Fan friendly Atmosphere at the NHRA 4-Wide Nationals at Z-Max
Dale Wilkerson March 2010
Race fans are accustomed to travelling up Interstate-85 to watch the fast paced action of NASCAR in the city of Concord, NC. This weekend, fans who made that trip were able to witness racing history as the National Hot Rod Association held the 4-Wide Nationals at the zMAX Dragway.
Traveling up Highway 29 from the Interstate seemed somewhat surreal. There were several sites that seemed odd including the vacant spots where all the NASCAR vendors, food vendors, and sponsor booths would be set up. The parking lots where empty approaching the track down to the traffic light at Speedway Boulevard. As we approached that intersection, a few North Carolina State Troopers where getting set up, bringing a since of normalcy to the day.
The folks with the Charlotte Motor Speedway and the zMAX Dragway were parking folks near the Dirt Track at Charlotte, so folks didn’t have a long walk if they missed the trams that carried them to the front gates, just a few feet from the starting lines.
Behind the John Force Grandstand, fans found several show cars, numerous sponsor booths, drivers’ souvenir rigs and the race teams thrashing over their cars in hopes of squeezing out a little more speed in the day of racing.
Among the show cars on display were sleighs used by the US Olympic Bobsleigh Team, including the four-man sleigh known as the “Night Train”. NASCAR driver Geoff Bodine worked with Olympic bobsledders on the sleigh design and the models on display looked at home beside the legendary dragsters that were parked nearby.
A few NASCAR show cars were on hand as well: the #21 Ford of Bill Elliott, the Lowes Chevrolet of four-time Champion Jimmy Johnson, the Toyota of Kyle Busch and the Go-Daddy Chevrolet of Danica Patrick. Fans were checking these rides out, but the NHRA cars were the stars of the day.
As teams fired up the cars to check the engines, fans would flock to the thunderous roar of these Nitro powered ground missiles. Most of us that were walking around either had earplugs in or we were looking for them at a souvenir rig. My brother handed me a set as we walked through the gate and we both were ready for that first burst of horsepower from one of the cars.
Bob Tasca III was among the drivers greeting fans at his souvenir rig. Tasca was signing caps, shirts, posters, cars, ticket protectors, and programs like many of his fellow NHRA drivers. Doug Herbert was standing near his pit area, greeting every fan with a smile. Ron Capps was speaking to a group gathered for lunch where fans will not remember the meal, but they will recall listening to a drag racing legend.
As the time approached for the Top Fuel, or rail dragsters, to make their way to the staging area, it was much like a parade of cars in a car show. Most of the crews used tow vehicles with mechanics standing close by, checking air pressures and making final adjustments before their drivers strapped in for a pass down the 1000-foot strip of asphalt.
Cory McClenathan looked like an astronaut preparing for a launch, and when you look at the acceleration, he was preparing for a launch. NHRA Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers experience over six g when they drop the hammer on the starting line.
After the burnouts, when drivers get heat in their tires to provide better traction, some fans gasped at the sheer noise as the first group of four cars charged down the zMAX Dragway cranking out over 8,000 horsepower each, while reaching speeds as high as 314-mph.
The only thing I have heard in person that would compare was a Space Shuttle launch, and that was from several miles away. Some of the Modified Tractors that compete in Tractor Pulling events have similar horsepower numbers, but the noise level does not reach what you experience during a four-wide pass of the Top Fuel or Funny Cars at the zMAX Dragway.
It was disappointing when the weather set in postponing the final rounds, but for those of us in attendance last Sunday, we had our monies worth.
For a NASCAR or IRL event, fans are required to purchase an extra ticket to gain garage and pit access before a race. The NHRA folks really take care of their fans and the drivers and mechanics who take time to talk to the fans will help the sport of drag racing to gain more fans with every pass down the strip.