having an adverse effect on the impact of the race held at zMAX, considering the dynamic of a 4-wide race is considerably different of that in a typical drag race featuring two cars. We reached out to our drivers to get their input on the new race and what it means for their programs.

Clay Millican enters the race riding a string of strong performances in his Great Clips/Parts Plus sponsored dragster, and his team has had some good showings at the 4-wide events held at zMax. Coming up through the world of bracket racing, where there are often games played at the starting line and the drivers are intensely focused on their routine. “I personally embrace the chaos of the 4-wide events. Being an old time bracket racer, I’ve always been focused on my staging routine, so in that aspect, I don’t have to change too much besides watching two extra sets of stage lights,” said Millican.

“One thing that it does change, especially for a smaller team like ours,” added Millican, “is what happens when we smoke the tires. In a typical race, there’s only one other car to worry about. If we spin and he’s out front and hooked up, I know not to bother lifting. With the first two cars to the stripe advancing to the next round at these 4-Wide races, it’s a little harder to see the other cars due to the wall [between the pairs of lanes] so we have to try to hump it on down there even if we’re spinning, and that can be hard on parts, which we don’t have a ton of.”

Team Speed Society Racing drivers Clay Millican and Leah Pritchett (top two lanes) drive away from the competition at the 2017 4-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway.

Fellow top fuel pilot Leah Pritchett, who also flies the Speed Society colors on her Papa Johns Pizza sponsored ride, takes a similar approach. “Some drivers feel strongly one way or another towards four-wide racing as a whole, but for me, I take the approach of, ‘How you can excel at something you don’t embrace?’ Can it throw all of us off our very much dialed-in precision routine? Yes. Are there larger chances for error? Yes. Does race-day mentality change once past the Christmas tree? Yes. Does it require a maximum level of focus? Of course. But that’s what the four-wide racing brings, beyond just the cars being physically lined up four-wide across.”

Three time world champion Antron Brown, who has won the last two spring Vegas events in his Matco Tools sponsored rocketship, seemed downright giddy about the chance to throw down four abreast out west. I saw the track when I was out there for the Pennzoil 400, and it looks phenomenal. The four lanes are brand new, super smooth and now they’re bringing the ‘Bellagio of drag racing’ to The Strip. I can’t wait to get out there and see if we can stand on top of that mountain. Can’t tell you how thrilled I am to run four-wide on the West Coast.”

Ron Capps (second from the bottom) and his competition under throttle four wide at zMAX Dragway last spring.

In funny car, the feelings of the drivers seem to echo those of the top fuel drivers, with Napa Auto Parts campaigner Ron Capps and Jonnie Lindberg, driver of the Jim Head Racing/Landmeco-sponsored Mustang expressing excitement about having an extra shot at going four-wide. Said Capps, “Man, we’ve been looking forward to going back to Las Vegas since it was announced that they were going to turn the track into a four-wide venue. The two Vegas events are always something we look forward to, especially with the October race being so crucial to winning an NHRA world championship.”

Jonnie Lindberg (bottom) on the throttle at the 2017 running of the 4-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway.

Pro Stock wheelman Alex Laughlin, who’s continuing to rock the Hot Wheels Car Care colors as the series returns to the left side of the country, said he’s not interested in playing games on the line like he typically might. In Pro Stock, the cars aren’t running quite as volatile, so the drivers can take their time staging, often resulting in extended burndowns, a battle of wills between two drivers where they both want to be the last to stage. “Rolling into the first 4-Wide event ever at LVMS this weekend, normal driver routines go out the window. I always like to be the last to stage before the tree drops, but I can’t depend on that this time,” said Laughlin. “Even though there’s four cars staging at the same time, we are still only allowed seven seconds to get in. At these 4-Wide races, it’s not only a drag race, but it’s a race to get staged too. Cars will be timed out, that’s a fact. I’m not risking becoming a statistic so I’ll be staging first all weekend!”

Our drivers are all excited about the added four-wide race as well due to the buzz it builds for the sport. I spoke with Clay on the phone earlier today, where he had big news that had nothing to do with his team specifically. “This deal is good for us as a sport. They announced they had more ticket pre-sales than ever before out here, and they’re hopeful that will mean another sellout!”

After a sellout crowd at the last tour stop in Gainesville, a second consecutive capacity crowd in Vegas would be a great signal of the strength of the sport, all the while other forms of motorsports are removing whole sections of grandstands to give the appearance of denser crowds. Keep an eye on FS1 all weekend to follow our drivers and the rest of the stars of the NHRA Tour as they go head-to-head-to-head-to-head in Sin City!