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DI RETURN ROAD: NHRA Four-Wide Nationals – Vegas Edition

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By all accounts, the debut of four-wide racing on the West Coast with the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was a rousing success. The atmosphere was electric, drawing sell-out crowds on both Saturday and Sunday, and the racing was outstanding across the board.

The race was also the latest example that Steve Torrence’s tremendous 2017 season wasn’t a flash in the pan. The Top Fuel star posted his second win of 2018 in four races, maintaining the points lead and doing so against a who’s-who final quad in Vegas.

Matched up against Antron Brown, Tony Schumacher and Doug Kalitta, who have a combined 192 NHRA wins between them, Torrence picked up his 18th career win, running an impressive 3.771 at 326.63 mph. It was a surreal moment for Torrence, but once again he proved he belonged, winning for the 10th time in the past 23 races dating back to last season.

“You go up in the final, you got AB, you got Tony Schumacher, you got Doug and those guys are legends, at least in my eyes,” Torrence said. “Those are the guys I grew up watching and now I’m racing them. It was a tough final and I just went up there and tried to do my job.”

After struggling through qualifying, so much so that Torrence joked he “rode the struggle bus and even stopped in struggle town,” the team was dynamite in eliminations. It was another positive sign for Torrence, who won eight times a year ago but never fully recovered after a late-season crash in Dallas.

Brittany Force sped by him down the stretch, but that disappointment hasn’t carried over to 2018. The team’s focus has been diversifying, changing parts and pieces to the dragster, hoping it all pays off in crunch time. Thus far, things haven’t always been pretty, but Torrence keeps finishing ways to win.

““We’re still working on the car,” Torrence said. “It’s not performing at the level it was last year, but it’s coming around. We’re approaching this season with a little different strategy. We won two races out of the four, but really nobody has set the woods on fire because we sucked in Pomona and we sucked in Gainesville, but we still lead the points.”

As for the four-wide setting in Vegas, Torrence was impressed with how the event turned out, picking up a noteworthy first in the process.

“They finished this thing up with unbelievable timing and when we come here, the track surface is great,” Torrence said. “It’s better than what anybody expected it to be. Hats off to those guys. This thing is smooth going down the whole way. I’ve won here before and to be able to win the first Four-Wide Nationals out here, that’s always going to be something I check off.”

CAN’T-MISS NEWS

Todd Tears Through Funny Car: This weekend had a little bit of everything for J.R. Todd. There was the ceremonial burnout before the race started to commemorate the first Four-Wide Nationals in Vegas, with Todd taking it the full 1,000 feet. There was also a double holeshot win, something that’s only possible in the four-wide set-up.

But most importantly for Todd, there was his first victory of the season, taking the final quad with a 4.041 at 317.05.

Todd also had no idea he won until well after the finish line, as Tommy Johnson Jr. went red unbeknownst to the Kalitta Motorsports standout.

“I wasn’t exactly sure,” Todd said. “I said I’m going to wait until I get around the corner to see what exactly happened. When they’re waving me over, I’m like, ‘There’s no way this actually happened.’”

It’s another great showing for a Kalitta Motorsports team that has been dynamite. With Top Fuel drivers Doug Kalitta and Richie Crampton already winning this year, Todd picked up the first Funny Car win for the group as Shawn Langdon continues his solid start in his debut season in the class.

The win also had Todd, who admittedly wasn’t the biggest four-wide fan, seeing a different perspective when it comes to the unique race.

“It’s new and exciting and it draws a huge crowd,” Todd said. “If this is what we have to do in drag racing to take the next step and bring in the younger crowd, then I’m all for it. Change can be good. If it’s going to help the sport, I’m all for it.”

All In The Family: While Vincent Nobile was on the West Coast winning his first event since 2016, cousin Johnny Pluchino was doing the same on the East Coast. Nobile grabbed the four-wide win in Vegas in Pro Stock and Pluchino started his Pro Outlaw 632 season with a victory at the PDRA East Coast Spring Nationals at GALOT Motorsports Park.

It was a cool twist on the weekend for Nobile, who fought through all sorts of engine issues to come out on top. After sitting out the final stretch last season, the Vegas win provided a huge boost.

“We worked our butts off this weekend. That was our third engine this weekend,” Nobile said. “On Friday, we struggled qualifying and finally after first round, we put in our backup backup. All in all, it was a great weekend. There’s no reason why we can’t be in the winner’s circle again soon.”

Pluchino knocked off Matthew Buck in the Pro Outlaw 632 final round with a 4.265 at 167.68, wrapping up his own rigorous stretch when it comes to engines in top-notch fashion.

“We really have to thank (engine builder) Jon Kaase,” Pluchino said. “We got this motor probably 2-3 weeks ago. My dad and I spent nights nonstop putting this thing together, but it’s a bad piece. We’re out here running with these nitrous guys and we’re showing ‘em how to do it.”

Cox Fires Impressive Opening Shot: This was big for Jay Cox and just another example of how Cox and his Buck-powered “Pumpkin” ’69 Camaro can back up his bold talk. The big goal, of course, is unseating back-to-back PDRA Pro Nitrous world champion Tommy Franklin and claiming his first PDRA world title, and while that won’t be decided for a while, this was a big step for Cox.

