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Four-wide drag racing a fiasco, owners group says

OPINION

- Las Vegas Review-Journal
Saturday, Apr. 03, 2010

You won't find a drag racer who has competed on a track owned by Bruton Smith's Speedway Motorsports Inc. with anything bad to say about the pioneering octogenarian.

He built and owns the best drag racing facilities in the country, including Las Vegas Motor Speedway and his newest, zMAX Dragway at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Smith had a vision of four-lane drag racing when he built the Las Vegas track 11 years ago. The combination of cost and the NHRA's disapproval of four-wide racing at the time led him to scale back Las Vegas to a traditional two-lane track.

But the NHRA kowtowed to Smith's four-lane dream and late last year approved making Charlotte's March race the Four-Wide Nationals. The change of opinion happened because the NHRA is desperate for new, modern racing facilities and is dependent on Smith, whose four dragstrips will host six of the 23 Full Throttle Drag Racing Series events, including two each at Las Vegas and Charlotte.

The first chapter of four-wide racing on the NHRA's pro tour took place last weekend near Charlotte, N.C.

Hopefully, it is the last four-wide event in the championship series, although Smith said in an interview during the ESPN2 telecast that he would be adding two lanes at Las Vegas.

If members of the Professional Racers Owners Organization have any say, it won't happen again during a pro tour event. The group of Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock owners surveyed pro owners and drivers last weekend, and the vote was a resounding 61-2 not to race four wide again in a points race because of safety concerns, lack of fan interest and reduced exposure for race car sponsors. Exhibition events, they say, are fine.

As a drag racing purist who cringes every time the NHRA tries to revolutionize the sport, I hope Smith rethinks his plan of going four wide in Las Vegas.

Watching last weekend's quadfest on TV was more confusing than revolutionizing. I can't imagine how fans felt at the track when they tried to keep up with which two cars advanced to the next round of eliminations.

It was supercharged sensory overload.

''Most of the fans who came up to me said 'This sucks,' " said Tony Schumacher, who failed to advance out of the second round. "Yeah, it was loud. It was goofy.

''Drag racing is two guys racing at a time. The rivalries were gone."

Chris Powell, president of the Las Vegas track, said he's in a wait-and-see position.

''Bruton has always listened to the race fans. If they want to see four-wide drag racing in Las Vegas, then I wouldn't be surprised if he builds the additional lanes," Powell said. "But if the fans give a thumbs-down to the idea, he won't force it on anyone."

John Force, who has a grandstand at the Charlotte dragstrip named in his honor, won the Funny Car title at the Four-Wide Nationals and is a loyal supporter of all things Bruton Smith. But Force isn't convinced the concept is the way to go.

''It's a whole new ballgame, but it doesn't work in the big picture," Force said, referring to the championship series. "Like I said when I won, I don't know how it's going to play out, but I had a ball. It was confusing for all of the drivers."

Drag racing needs to be simplified, not made more complicated. It's bad enough that new fans have to sit through a seminar to learn why some cars race for 1,000 feet and others run the traditional quarter mile (1,320 feet).

Schumacher and drivers understand that. That's why nearly all of the drivers and owners wouldn't want to do it again when season championships could be affected.

''I love Bruton Smith for what he's done to help drag racing," Schumacher said. "Anything he asks me do, I'll try to do."

Drag racing should remain two vehicles competing side by side.

Sometimes even a motor sports genius like Smith can be wrong.

Jeff Wolf's motor sports column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at jwolf@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0247. Visit Wolf's motor sports blog at lvrj.com/blogs/heavypedal/ throughout the week.

To see more of the Review-Journal or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to www.lvrj.com.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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