Despite initial misgivings by National Hot Rod Association drivers and owners, four-wide racing will return to Concord’s zMax Dragway in 2011.
Four-wide racing – which drew wide criticism from competitors after they raced in that format for the first time in March’s Four-Wide Nationals at zMax – will again run in the nontraditional format of four cars racing simultaneously, rather than the conventional two-wide setup.
“As time passed by and everybody had a chance to reflect on it, (we) thought we needed to try it one more time to see if it will be a big success or not,” said Graham Light, the NHRA’s senior vice president of racing operations.
Light and NHRA president Tom Compton met with drivers and owners Saturday morning at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, this week’s stop on the Full Throttle circuit (and a facility also owned by zMax owner Bruton Smith).
The drivers talked about concerns they had from the four-wide race in March, which included safety, confusion at the starting line and sponsorship identification from having four cars racing instead of two.
A week after that race weekend, NHRA drivers and owners were polled by the Professional Racers Owners Organization with a single question: “Do you want to participate in a national four-wide event for points again?”
Sixty-one PRO members answered no and three said yes. Citing those results, the group sent Compton a letter, saying its members would no longer race that way when points were on the line. That precipitated Saturday’s meeting in Las Vegas.
“We probably overreacted,” Pro-Stock driver Greg Anderson said of the survey.
“We sent that letter, but that’s not how most racers feel, especially about Bruton, who’s just trying to make things better. Even if it’s not a perfect idea, we’ve got to go with it.”
"We talked about some of the kinks that we as racers would like to see worked out,” said Top Fuel driver Larry Dixon. “They assured us 100 percent it would all be handled before we go back.
“So it’s full speed ahead.”
Most of the drivers' concerns about the format were focused on the starting line, where extra bulbs on the "Christmas tree" starting towers created confusion.
“We’ve already been drafting up some ideas about the challenge of the staging blue lights,” said Light. “We want to make them more understandable for the fans, TV and the drivers.”
Dixon said the drivers also were concerned that there is just one “sand pit” at zMax to help stop cars at the end of the strip, rather than two. Dixon said the NHRA assured them it would look into adding an extra pit.
“You don’t want it to come to that,” said Dixon. “But you don’t want four cars ending up in one pit at the same time.”
Marcus Smith, the zMax president, was pleased that the track’s spring event will remain four-wide. Its NHRA race scheduled for October will remain two-wide.
"The first Four-Wide Nationals was a dramatic game changer for the sport, and we'll work with the NHRA, competitors and sponsors to make sure 2011 is even better for our No. 1 constituents, the fans,” Smith said in a statement.
Dixon is hopeful that the necessary changes will be made by the NHRA brass.
“But I’m not the ringmaster,” he said. “I’m just the guy they shoot out of the cannon.”