fourwidenatls_10_250x150There’s definitely a buzz surrounding NHRA’s announcement Thursday that it’s hosting the inaugural Four-Wide Nationals March 25-28 at zMax Dragway in Concord, N.C.

Not lost in the excitement of the upcoming event is how the NHRA is going to run the historical race from a technical and administrative level.

Graham Light, the NHRA’s senior vice president-racing operations, believes the sanctioning body is ready to hold this historic event, especially at a top-rate venue like zMax.

Four Wide Funny CarThere’s definitely a buzz surrounding NHRA’s announcement Thursday that it’s hosting the inaugural Four-Wide Nationals March 25-28 at zMax Dragway in Concord, N.C.

Not lost in the excitement of the upcoming event is how the NHRA is going to run the historical race from a technical and administrative level.

Graham Light, the NHRA’s senior vice president-racing operations, believes the sanctioning body is ready to hold this historic event, especially at a top-rate venue like zMax.

“What led to this (the Four-Wide Nationals) was the beautiful facility that they built in Charlotte,” Light said. “The four lanes and the reaction that we got from running the four-lane exhibition last year made us want to work with the zMax  people and see if we could put together some sort of package where we could utilize those four lanes and hopefully generate some new excitement and interests. From there we will see where it goes. Certainly not all tracks are going to convert to four lanes, most race tracks don’t have the space to do that so that’s certainly not the direction (the sport is going) but here we have a first-class facility that can accommodate a new format and we felt that we needed to try it.”

Light also knows pulling off this event is not going to be an easy task.

“There are going to be many challenges,” Light said. “First, the software for the timing system needs to have a complete rewrite, the things feeding the information, the television and so on and how the ladder works. There’s just so many things that need to be rewritten, the scoreboards, the red lights, etc. The people at Compulink are very confident that it can all be done in time for the March event. They’re excited. It’s a new challenge for them. It’s something different. Then on site you get the challenges of obviously getting four cars racing instead of two. It also takes more personnel at the starting line, on the stage to coordinate that and of course down track we’ve got to prepare for a four-car incident instead of a two-car incident, which requires more manpower, more safety and it’s more equipment and more medical units.”

Bob Brockmeyer  of Compulink, realizes his team of workers is taking on a daunting project at zMax. Compulink is based out of Silverthorne, Colo. Brockmeyer and his wife Judy own Compulink. Bob and Judy’s daughter, Regan, also helped in the building process of Compulink, which was founded in 1984. Jeff Foster is Compulink’s main tech in the field.

“We’re basically combining two systems into one computer, that way we can put all four lanes into one system,” Brockmeyer said. “I built all the infrastructure on the track, and I kind of thought this (four-wide racing) was going to happen, so I built all the infrastructure so this could happen, so we got a little bit of head start on that. Right now, I ‘m working on the scenario if we get three cars that red light at the starting line. Obviously, the lesser of the three redlights is going to be the runner-up in rounds one and two and the runner-up in the final. We also are going to have to have four win lights, so people know who won and who was second because they’re are going to bring two cars back from round one and round two for the finals. We will have two win lights and we will probably have one of them flashing so it shows the true winner, and the other light will show who is second. We also don’t expect any problems with the four cars tripping beams because of the fiber optics that are in each lane o
f the track. The beam issue is not a problem at all and we will not have any problem with the timing down the track. We’re going to have all brand new software to do the four lanes instead of two. It’s a major project. We’re about 30 percent done, and we may not put in everything (at zMax) until the weekend before the race.”


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Bob Brockmeyer, shown here with the first of the LED lights, will be the architect of the timing system which will compute qualifying and eliminations.
The Compulink crew did get to go through a trial run conducting four-wide racing last April at zMax Dragway during the PINKS All Out reality TV show.

“I was there for that and that was a limited version of what we’re doing now,” Brockmeyer said. “Getting that run under our belt will help. We thrive on challenges like this, it is kind of fun for us actually.”

The NHRA did offer a preview of how the event is going to be run at the Four-Wide Nationals.

Qualifying will be conducted in all four lanes. Each category winner will be determined in three rounds of eliminations. The first two drivers across the finish line in each of the first rounds of eliminations will advance to the second round.

The first two drivers to cross the finish line in each of the second rounds will advance to the final. Each final round will include four drivers, with one driver as the winner and one as second, third and fourth.

When the NHRA ran an exhibition of four-wide racing at zMax last year, one of the main issues came about when the drivers came to the starting line.

“One of the challenges to the drivers came when they were in one set of lanes, they couldn’t see the Christmas tree and the other drivers, so they couldn’t see when the other drivers are prestaging or staging,” Light said. “At the exhibition, the timing people put a makeshift light system on top of the existing tree and there was just one ball that would show when those other two cars in those others lanes had staged or prestaged so at least they had an idea of when those cars are staged so that they knew where they needed to be. We need to expand on that. As opposed to a temporary installation, it would need to be a permanent part of the tree, but it will also show prestaged as well as the staged. It would be in effect for qualifying so the drivers will have four runs of practice but it will be available to them well in advance so that they can get their heads into what they need to do because it is going to be a little different.”