He won the East Coast Spring Nationals at GALOT Motorsports Park, knocking off Jason Harris with a 3.696 at 201.31 mph in the final round. It was a sterling – and maybe necessary – start for Cox, who has big dreams entering the 2018 season. To get there, Cox knows he needs performances like this weekend, which included a thrilling 3.664 holeshot win against Lizzy Musi’s 3.658 in the semifinals.

“We’ve got a really good motor right now,” Cox said. “Me and (engine builder) Charlie Buck worked really hard on this piece. He thrashed day and night last year to get it to me early so I could put a few passes on it. We made some changes over the winter, made some more changes after the Mad Mule race here in March, and (Sunday) you see the results.”

Along with this, how mind-bending were the performances in Pro Nitrous this weekend? Run after run of 3.60s and just heavyweight slugfests throughout eliminations, with Cox setting the opening tone with a 3.64 in testing and Franklin qualifying No. 1 with a 3.668. The class is on quite a tear and seeing the likes of Cox and Musi duke it out with dueling 3.60s was something else. But it’s not just a few names making those standout runs, as we saw a litany of names reach the 3.60s at GALOT.

If this is the starting point for Pro Nitrous in 2018, it’s going to be a season full of double takes at the scoreboard.

Where Have You Gone, Pro Extreme?: There might have been extenuating circumstances this weekend, but it was still shocking to see only four Pro Extreme cars at the PDRA opener. It’s on the opposite end of the spectrum when compared to Pro Nitrous, which didn’t seem to be possible just a couple years ago.

The class used to be the king of eighth-mile doorslammer racing and it’s more than a bit disappointing to see it come to this point. The cars are capable of producing phenomenal performances, but the class is clearly waning in interest and that’s no good for anybody. Can it be saved? How can it be saved?

The answers and solutions are out there somewhere, but it’s something we hope can be solved relatively quickly.

FURTHER VIEWING

Greg Anderson said leading up to this weekend that the spring Vegas race was his favorite of the year because of the K&N Horsepower Challenge.

Anderson continued to have a ball in the $50,000-to-win Pro Stock specialty race, winning for the third straight year and seventh time overall. For a driver who’s done almost everything in the class, winning that Saturday shootout seven times is a pretty special accomplishment.

“This blows my mind,” Anderson said. “K&N has just been so wonderful to this class and this sport. It’s an honor to get that big check up there. I can’t thank K&N enough.”

Drag Illustrated Live Episode 93
Last week’s episode had it all, including an appearance from Todd, as well as Cox, Pat Musi and Keith Berry, whose Woostock event takes place this weekend at Darlington Dragway.

Here’s the aforementioned mega burnout blast.
We’ve got a special place in our hearts for big burnouts here at Drag Illustrated, so this ceremonial burnout with Cruz Pedregon, Todd, Antron Brown and Richie Crampton was a pretty cool deal in Vegas.

Two Top Fuelers and two Funny Cars doing 1,000-foot burnouts? More of that, please and thank you.

And another angle because burnouts are cool.

Hang On For The Ride
Funny Car’s Ron Capps taking us along for the ride. A great angle providing a little glimpse of the craziness involved in harnessing a 10,000-horsepower monster.

Prock Goes Funny Car Testing
Austin Prock, son of John Force Racing crew chief Jimmy Prock, got his first taste of Funny Car on Monday, making test hits in Vegas in Courtney Force’s ride, which qualified No. 1 this weekend. According to JFR, he’ll be making test hits all year the day after races, which means we’re definitely intrigued to see where this goes.

PDRA Highlights
There was no shortage of PDRA highlights from an entertaining opening weekend at GALOT. Check them out:

ON SOCIAL

Congrats, Vegas 4-Wide Winners!

We like repeating ourselves in this instance: Back-to-back sellout days for the Vegas Four-Wide event. It’s the third straight NHRA race with at least one day of a sellout crowd.

An awesome showing from the West Coast Hot Rod Association standouts
It was very cool to see big-tire and small-tire racers from the WCHRA go four-wide racing during the NHRA race over the weekend. Kudos to Danny Topol and NHRA for working together to make it happen. So many great forms of racing going on right now.

Top Dragster/Top Sportsman Shine Nationwide
Keeping with that theme, what a tremendous number of Top Dragster and Top Sportsman racing going on from coast-to-coast at Vegas and GALOT this weekend. It’s noticeable and beneficial in so many ways.

Now this is a great photo. Four Pro Stock cars in action this weekend.

Pro Extreme legend Jason Scruggs using every inch of his lane with some impressive driving.

FINAL THOUGHTS

It almost sounds silly to present a “love it or hate it” scenario when it comes to Four-Wide racing anymore. As the stands in Vegas showed and will again show in Charlotte in a couple weeks – where they’ve sold out for years on Saturday for the Four-Wide race – the strong majority are in the “love it” camp.

In fact, it really can’t be argued. A small, perhaps even minute, segment of the audience will never like it, which is fine, although I’ll argue they’re missing out on something unique.

Nobody is calling for a 24-race schedule of it, but keeping your head in the sand in regards to it – and the massive interest and support that comes with it – just seems silly at this point.

There were some great points and posts made on social media from a number of well-respected veteran journalists (Bret Kepner, Bobby Bennett, Kevin McKenna, etc.) over the weekend, with all touching on the incredible success of the Vegas four-wide debut. Above all else, it was thoroughly entertaining and I’m sure we’ll be saying that again at the end of the month at zMAX Dragway.

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