Cars

My eyes weren't deceiving me; four lanes of racing at once

What's wrong with the accompanying photo?

Probably nothing, in the eyes of the NHRA's younger target demographic.

But to these old orbs, it looks like a double-exposure, twice as many cars going down the drag strip as there should be.

This scene was shot at Bruton Smith's mega-dragstrip near Charlotte, N.C., and shows the venerable John Force on his way to taking the historic win over three other cars, one driven by his daughter, Ashley Force Hood, at the inaugural NHRA Four-Wide Nationals last weekend.

Don't get me wrong, I know there was a time in the way-distant past when some drag strips featured four-lane-wide drag racing. So the precedent is there.

I remember when one of our editors, a non-car-guy, asked while watching his first drag race at Heartland Park in Topeka, "Do they always only race two cars at a time?" Everybody in the press room giggled, as if he had asked, "Does the sun always rise in the east every morning?"

Even so, I'm not a never-say-die traditionalist who thinks nothing should ever change in the sport. I was all in favor of shortening the strip from 1,320 feet to 1,000 feet to slow things down a bit. That seems to have helped prevent the kind of catastrophic accidents that claimed so many drivers in crashes going well over 300 mph at the end of the track.

Clearly, resurrecting four-wide drag racing may draw more people into the sport. It's hard to imagine anything more awe-inspiring than 32,000 horsepower thundering down the strip side-by-side. (As if 16,000 horsepower from a pair of nitro cars isn't awe-inspiring.)

But the logistics of the thing, two extra sets of staging and timing lights, twice as many lanes to maintain, the strange-looking brackets with one less round of racing, just threw me off.

And there was that moment in Funny Car qualifying when two of the four cars blew their bodies completely off the chassis, with one of the now-naked cars almost careening into a third competitor, that sent my heart into my throat. I was afraid we were about to see something truly catastrophic.

Yeah, it's more exciting in some ways. But I really hope this four-lane stuff doesn't catch on at other tracks. Of course, I never really wanted the rear-engined dragster to catch on, either.

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