The Dollar General Four-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway in Concord, North Carolina, outside of Charlotte, is arguably one of the biggest spectacles in racing. Where else in the world do you have 40,000 horsepower shaking the ground in one instant? Four race vehicles leaving the line at the same time and blasting down the drag strip is unequivocally the largest display of violent movement any motorsports fan will encounter.
With that said, this past weekend’s show of brut power was highlighted by the Funny Car class – at least after the rains subsided, giving teams just two rounds to qualify instead of four. Before we go into the main storylines involving the nitro floppers, let’s first get out of the way the other winners at Bruton Smith’s palatial facility.
Top Fuel was once again dominated by Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) with Spencer Massey holding off teammate and points leader Tony Schumacher by 12 thousands of a second. In Pro Stock, points leader Mike Edwards continued to be too much to handle for the rest of the class with Erica Enders-Stevens coming in second; the only other driver to offer any stiff competition. Pro Stock Motorcycle saw Hector Arana Jr. continue his early season dominance, going two-for-two this year – Eddie Krawiec on a Harley was second. Now back to the real story … Funny Car.
First off, the Funny Car final was won by 2011 Funny Car champion Matt Hagan (pictured) who hadn’t seen the Winner’s Circle in a year-and-a-half. This particular DSR team, led by crew chief Dickie Venables, had been the odd man out in recent times but Sunday they looked solid all day while convincingly beating their competitors every round.
The chaos that sometimes develops because of all the action at the starting line shouldn’t deflect the enormous authority of sound and fury that is distributed by four 10,000 horsepower ground-pounding Funny Cars as they roar down the track. In one case, the action became interactive and scary when the body flew off Robert Hight’s Funny Car and landed in the stands during Saturday’s qualifying. Luckily, nothing more than a few scrapes and bruises resulted from the high-flying affair.
As one Funny Car driver, Bob Tasca explained of the incident (source: Charlotte Observer),
“There’s nothing on the planet with wheels on it that’s more volatile than these things. That’s for sure. We’re going 320 mph at close to 10,000 horsepower. Fortunately no one got hurt. It could have been a lot worse than it was, but we got lucky.”
A key story that may well still be in the making is Chad Head nailing down the number one qualifying spot. The Four-Wide Nationals was only Head’s third event ever as a Funny Car driver. Yes, he has done some Nostalgia drag racing and even won the prestigious March Meet in 2012, but Chad Head is generally new to drag racing, having just taken up driving less than two years ago. Chad drives for his dad Jim Head, who had been waiting to step down as a driver so he could concentrate on tuning. This father-son duo might be a bigger story as time goes on this season and Chad gets more seat time.
The final round had finalists that not too many people would have put money on when the Four-Wides started. Along with Matt Hagan, he was joined by Blake Alexander (a recent college grad), Tim Wilkerson and of course Head. Alexander is only 23 years old and a part-time racer; but that considered, he’s now already earned his first runner-up finish of his career. Wilkerson has struggled the past couple years and only with this week’s race has Tim been able to finally move into the Top 10.
By the way, both top drivers at Four-Wide, Hagan and Alexander, are from Virginia. Another item is that one of the hottest Funny Car drivers, Johnny Gray (DSR), didn’t even qualify for the eliminations.
There are more stories – too many to mention here – but one final note is that zMax is only three hours from meet winner Matt Hagan’s farm, so the cattle rancher feels like this is his home track. Yet, the track hasn’t been kind to Hagan, having blown up a couple bodies just like what Hight did. However, this time around was different. Said Hagan describing his situation and win, “We finally put some gremlins to rest here at zMAX. I love this track. It’s home for me. It’s a fast facility. Our car just ran phenomenal.”
Additional sources: NHRA