Brockmeyer has plans in place to make sure the start of these races run smoothly.

“Each driver is going to be able to see when a driver prestages and stages,” Brockmeyer said. “We will show them exactly what is going on and the tree will have a different look as well.”

At last year’s exhibition run, the driver’s were sluggish off the line, but Light doesn’t believe that will be the case in March.

“At the exhibition, we did notice the reaction times were extremely slow and I think that’s just drivers, uncertainty of all off it and I think with practice that will get better,” Light said. “There are obviously some challenges for the teams. Lane choice will be determined from first round of qualifying ET’s so the No. 1 qualifier will have his choice and it will go on down the line, so that the No. 16 guy gets the lane that’s left over. We’ll do the second round based on first round elapsed times just like we currently do, so  that doesn’t change.”


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Graham Light also knows pulling off this event is not going to be an easy task.
Although event is unique, Light says points will be awarded to drivers just like they are at any other national event.

“The point system doesn’t change,” Light said. “You have eight first round losers just like we do now and they will get 20 points. Eight cars will advance to the second round which is two groups of four for a total of 8 and two cars of each group will advance so that leaves four losers, and they will get 40 points like they do now. The only difference is that there will be three rounds of racing not four. The final will be four cars and whoever gets to the finish line first will be the winner and the second-place guy will be the runner up and then the third and fourth, which will be as we know it as the semifinals. Points will be awarded to those people exactly like points are awarded now. So nothing changes there. It also doesn’t, in any way, change the Full Throttle points series or upset anything there. Qualifying points are exactly as they are. So that all stays as is – those are all pretty easy.”

Antron Brown, who drives one of Don Schumacher Racing’s Top Fuelers, is embracing the Four-Wide Nationals concept.

“When we go there and NHRA gets there and lines everything out, they will take all the variables out,” Brown said. “This is just going to be another challenge along the road as we try to get to the Countdown. I never saw the day coming that we would have four-wide drag racing, but I’m glad to be a part of it. This is definitely going to take our sport to the next level.”

Ashley Force, who was second in the Funny Car points standings a year ago, expects the Four-Wide Nationals to have some growing pains.

“I’m sure there are going to be things and you don’t even think of that will happen,” Force said. “It’s not going to be a perfect race, I’m sure. I think everyone will cut it a little slack because it’s something new. I’m sure they’re going to think through it and try to come up with as many problems as they can foresee and fix those problems, so it will go smoothly. I think everyone understands that this is something different and there are probably a million different variables. We will do the best we can to get all of those worked out together and put on a fun race and not make people upset or anything. It’s not going to be perfect. It’s going to be a challenge.”

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fourwidenatls_10_250x150Cory McClenathan, a veteran Top Fuel pilot, is expecting a learning curve with this four-wide event.

“We knew when Bruton (Smith) built zMax this was going to happen,” McClenathan said. “I think a lot of people were thinking we would qualify four-wide and then race a normal 16-car deal on Sunday. It was a little bit of surprise to me to how they’re going to do the race on Sunday and I think for fans, it’s going to be unreal. For drivers, I think the biggest thing is the staging process is going to be a little bit tough. These cars are temperamental and it’s going to be interesting to see how the staging process is going to be handled. The qualifying is going to be pretty crazy and interesting. We’re there to put a show on and obviously everybody wants to win the race. If I could be in the final round and be the first one to cross the finish line, that would be more than cool. I think the roar of three other dragsters, when you’re in your own car, is going to be a real rush.”

McClenathan also thinks a new-look Christmas tree would go a long way in relieving drivers’ anxiety about the Four-Wide Nationals.

“There’s going to be so much going on, and the idea of them (Compulink) reconfiguring the Christmas tree would be a perfect way to solve about 75 percent of the problems,” McClenathan said. “The guys with Compulink will come up with something and I learned a long time ago in this sport that you can’t make 100 percent of the people happy all of the time. Somebody out there is going to be unhappy about it. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I’m all for something different as long as it makes sense. If we approach it that way and everybody communicates with each other before we start the cars up and get in there in stage, we will be fine. We don’t need any goofing around. It’s one thing when you’re racing one guy and you get down to the other end (of the track) and have had a staging issue and you have to walk over to one guy and say something. It’s going to be a whole different animal, if one guy pisses three other guys off.”

Light believes the risk NHRA is taking with these Four-Wide Nationals is worth the potential reward.

“This is an attempt to try and have a strong event in Charlotte,” Light said. “It’s a great market. It’s not a novelty race. It’s part of the Full Throttle NHRA Championship and it’s fair. It’s not that anybody is going to be at a disadvantage, everybody is on the same level playing field. It’s just a different format and I guess if we compare it to other forms of racing, we’re one of the few forms of racing where every race is conducted under the same conditions. With NASCAR, you’ve got road courses, big tracks, short tracks, bank tracks, non-bank tracks, IRL, Formula One all run on different race tracks week after week. Our tracks are all the same. Here’s an opportunity to try something different and some people obviously will oppose it and others are going to love it. We hope more love it.”

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