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A few comments on four-wide drag racing and the incredible amount of change drag racing has gone through in the last decade.
I tuned in for both the Saturday and Sunday ESPN2 broadcastd of the inaugural NHRA Four-Wide Nationals from the drag strip that owner Bruton Smith refers to as the ”Bellagio” of dragstrips last weekend.
For the first time ever I found it hard to follow the action on the small screen. The ESPN2 broadcast team did a great job in my estimation of covering “four-wide” racing, but I still had a hard time assimilating what I was seeing.
I watched a race at which all professional qualifying sessions and eliminations were executed by four race cars racing side by side by side by side for 1000 feet or for a quarter mile instead of the traditional two-car program. On race day the nitro burning pro teams were allowed just 65 minutes between elimination rounds to service their cars and ready them for the next round. I watched Pro Stockers powered by 500-inch carbureted, gasoline-burning big blocks record times in the 6.50-second zone at over 212 mph and I marveled at the fact that a decade ago that was a great pass for a supercharged, alky-burning Pro Mod.
As I watched the race I couldn’t help but wonder what reactions the late founders of drag racing Wally Parks, C.J. Hart and Robert E. Petersen might have had if they somehow had taken a trip ahead in time from 1964 to present day and were sitting in the stands at zMax Dragway watching the inaugural Four-Wide race.
Surely they would have been puzzled, amazed, and astounded. Can’t you just hear C.J. Hart leaning over and saying to Parks and Petersen, “What the hell is happening here? They’re running Top Fuel cars four-wide on a thousand-foot track at a national event. This looks more like a Bill Donner/Steve Evans race than the NHRA I remember. Did someone buy the NHRA, Wally? Pete?”
Then he might have sat back and wondered what happen to the sportsman population. Yes, indeed, dear readers, today’s NHRA is nothing like what it was in 1964. Now there are Pro Modified and Pro Stock Bike, and Pro Stock and Funny Cars bodies that are practically unrecognizable when compared to the factory street versions.
Who among us would have predicted that when Tom Compton was anointed as the president of the NHRA he would be the man who would quite literally preside over the complete restructuring of NHRA drag racing?
During his term as president he presided over the birth and death of the ill-advised Pro Stock Truck class and the addition of Pro Modifieds as a professional category. He oversaw increasing the schedule to 24 (now 23) events, mandated a 75-minute turn around for the professional categories to make the show move along faster, changed the traditional championship points program to the current “count down” format, shortened the track distance for nitro cars to 1000 feet, and mandated many safety innovations for the cars and drivers. All of these changes and more came in little more than a span of 10 years. Today’s racing fan has witnessed a makeover of a major sport unmatched in history.