It’s no secret that in the world of drag racing, the difference between victory and defeat can come down to a matter of milliseconds. It’s a voliatile universe where the passion for speed and the pursuit of perfection merge into a singular art form, and the role of the crew chief is at the heart of this high-velocity masterpiece. Drag racing’s norms and traditions are well-documented and equally well-established. Since 2010, however, there has been a wrinkle for high-level NHRA competitors with the advent of four-wide drag racing at drag strips like the late Bruton Smith’s zMax Dragway outside Charlotte, North Carolina, and The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Nevada.
Tommy DeLago, a renowned crew chief who has had a hand in the career of drivers like Matt Hagan, Cruz Pedregon, Shawn Langdon, and Alexis DeJoria, and in 2021 joined the Davis Motorsports team, assisting crew chief Mike Green and driver Justin Ashley, the 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year. This recent addition to the team has only intensified the fire in their collective engines, and the excitement and enthusiasm amongst the team is palpable.
In a candid conversation on social media, DeLago shared his perspective on the nuances and challenges of four-wide drag racing as compared to the traditional two-wide format. For the uninitiated, the four-wide format is a sight to behold, with four lanes of thundering machines hurtling down the strip simultaneously. It’s a visceral, raw display of power and finesse, and DeLago’s insights offer a fascinating glimpse into the mechanics of it all.
“For crew chiefs, mainly, we kind of have a mental clock when we’re up there on the starting line waiting for our chance to run, depending on what pair we are. When we’re racing two-wide, we have more time and we’re more used to that time clock inside of us as to when we can make our last calls – tire pressure, how much clutch is on the car, ignition timing, maybe a blower overdrive change,” DeLago explains.
But the dynamics change when it comes to the four-wide format. “We were behind,” continues DeLago, referring to when he first found himself tuning a car in four-wide competition. “Our cars were up in the water box way quicker than we were used to. So, it really put us behind and we really had to learn how to make decisions much faster,” he admits.
This adaptation to the four-wide format pushes crew chiefs to their limits, but it is precisely this challenge that showcases the true artistry of their craft. DeLago and his peers face many challenges as the maestros of a mechanical orchestra that is unrivaled in all of motor sports, and it’s undoubtedly exciting to see them forced to do so quickly.
Regardless of the potential excitement and calamity amidst what is an always refining version of drag racing, it’s a significant mountain to climb that even the most competitive drivers in professional nitro racing are anxious to put in the rear view.
“When you are racing four-wide anything can happen,” said Justin Ashley, who has two Top Fuel wins already in 2023. “When we say that we mean it because to be honest with you I didn’t even know that we won that first round until we turned the corner. That was a pleasant surprise. There was so much craziness that went on, but we’ll take a win anywhere that we can get one. Coasting to the finish line isn’t something that we have done before.
The championship-contending driver concluded, “I enjoy the four-wides, but I’m looking forward to getting back to the more traditional style of racing.”