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DI RETURN ROAD: NHRA Four-Wide Nationals

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There were smiles, there were joyous exhales and perhaps a collective sigh of relief from both Cruz Pedregon and Erica Enders on Sunday in Charlotte.

For two of NHRA’s most successful drivers, getting a win at the Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway was as much about exorcising some demons as anything else.

The two world champions had just one combined win in the past 146 opportunities, something that seems impossible considering their track records. Both are two-time world champs and Pedregon had won 35 total times before Sunday, while Enders had 21 of her 22 wins in an incredible run from 2012-2015.

It had been a particularly rough stretch for each as of late, as Pedregon had gone winless for 92 events heading into Charlotte. Seeing his reaction after beating John Force, Courtney Force and Tommy Johnson Jr. in the Funny Car final indicated just how big a weight was lifted off his shoulders, and he didn’t mince words when discussing just how important the win was.

“This might be the best, sweetest victory of my career,” Pedregon said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to drive some good cars and win a lot of races, but this one here, it’s big man. It’s huge.

“This one ranks right up there. I thought I was maybe destined to not win again. I don’t want to do this unless I’m competitive. It’s a lot of work and what motivates me is having a good-running car that people respect. It’s like going back to my first win.”

After back-to-back championships, Enders went winless in 2016 and even though she won once in 2017, things never fully clicked in the car. With a final-round showing in Houston and her first four-wide win a week later, Enders believes things may finally be back on the right track.

“We’ve had a lot of success, but it’s been a long time since we’ve had a lot of success, so hopefully this is the start of what we hope is a tremendous year,” Enders said.

Enders went 6.535 at 212.73 mph to beat Vincent Nobile, Drew Skillman and Chris McGaha in the final quad, as a car change before Houston has made a significant difference. It wasn’t an easy decision for the Elite Motorsports team, but Enders credited crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones for how they’ve adapted to it.

“The changes we made, they were challenging changes to make because of the personnel involved with our team,” Enders said. “I think it speaks volumes of the character of our crew chiefs, that they were able to put people in front of parts and pieces. That was the turning point we needed.”

It’s been a long, hard climb for Pedregon, who added crew chief Aaron Brooks last year and Glen Huzar this season. It took time for everyone to mesh, but Pedregon started to make progress this season. It had not shown in eliminations, but he’s hopeful the breakthrough came in Charlotte.

“Our performance has been a lot better than we’ve shown,” said Pedregon, who jumped to eighth in points. “The pressure I’ve been feeling, even though the car is on the upward swing, we were 11th in points and falling, and the guys in 10th were moving away. With all the good feelings I’ve had as far the car’s performance coming around, being consistent and qualifying in the top half, we still didn’t have anything to show for it. This is a great feeling.”

CAN’T-MISS NEWS

TORRENCE PULLS 4-WIDE SWEEP: Top Fuel standout Steve Torrence has downplayed his success this year, perhaps his way of keeping things low-key before the Countdown to the Championship, but it’s impossible to deny his success in the four-wide racing set-up. With the win in Charlotte, he became the first driver to win two four-wide events in one year, and he also has three straight four-wide wins dating back to last year’s victory at zMAX. That’s impressive any way you slice it.

With a slew of standouts struggling for consistency in the class, Torrence has taken advantage, even as he admits his team isn’t running as well as he hopes come September. But even in the midst of trying new things and implementing a number of changes, Torrence just keeps winning.

There’s something to be said about finding ways to win, and Torrence managed to grind out another one.

That now gives him 11 wins in his past 25 races. In this day and age, that’s an incredible number.

“It’s pretty unbelievable,” Torrence said. “We haven’t had the best car all year. We’ve been working on some stuff. We could run what we did at the end of last year, but you’ve got to continually evolve your program. It’s something you have to keep working at. The car’s doing really well and it did exactly what we told it (Sunday). I would put (crew chief) Richard Hogan up against anybody when the track gets greasy. My hats off to him because he’s the guy.”

EMOTIONAL WIN FOR SAVOIE: It’s easy to see how much a victory means to Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Jerry Savoie, mostly because he’s not afraid to get emotional and even a little choked up in the winner’s circle.

That happened on Sunday when he won with a stout 6.784 at 195.73, beating Andrew Hines, Matt Smith and Scotty Pollacheck in the final quad, and his reasoning for the emotional response is simple.

“It’s a lot of hard work and dedication for your whole team,” Savoie said. “It’s a tough gig. At my age, you never know when it’s going to be your last one.”

The season did not start well for Savoie in Gainesville, falling in the first round and some shuffling on his White Alligator Racing team. But things rebounded in Charlotte, as Savoie brought back LE Tonglet, who won six races in 2017 teaming with the 2016 champ, and things went according to plan.

Tonglet qualified No. 1 and Savoie was impressive throughout eliminations to get back on the right path.

“It was an amazing thing,” Savoie said. “The bike showed some promise and we figured some things out.”

GONZALEZ PULLS OFF A FIRST IN WILD PRO MOD FINAL: In a event-filled final quad in Pro Mod, Jose Gonzalez made history by becoming the first racer from the Dominican Republic to win a NHRA event, getting a victory in the loaded class in just his third career NHRA Pro Mod start.

Gonzalez went 5.743 at 254.09 in the final round, holding off Stevie Jackson, Rickie Smith and Brandon Snider in the final round.

