4 Wide Nationals

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

All Access with Couch Crew Chief

 

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Dale Earnhardt Sr. chassis number 32.

My wife and I visited the team in Welcome, NC again this morning. On Tuesday we purchased tickets to do the RCR Museum “All Access Shop Tour.” Normally $45, it is well worth it. The morning started with a tour of the museum from “Chocolate” Myers. We had a small breakfast with drinks and biscuits and stories from the source. Truly a treasure of NASCAR. Seeing the old shop is amazing, from all the historic special scheme cars to many of the original, still dirty cars right from the track.

After the museum tour we walked outside, where chassis number 32 awaited us. This car had been in storage for years. They were cleaning out the building and this beauty fired up. The old SB2 motor sang. It was soon driven off to… who knows where. On the A-post you will see the “NASCAR 2000” decal. After 18 year, hidden away, she is still as beautiful as ever.

 

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Spring 2018 Talladega backup car for Ryan Newman.

 

As we entered the main shop, the 31 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet of Ryan Newman stared us down. The front profile of the ZL1 is very aggressive, and pictures cannot do the hood justice as it has major lines and contour. This mean machine will likely be backup at Talladega.

After we left the main shop we were brought through the body shop, where they hang bodies on chassis. While we were not allowed to take pictures, let me assure you that it is one of the most visually impressive areas. English wheels, sparks, welders, and an internal GPS system that is good down to the thousandth of an inch. This is what it takes to just be competitive in NASCAR today.

 

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“Shadows of Dale.” Cars being prepped. Photo edited to delete chassis parts. (Sensitive media.)

After a trip through the back alleys of RCR and a look inside the media room, we happened back out on the fan walk. There are cars being prepped for racing, the primer car with DOW hood decal is set to go to Michigan for tire test the week of April 23, 2018. The fan walk is open to public all the time and it is beautiful. We met Mike Dillon during the tour, and one can see drivers and crew members from here Monday through Thursday. Photos are welcomed, just don’t try to share chassis pictures, you would be surprised who can decipher what from a single picture.

 

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Texas Spring 2018 was not kind to this girl.

Also from the Fan Walk you will see cars that are staged for, “Rehab” like this poor girl from Texas. She had a rough race and shows it. There are several cars that will be staged here and they will go to the back, stripped down, rebuilt, and repaired. In this fashion a car may see several iterations in it’s life cycle.

After the Cup shop we visited the pit crew department where Will Goodnow from this weekend’s Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff #8 team took time to talk with the group about the new pit stops, the changing of strategies, and the new pit guns. As previously stated, the pit crew has taken the attitude of, “This is what we have to do, so let’s just rock it!” And, they do. The whole pit stop is a challenge in choreography now and is quite amazing.

After the pit crew department we visited the XFINITY shop which is a miniature version of the cup shop. While they worked, Cup practice was on TV so they could keep up with Daniel Hemric who is making his Cup series debut.

 

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ECR Engines ready for delivery.

 

Finally we visited quite possibly, the most anal retentive (I say that in a good way) department known to man. ECR Engines. Every part is checked and rechecked. From electron microscopes to testing what metal each piece is made of. These engines have small QR codes all over them which tell the team everything about it, right down to when the metal was smelted. After everything  is checked, it goes to preassembly, then to final assembly, to the dyno, and lastly, it goes to the engine tuners. The guys at the track put the final touches on and make sure it sings a beautiful 800 horsepower song. The goal of the shop is to have less than a 1% horsepower difference from motor to motor. That is a tight tolerance with very few failures. This same shop boasts many different wins in the IMSA series with the former Corvette DP & current Cadillac DPI chassis.

After over 3 hours you will find yourself back in the RCR Museum and team store where you receive 15% off and you can retour the museum with all the time in the world. Go tell the girls hi and tell them Couch Crew Chief sent you. Hey, they all told me to make sure I send you up there!

All in all, it was a fantastic day. We had breakfast, got to hear stories from the old days, got to see some amazing cars, and maybe even learned a little something. Even if you don’t do the full tour, the museum is well worth the visit. You will see things long lost to legend and you can always catch Chocolate before his show or after. He is the real deal and knows the best places to eat. He is also your one stop shop for local history.

Enjoy your trip.

 

JL
@lbrady85 on IG (left) & @couchcrewchief (right)

Who knows, like Logan, maybe I’ll see you… in the box.