Date published: April 9, 2010
The inaugural NHRA Four-Wide Nationals featured many firsts, including what may well have been the first side-by-side bodytossing runs in Funny Car. During Saturday's qualifying, all eyes were on Jeff Diehl as his car pitched the body at halftrack. A split second later, the focus shifted to Matt Hagan, who virtually disintegrated the body of his DieHard Dodge. "It never had any oil pressure, and I was just about ready to shut it down, and it blew up," said Hagan. "It blew my hands off the steering wheel. My helmet also rolled forward, and the visor caught me above the eye. My biggest concern was staying away from Del [Worsham] in the other lane."
Running in lane 3, with Hagan on his left and Diehl on his right, Bob Tasca III had a ringside seat for both explosions. "Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Diehl's body in the air, and then I felt all the shrapnel hitting my car," said Tasca. "I didn't know what happened; I just knew the parts weren't from Diehl. I just tried to steer clear of all the pieces. That was the most driving I've done this year. Thankfully, everybody came through it OK."
Ron Capps was one of the most outspoken critics of the four-wide format used in Charlotte, but his stance softened somewhat, especially after he drove his NAPA Dodge to the final round. "Now that I've done it, it is different, and it's cool," said Capps. "It's very hectic up there. It was fun, and Bruton Smith deserves kudos, and I'm glad we were able to deliver for him, but I'd rather not run a points race this way."
For most drivers, the biggest adjustment to four-wide racing was the extra set of blue lights placed on top of the Christmas Tree to show the staging status of the drivers in the other two lanes. Despite some initial confusion, there were no redlights in Funny Car eliminations, and no one left before the Tree was activated on Sunday. "The first time I staged, I looked at the blue lights and started counting - one, two, three, four - and then I realized you can't do that on race day," said Melanie Troxel. "After a couple of runs, it seemed to come together for all of us."
As if the four-wide format wasn't enough of a challenge, nitro tuners in Charlotte also had their hands full with a racetrack that some deemed as almost too good. "This track is very tight, and it's hard to generate any wheel speed," said John Force Racing tuner Bernie Fedderly. "We actually took some downforce away from our cars, and they still stuck all the way to the finish line."
After a round-one loss in Gainesville, a runnerup finish was good medicine for Ashley Force Hood, who moved from ninth to fourth in the standings. "It feels good to finally get our car back," said Force Hood. "We had a couple of ups and downs this year, and that does get your confidence down. To come to this race with all the challenges that everyone faces, I was excited to be able to maneuver through all that and race Dad and the Schumacher teams in the final. We ran 4.04, and that was one of our best runs to 1,000 feet. The final was a little frustrating because I was confused. I saw a light on the wall and thought I won. I yelled at [husband] Dan because I didn't know who won, and no one came on the radio to tell me. I told him, 'You've got a radio, use it.'"
Tim Wilkerson earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first Funny Car driver to lose on a holeshot against two other drivers when his 4.061 in round two fell to the matching 4.064 runs of Force and Capps. "How about that," said Wilkerson. "We outran four cars and came in third. I had a .080 light, which is about normal for me, so there was no distraction and no drop-off. Those two guys just slayed the Tree, and there's nothing you can do about it. When I lose one of those, I'm really only concerned with how my car ran, and it ran absolutely great with no problems at all."
Force Hood-C. Pedregon-Worsham-Gilbertson
Force Hood streaks away from her three opponents to turn on the primary win light with a 4.07. The battle for second place is close between Pedregon and Worsham with Pedregon tripping the beams first, 4.25 to 4.28. Gilbertson, in his first event of the season, smokes the tires and slows to a 4.93.
This is what four wide should be with all four drivers making what NHRA announcer Bob Frey would call "a full pull." Beckman leads the pack to the stripe with a 4.06, holding off Force, who finishes second with a 4.09. Pedregon and Tasca are not far behind with runs of 4.12 and 4.15, respectively.
Capps, Wilkerson, and Troxel lead with nearly identical reaction times, but Capps powers to the win with a stout 4.03 to nip Wilkerson's 4.07. Troxel posts a third-best 4.12 while Diehl, returning from Saturday's body-tossing engine explosion, coasts across the finish line.
A scary moment here when Hight's car makes a hard move, crosses the centerline, and grazes the rear quarter panel of Arend's DHL Toyota. Meanwhile, in the right two lanes, Hagan cruises to a 4.04 for the win while Lee gets his first round-win for the Canidae team with a 4.32. Neither Hight nor Arend are injured, but both of their cars are battle scarred.
Force Hood-Hagan-C. Pedregon-Lee
Pedregon gets off the mark first by nearly a tenth with a .016 reaction time but fades at half-track, and Force Hood turns on the primary win light via a holeshot, running a 4.12 to top Hagan's 4.10. Lee was never in it, coasting to a 7.22.
All four of these drivers ran 4.0s in the last round, and this is another great race. Force and Capps run identical 4.064 elapsed times with Force taking the win. Wilkerson runs the quickest with a 4.061 but finishes third while Beckman slows to a 4.505. Force earns lane choice over Capps for the final by virtue of speed, 313 to 312.
Force wins his second race of the season following a thrilling 4.03 to 4.04 battle against his daughter, Ashley. Capps posts a respectable 4.08 but will receive credit for a semifinal finish. Likewise for Hagan, who lost traction and lifted at half-track. Small consolation for Force Hood: Her 316.38-mph charge will be the new Funny Car speed record.