Of course, the final round also had Jackson’s gruesome top-end crash where he hit both walls, including a head-on collision with the right wall a second time. He escaped major injuries (see the next news item), but the weekend belonged to Gonzalez, who qualified No. 1 a week ago in Houston.

He credited tuner Steve Petty, who called the shots during now-retired Troy Coughlin’s run of championship seasons in the class, but Gonzalez has proven his worth as well, posting some outstanding reaction times and raising his own performance against a remarkable field that again had more than 30 competitors.

“My team gave me a tremendous car all week long and we figured out how to respond as the weather got warmer and our car continued to improve,” Gonzalez said. “This car has been running amazingly so far, so I’m happy for my car and my crew to get this victory.”

JACKSON POSTS UPDATE: Stevie Fast was certainly shaken up after the final round crash, but the popular driver posted an update on Monday that had everyone breathing a sigh of relief. His presence and success is obviously a great thing for the class and the sport, and fingers crossed that we’ll see him in Topeka in a few weeks for the next NHRA Pro Mod race.

MEYER GETS TAD WIN: It was a weekend to remember for Megan Meyer, who was impressive from start to finish in picking up the win in Top Alcohol Dragster.

She qualified No. 1, beat Troy Coughlin Jr. in the semifinals and then knocked off Dan Page in the final round with a 5.192 at 276.29.

Meyer talked about the magnitude of the victory at the NGK Spark Plugs-sponsored race in her Drag Illustrated driver blog, and she made sure to take advantage of every extra opportunity in the spotlight this weekend.

“This weekend was so unbelievable,” Meyer said in her blog. “The crew at NGK and zMAX were so nice and had multiple media opportunities set up for me. I had late nights, early mornings, lots of driving back and forth to the airport, getting supplies, signing autographs, doing TV interviews, stopping to talk to fans, and so many more duties this weekend than I typically have. It was a thrill.”

To read the full blog, click here: https://dragillustrated.com/di-driver-blog-presented-by-weld-racing-megan-meyer-6/

WORM MAKES BIG PROGRESS: It was a big weekend for Top Fuel’s Audrey Worm, as the Drag Illustrated “30 Under 30” alum picked up her first career round win in her third Top Fuel start in Charlotte.

She had some carnage in the process, but as the picture indicates, she doesn’t mind putting in a little extra work. Worm also had some help from the DSR crews as she got ready for the next round. Worm didn’t advance to the final quad on Sunday, but it’s still a pretty big first to knock off the list in her young career.

FURTHER VIEWING

Love the hashtag
Honestly, it doesn’t get much better than this. What a cool behind-the-scenes look at Enders after she won on Sunday. This is easily the video of the weekend. Plus, you always have to enjoy a great hashtag.

Drag Illustrated Live from Charlotte
An internet outage prevented our usual Drag Illustrated Live show with Wes Buck this week. But we did get this special show from zMAX Dragway with Wes right before eliminations. Some great behind-the-scenes action you don’t want to miss.

Explosive Happenings
There were plenty of fiery incidents over the weekend, including another body explosion from Funny Car’s Matt Hagan. He let his feelings be heard on what happened (see below), but others suffered their own mishaps during eliminations as well.

In The Cockpit
These never get old. Ron Capps treating us to some up close and personal action from the weekend.

ON SOCIAL

Congrats, Charlotte Winners!

Things That Make You Go Hmmm
A few racers had some things to say on social media in regards to track conditions this weekend. It will be interesting to see where this goes.

Tasca Goes Boom
A big explosion ruined Tasca’s weekend, but the veteran promises to bounce back in a major way.

More Bird Business!
A week after Billy Torrence just missed hitting a bird in Houston, Richie Stevens had an encounter during Pro Mod qualifying. Unfortunately, as you’ll also see below, it was the start of a disappointing few days for Stevens, who is married to Enders. Stevens crashed during testing on Monday, which means there is work to do before he can get back behind the wheel.

Four-Wide Reaction
These are always great. Bring some other motorsports professionals to a NHRA race and watch the looks of amazement. From NASCAR drivers to IndyCar’s Will Power, there were plenty of impressed people on the starting line.

We’re Not Worthy!
John Force, who recovered from his Houston DNQ to finish as the Funny Car runner-up, gave Pedregon some winner’s circle congrats, something Pedregon appreciated and mentioned in his post-race press conference.

“It meant a lot that John and Courtney congratulated me,” Pedregon said. “I’ve raced with him longer than anyone and he’s always been a class act to me. It’s been an honor to race with him.”

FINAL THOUGHTS

It was truly a thrilling weekend at zMAX Dragway, even if the track conditions debate might start to get louder from some.

Regardless of that, there was plenty of action, a great atmosphere and it is always special to see the reaction of drivers who haven’t won in a while. It’s almost incomprehensible to think that Pedregon had not won in 92 races, but this one meant every bit as much as his first win.

When you see it mean this much to drivers, you can’t help but enjoy the process of what it takes to get to the winner’s circle. Throw in nine – NINE! – quads of Pro Mod and you’ve got a wonderful weekend.

But now, it’s two-lane racing the rest of the year and summer will be here before you know it. We’ve got NHRA in Atlanta this week to finish off this three-week stretch, plus the PDRA’s second race of 2018, so plenty on tap this weekend. Talk to you Monday!

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