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Four-Wide Spreads To Vegas; Hope It’s Not Catching

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, April 6 2018

The NHRA has been racing four-wide in North Carolina since 2010. This weekend, it arrives in Las Vegas. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Garry Eller)

The first time that four nitro dragsters simultaneously dumped their clutches and set free 10,000 horses each as they left the line in North Carolina eight seasons ago, it was, literally, breathtaking: It squeezed the wind out of human lungs.

The ears, eyes and adrenal glands also took a beating. The site, sound, speed and historical significance was impressive.

This weekend, Concord’s sister Speedway Motorsports Inc. facility in Las Vegas will run its first four-wide program. But it will do so with something less than unanimity on the belief that more is better in drag racing.

Those who watched the first Four-Wide Nationals back in 2010 seemed to enjoy the new format, which was made possible when SMI decided to build a palatial strip that placed four drag-racing lanes next to each other in Concord.

But inside the cockpits of the cars, and for those with wrenches in their hands, racing four-wide in a national event was greeted more with acceptance than enthusiasm. Staging the cars was difficult and once staged, dealing with “Christmas Tree” starting lights positioning were aggravating for the drivers.

The shows – both in qualifying and in eliminations – went quicker as fields were cut at twice the normal rate. Instead of a winner and a loser after every run of eliminations, you had a winner and three other teams and drivers heading for their trailers.

The chances of bad racing lanes, trouble and delays on the track doubled.

And finally, there was a feeling among some that almost by definition, and certainly by tradition, drag racing is a head-to-head event and not a head-to-head-squared event.

Most drivers – publicly, at least – toed the official line and endorsed the decision to keep running four-wide in Concord in the years since. Their philosophy revolved around: If the fans like it, let’s keep doing it.

But do the fans still like it or do they think it no longer packs a visceral and competitive punch?

The answer to that depends on which individual fans to whom it is asked.

This observer left Concord in March of 2010 smiling, but also concerned. While the attractiveness of four nitro cars launching at the same time was obvious, so too were the problems. Not often enough, did all four machines streak down the 1,000 yards at full power and wheels-to-wheels-to-wheels-to-wheels.

On the runs where, for whatever reasons, only three, or two, or, even one car were under full power at the finish line, there was an amplified sense of letdown.

As I left the track on Sunday, I was not sure what it was that I had just watched. I hoped it was not the future.

The Four-Wides in North Carolina seem less special and more desperate with each passing year: Once you’ve seen a dancing bear, the site becomes more sad than entertaining on repeated viewings.

The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway hosts two events every year. According to the Las Vegas-Review Journal, the fall race, which is a Countdown playoff event, attracts solid gate. The spring race, no so much.

Clearly SMI is looking to change that by giving the April race a four-wide format. The guess here is that attendance this weekend will increase over past years.

But will any growth for the event be sustainable? Will its gimmickry morph into a beloved tradition over the years?

That’s doubtful.

NASCAR’s wild experiments with gimmicks which grind away at the traditions upon which the sport was built have been ineffective at best in terms of generating fan interest. They have been counter productive at worst.

Not playoffs, not cars of tomorrow, not knockout qualifying sessions, not overtime finishes nor have stage races been able to reverse the decline in interest in the sport.

Worse: Some fans will tell you that the gimmicks NASCAR has rolled out over the past 15 years have sent them looking for other places to spend their entertainment time and money.

There are a lot of places where the NHRA could and should be looking in its quest to improve the fan experience. Four-wide racing is not one of those places.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, April 6 2018
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Rob stevenson says:

    I’m not a fan of four wide racing. For one thing the camera work is not as good trying to film four wide. It appears cameras are set farther back to get all cars in the shot. The slow speed hi def film is not available. I love to see this go away.