NHRA gets it right with four-wide racing

January, 21, 2010
01/21/10
6:53
PM ET
CONCORD, N.C. -- Some old-school NHRA fans won't approve. First it was reducing races to 1,000 feet. That was bad enough.

Now it's racing four-wide? Sacrilege. Just a silly gimmick.

For those who feel that way, we'll agree to disagree. You're dead wrong.

The historic move to four-wide racing for the March event at zMAX Dragway will be a huge shot in the arm for the NHRA and a possible preview of things to come.

As with anything so cutting-edge new, problems will surface during the Four-Wide Nationals for that first attempt at this format.

Drivers won't know where to be and when to be there. Crew chiefs will lose their cool. Race officials may experience some technical difficulties with timing and scoring.

All are temporary headaches for enormous long-term gains.

One of the NHRA's biggest obstacles to growth over the years is how the eliminations format on Sunday isn't conducive to live TV. It's too long (five to six hours) and has too much downtime between rounds.

Racing four-wide with a four-car final round reduces the time of the Sunday eliminations significantly, probably to about 3 hours from start to finish. That makes Sunday's show more like other pro sports events, including other racing series.

Qualifying sessions also will be enhanced. It's all too common for both cars in a qualifying pass to fail to make it down the track because teams are experimenting with setups.

But four drivers running at once increases the likelihood that one of them will make a full 300 mph pass.

Even if this experiment is a rousing success, the NHRA is a long way from implementing it elsewhere. It can't.

Bruton Smith's suburban Charlotte track is the only one with four lanes for racing. He hopes to make his Las Vegas drag strip the second four-wide facility.

"When I built Vegas, I built it with that in mind," Smith said. "We will wait and see what happens here first, but then we may add the other two lanes at Vegas. We'll probably end up doing it."

Some tracks that host NHRA events don't have room to do it. Even if they do, it's an enormous expense to add additional lanes.

If the Four-Wide Nationals pack the huge grandstands at zMAX Dragway, promoters at other facilities may feel the cost is worth it.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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