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DI Roundtable: Van Wagnen, Hachat Dish on the Return of 4-Wide Racing, PDRA’s 2021 Debut

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The 2021 racing season is underway in full force, and the DI team is back with its latest roundtable discussing the latest topics. They’re focused on the return of four-wide racing this weekend in Vegas – the first four-wide race in two years following the pandemic – the debut of Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car in a four-wide set-up and the PDRA’s successful 2021 debut at GALOT.

QUESTION: Following the pandemic, it’s the first NHRA four-wide race in two years with the stop this weekend in Las Vegas. Is it good to see four-wide racing back on the schedule for 2021?

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VAN WAGNEN: Yes, I think so. I know it’s a controversial topic, but I think four-wide racing is a spectacle that should happen at least once a year. Traditions are great and all, but it’s cool to see something different from time to time. It takes the drivers out of their routine for a weekend and makes some of them step out of their comfort zone.

Four-wide racing has been a thing for nearly as long as I’ve been seriously interested in drag racing, so it was a little odd to not see it last year.

HACHAT: I’m definitely excited to see it back. It’s certainly a unique race that may draw a jeer or two from hardcore fans, but, honestly, that never made sense to me. This type of racing has continually been a huge hit with casual fans, and that’s the segment you want to continue to attract.

Four-wide racing is one of the best ways to do it and as a spectacle, it’s hard to beat. I’ve enjoyed every four-wide experience I’ve been to and it can make for some precarious situations on the starting line, especially during eliminations.

We’ve also seen certain drivers really thrive in it. J.R. Todd is undefeated at the Vegas four-wide event, and Steve Torrence has been dominant in those situations – and, well, everywhere else if we’re being honest. I think the biggest attraction is having a big crowd on hand this weekend in Vegas. They sold out almost instantly, albeit at 50 percent capacity, but that continues to be a great sign for where the sport is headed this year.

QUESTION: It’s also the first-ever four-wide race for TAD and TAFC this weekend. How big is that for those two classes?

VAN WAGNEN: I’m really excited about this for a lot of reasons. Those classes are usually where the future stars of Top Fuel and Funny Car race for at least a couple seasons before moving up to the “big show.” It makes sense for them to get the opportunity to race in the four-wide format before moving up. Even for the drivers that don’t plan to move to Top Fuel or Funny Car, I know a lot of them are just looking forward to a new challenge. There are definitely more than a few drivers and personalities in the Top Alcohol classes that are very much traditionalists, but there are also quite a few rising stars who see it as an opportunity to try something new.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the different combinations in TAD and TAFC adjust to the four-wide staging process. In TAD, you can have clutch-equipped blown alcohol cars, converter-equipped blown alcohol cars, and injected nitro-burning cars. They each have a different staging process. It’s similar in TAFC, minus the injected nitro combination. You’ll see some starting line games in these classes at a normal race, so I’m interested to see how the four-wide format will play into that.

HACHAT: I love it and think it’s a huge step for both classes. Like Nate mentioned, all the different combinations really throw a wrinkle into things, but I think that’s a part that will make this type of set-up even more exciting. It’s always a thrill to watch all the different power adders in Pro Mod during a four-wide weekend knowing it’s organized chaos on the starting line for these races, and I think we’ll get that in the alcohol classes.

Plus, there are standout classes and deserve that pedestal. It’s always a little strange seeing some classes use the two-wide setup on these weekends, so I believe it’s a big boost for these two classes. And there’s so much star power in both categories, so it’s another way for these drivers to thrive in the spotlight.

Johnny Camp (near lane) over Kevin Rivenbark

QUESTION: The PDRA season kicked off last weekend. A lot happened over the weekend (maybe hyperlink to the Saturday recap?), but what was your biggest takeaway or highlight?

VAN WAGNEN: The East Coast Nationals was probably one of the best PDRA events I’ve seen in the last couple years. It’s hard to narrow it down to one highlight. I could probably point out a couple highlights for all of the classes. Here are just a few.

  • We saw full 16-car fields in Pro Nitrous, Pro Boost and Pro Outlaw 632. It was the largest group of Outlaw 632 cars that I’ve seen in the PDRA world, and apparently there are even more cars expected to join the tour later this season. Add in the fact that there were over 50 cars each in Top Sportsman and Top Dragster, as well as a ton of cars in the two Jr. Dragster classes. That’s a really good sign for the series and for the sport as whole. I think you’re going to see packed pits and staging lanes at a lot of races this year.
  • Incredible qualifying in the two headlining pro classes, Pro Nitrous and Pro Boost. You had to be in the 3.70s to qualify in the top 12 in Pro Nitrous and 3.60s to make the top 3. In Pro Boost, you had to run in the 3.60s or you were in the bottom half of the field. Plus, a car from each of the three power adder combinations on the grounds qualified with a 3.66-second pass. That says a lot about the parity in the class, especially since the screw blower combination was added over the winter.
  • The future of drag racing, at least in the PDRA world, is in very good hands. There were 38 cars in Pro Jr. Dragster and 25 cars in Top Jr. Dragster, each trying to qualify for 16-car fields. In PJD, where qualifying is based on how close drivers come to the 7.90 index, the top 3 qualifiers all ran 7.901. There’s no doubt some of these drivers will go on to win a lot of the big-money bracket races of the next 10-15 years. We also saw past PDRA Jr. Dragster hitters like 2015 PJD world champion Preston Tanner and his sister, Lexi, move up to pro classes over the weekend. Preston, unfortunately, hurt the engine in his screw-blown Pro Boost Corvette in testing and wasn’t able to return for qualifying, but Lexi qualified for Pro Outlaw 632 and impressed in an opening-round match with eventual race winner Jimmy Pelcarsky.

HACHAT: Well, Nate pretty much knocked this one out of the park. Without diving into the race details, here’s what impressed me: the full fields in a variety of classes, like Nate mentioned, and the strong turnout at GALOT all weekend.

This is such an important year for the sport and I think it’s off to a terrific start. Last year was a bummer from a fan perspective and, outside of bracket racing and some sportsman racing, it was hit and miss from a driver participation level in the professional classes.

That understandably creates a little doubt heading into a new year, but PDRA’s first stop in 2021 showed that drivers and fans are responding in full force. They want to race and people want to watch, and if series continue to do a good job of presenting a strong platform, I think that will continue. It’s an exciting prospect and PDRA seemed to do a very solid job in that respect to open 2021.

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