In a last minute decision I decided to attend the NHRA 4 Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway in Concord, NC. Arriving early I was treated to watch all the cars get unloaded. By far one of the coolest things. The cars come out and are either assembled or disassembled. Crews work on the motors and clutch plates. Some will strip the body off and attend to different parts of the chassis.
The gates opened about 5 hours before the first qualifying session of the day for Pro Stock motorcycles & cars, Top Fuel Dragsters and Funny Cars. You can put on mile after mile just looking at all the cars. There are cars from junior dragsters all the way up to Top Fuel Funny Car. There are hundreds and hundreds of cars which most never see on TV. Most everyone is doing the same thing. All the while, There are cars on the track, you hear run after run, after run.
While most of us only watch the “Big Boys” the NHRA hosts a variety of other classes, including Top Alcohol Dragsters and Funny Cars, as well as other stock mods. There are drivers like Leah Pritchett who will run in lower series too. There are also bracket races and target ET races. The long and short of it, unless you go to an NHRA event, you miss out on some amazing drag racing. Also, you miss one hell of a car show!
The lower series however, do not use all 4 lanes at the 4 Wide Nationals, usually. Most of the time, they use Lanes 1/2 or Lanes 3/4. While one set of lanes is in use they clean and prep the other set. The first chance to see true 4 wide is Pro Stock motorcycle.
If you insist on experiencing the 4 Wide Nationals without earplugs, this is where you may start to question your decision. The high pitch whine doesn’t hurt your ears, but it does give you a warning about what is to come. The visual spectacle of 4 Wide is very pronounced in the motorcycles. There is a ton of color and flash, even some brilliant glitter. When the lights go green, the bikes stand on launch, then rocket down the strip. You can really appreciate the 60′ time with the bikes. They accelerate quickly, you start to notice that the 60′ line is just behind the “Christmas Tree.”
The Pro Stock Cars are your first chance to start smelling the rubber. The burnouts kick up the noise a notch and the smoke, a lot. The tires spin, the smoke rolls out, and then they lunge forward. While we have all seen this on TV many times, it just can’t do it justice.
When it comes time to race, the cars are lined up, the RPMs jump, then the line lock is released and it is like lightning. The cars squat, noses come up and next thing you know, you’re just looking for parachutes. you really begin to appreciate the distance as the cars cross the line and you can barely see anything but the ‘chute.
With the 4 Wide Nationals, things go very quick. You get through the entire field in five passes and then it is on to the Top Fuel Dragsters. Just one of these doing a burn out literally assaults all your senses. The tires begin to spin, smoke rolls out, the stands vibrate under you, your ears pound with 10,000 horsepower, and the smell…
If you have ever shot a gun, multiply that by ten, add a hint of bleach, acrid smoke, and warm tire. It stays with you, it fills you and you will smell it all day long.
When 4 Top Fuel vehicles leaves the line, it unleashes over 40,000 horsepower. The cars stage, you hear the RPMs climb and then for a hair fraction of a second, the world goes totally quiet as the exhaust breaks the sound barrier and your senses are attacked! Everything inside of you suddenly feels like liquid and it drops down into the pit of your stomach, vibrating and shaking. Then suddenly the world is all noise, the stands don’t vibrate, they bend and flex, the cars are gone and you can barely keep them focused as they blaze down the track. Suddenly one car looses traction and the sound fluctuates as they pedal to regain traction. Even in broad daylight you see the fire from the exhaust, maybe you’ll see a puff of smoke as one of the “candles” goes out. In less than 4 seconds, its all over. Car alarms are going off, people are looking around, some are standing and cheering, some in total shock.
In pictures you can see how the tire deforms, it goes from a chubby roll to a tight, firm, tall wall off rubber. It is literally twisted out of one shape into another. The true tread that does the work is only about three quarters of the total width. The torque combined with the traction compound literally rips the tire into a new shape.
Finally we come to Top Fuel Funny Car. It use to be the dragsters were the top class in NHRA, today it is Top Fuel Funny Car. It is quite possibly the most diverse group of drivers, and fans, that exist anywhere in motorsports today. Much like the dragsters, these cars come alive and bring everything within a mile to life. The smoke, the exhaust, the fire, the heat, it all comes together here.
The cars bend and flex as they are launched. Fire belches from the side, and suddenly they are a quarter mile away and the parachute is in the wind. You look for a the “Elapsed Time” and notice that in a good run, all are within .05 seconds of each other.
All in all, NHRA Drag Racing is amazing. It is a great day and as advertised, it does “Ignite Your Senses.” You’ll notice that different manufacturers do sounds different. The Toyota supercharger is a high pitch whine, the Mopar supercharger is a low pitch, while the Ford and Chevrolet superchargers you barely notice.
It is a day packed with speed and adventure. Fun and excitement. If you go alone or with friends, you will find something you like. You will certainly feel something not felt before. No matter how cranky you are to start the early morning, you end with a smile… and a sunburn.