While still an enjoyable debate amongst drag racing purists, the success and popularity of NHRA’s four-wide drag racing experiment is impossible to deny and the 2022 running of the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals this past weekend at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway served as proof positive. Amongst a slew of memorable moments, Erica Enders’ ninth win at the facility ranks at the top of the list, and also makes her the winningest professional driver in the history of the Nevada super track. Brittany Force reminded us all that she has a Top Fuel world championship to her credit and that she has eyes for another. Ron Capps added to his legend with the first win of his career as a team owner and driver and established himself as an early title favorite with a trip to the winner’s circle during the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series fourth stop in 2022. Along with all that, a gambler’s race broke out in Top Alcohol Funny Car. Wild times. Here’s our rundown of the biggest happenings and key takeaways from the NHRA’s first of two trips to Sin City this season.
The final round in Top Fuel consisted of the last 8 world champions, with 16 total amongst them (Brittany Force, Steve Torrence, Antron Brown and Tony Schumacher). With the four of them reaching the final in Vegas, it means that 10 different drivers have been in a Top Fuel final this season – a real nod to the parity that exists in drag racing’s ultimate eliminator right now. Also worth mentioning is the list of names who haven’t been in a final yet this year – Leah Pruett, Doug Kalitta, Shawn Langdon and Josh Hart. We don’t think this is a factoid that is going to age well, but it is worth noting and another feather in the cap of Top Fuel drag racing at this moment in time.
FORCING THE ISSUE
Brittany Force is the fourth different Top Fuel winner in four races. She’s made major strides in her starting-line performance (she’s mentioned making some adjustments to her routine and trying something different, which seem to be working) and if she’s able to stay solid on the lights, it’s going to be a game changer for the team – especially with the performance potential crew chief David Grubnic routinely demonstrates. Speaking of demonstrating performance potential, Brittany Force was good for both low elapsed time and top speed of the meet in Las Vegas. She set those marks with a 3.718-second pass and 338.00 mph trap speed, respectively. Did you catch that? Three-hundred-thirty-eight miles per hour. Those digits are good for the second-fastest pass in Top Fuel history. Second only to her own 338.17 mph blast from a few years back in Vegas. Who’d have thought the sport of drag racing would see its premiere eliminator’s racing distance reduced by 320-feet and trap speeds still encroach 340? Well, maybe all of us?
ONLY A MATTER OF TIME
Another tidbit that is a far cry from evergreen – Steve Torrence hasn’t won a race yet this year. This is the first time since the start of 2019 where the champ-champ-champ-champ (quad champ, for short) has gone four races without a win. Incredibly, though, and a real testament to the Capco Boys ability to go rounds – he’s still leading the points. Brittany Force is currently four points back, Mike Salinas a mere 7 behind. We look for the 4x to lower the boom on everyone before long, though.
NO FUNNY BUSINESS
For Ron Capps and company, it’s seemingly business as usual. Capps Napa Know How crew was the only team in Funny Car competition that didn’t have any turnover headed into the season and it’s certainly made a big difference. Many questioned how the sport’s newest drivers-turned-team-owners would handle playing double-duty, but SoCal Capps appears to be right at home. Matter of fact, we can’t help but notice a hint of fresh enthusiasm from the reigning champ. Not that he hasn’t been enthusiastic, of course, especially fresh off clinching his second championship, but it seems inarguable that it all means a little bit more when you’re the boss.
Alexis DeJoria scored the first final round appearance for the new Toyota Supra Funny Car body in Las Vegas. J.R. Todd and the DHL Funny Car team continue to struggle mightily and currently find themselves on the outside looking in for Labor Day weekend’s NHRA Funny Car All-Star Callout race.
Funny Car is essentially a three-car race right now, with Matt Hagan, Robert Hight and Ron Capps clearly in control. The next closest driver (Cruz Pedregon) is already 170-points out of first place. That’s a sizable spread to make up, especially as the three aforementioned teams don’t appear to be losing momentum anytime soon. For all the parity and competition that exists at the highest levels of drag racing right now, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where we don’t see a three- or four-time champion crowned later this year.
Erica Enders has won at least one race in Las Vegas for the last four years straight. Pretty impressive. Not only did EE do her job in Sin City, her Elite Motorsports/Melling Chevy Camaro was on the money, too – as were all the teams’ better-than-a-half-dozen hot rods, including fellow finalist Cristian Cuadra and semifinalists Troy Coughlin Jr. and Aaron Stanfield. The boys (and girls) from Wynnewood, Oklahoma, seem to be racing with a serious chip on their collective shoulders after finishing runner-up in ’21, while reigning champion Greg Anderson appears to be suffering through something of a championship hangover. We’re excited to see how this all shakes out. For a class the racing world was calling “good as dead” just a few short years ago, we’re prepared to argue that the best drag racing happening in the world is happening in NHRA Pro Stock.
PRO STOCK’S NEXT GEN DRIVERS CONTINUE TO SHINE
NHRA Rookie of the Year and DRAG ILLUSTRATED Breakout Racer of the Year Dallas Glenn continues to impress, but the real story of the Las Vegas Four-Wides was Cristian Cuadra. “CC” as we’ve decided to start calling him today had a .001-second reaction time in the opening stanza, and backed it up with a .006 light in the semis and .005 in the final. This kid is an animal. Mason McGaha also had a .001 light in Vegas and advanced to the final round of action. Pro Stock is absolutely insane on the starting line and, honestly, at the finish line stripe, too.
WHO’S IN FOR A GRAND?
Top Alcohol Funny Car qualifying quad of Sean Bellemeur, Shane Westerfield, Doug Gordon and Chris Marshall all put up $1,000 for the winner of their four-wide matchup. We’re not sure where everyone stands on gambling, but we love it – especially when it’s racers doing the betting. There’s nothing that changes the intensity of a speed contest like a wager, nor anything more likely to produce an emotional outburst (which makes for great content).
Bellemeur was first off the blocks and took the money on a hole shot, posting up a stout 5.516-second blast to ultimately qualify No. 2 for the field.
[Editor’s Note: We can’t say enough about Top Alcohol Funny Car right now. We surely recognize that we’ve seen short fields, but how can you argue with something like a half-dozen alky floppers cracking off mid-five-second passes down the quarter-mile?]
FOUR WIDE F@#$%&! ROCKS
We’re prepared to admit that not everyone at DRAG ILLUSTRATED is 100-percent in love with four-wide drag racing, but there is no denying that this format has saved the spring race in Las Vegas. Huge crowds throughout the weekend for the first race since early 2020 with four qualifying rounds, and we couldn’t have been happier to see it. The spectacle that is 40,000-plus horsepower being unleashed simultaneously on the drag strip is hard to deny, and we’re here to say they may as well lean into it. If there’s four lanes out there, should we not use ’em all…every time we get a chance? Regardless, kudos to all involved on a solid weekend for the sport of drag racing.
POMONA, VEGAS, PLEASE
How much sense would it make for the NHRA to make the second stop on the tour Las Vegas, Nevada? We can’t help but feel the teams committed to a full-pull would be absolutely thrilled to forego the 2,000-mile trip from the West Coast to Gainesville, Florida, and instead make a relatively quick trip from Pomona, California, for the season-opening Winternationals to Vegas. We’re not saying it’s a done deal, but it seems likely and it’s a move we’d support wholeheartedly.