This weekend NHRA ventures into NASCAR country, racing at zMAX Dragway outside of Charlotte, N.C., part of the speedway complex that also includes Charlotte Motor Speedway, and Frontstretch will be live from the track all weekend. As always, social media will be a good place to keep up with the action. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. If you are a Twitter sort, you can follow us on @Frontstretch as well as @ToniLMontgomery.
We will have photos and updates on Facebook, but we’ll try to keep that spoiler free. If you want to follow round-by-round action, particularly during eliminations, Twitter is the place to be. Daily qualifying recaps will appear here on the site, and as always, race coverage will be part of our Pace Laps column on Monday.
NHRA is running the Baptism by Nitro promotion encouraging fans to bring someone new to the track this year, and while we’re not eligible to win prizes, we can still get in the spirit of the campaign. NASCAR writer Mike Mehedin, who compiles the weekly Power Rankings column, will be at the track along with regular NHRA writer Toni Montgomery. It will be Mehedin’s first venture into the world of straight-line racing.
Oh, and you might also see some of that NASCAR stuff on our social media since apparently there’s a NASCAR race some writers are attending in Martinsville Speedway, too.
* Alan Johnson Racing and Top Fuel points leading driver Shawn Langdon will race in Charlotte this weekend. The team has not yet secured sponsorship and remains on a week-to-week basis, but after posting a win and two semifinal appearances through the first three events, a performance that has put it atop the point standings, staying in championship contention and showing potential sponsors what the team is capable of prompted the decision to compete.
“We decided to race the early portion of this season to show potential sponsors that we have a championship-caliber race team,” Johnson said. “We have done that in the first three races. It is definitely easier to walk into a board room to talk about a team that leads the point standings, and we need to do our best to stay there – it’s helping. Racing the entire season and competing for the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello world championship is still our goal. Like the last race two weeks ago, we are racing in Charlotte to give ourselves a little more time to put a program together that will allow us to do that.”
* Two-time and defending Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton will attend the 4-Wide Nationals on Sunday as a guest of Kalitta Motorsports and driver J.R. Todd. It will be Crafton’s first time at an NHRA event. Crafton and Todd, along with Pro Stock drivers Shane and Jonathan Gray, will also lead the SealMasterTrack Walk, an event open to fans, before the racing starts on Sunday morning.
“We always like to welcome stars from other forms of motorsports to the track,” said Todd. “Crafton is a champion in another motorsport, so it is always interesting to get their perspective on what we do at the track.”
* NHRA reports a continued rise in both television ratings and track attendance in 2015, continuing a trend that started with a year-over-year increase in 2014. The first three events of 2015 saw a 30 percent increase overall for the Sunday elimination shows and a 50 percent increase for Saturday qualifying shows. Sunday eliminations shows in 2014 posted a 9 percent increase over the previous year, aided perhaps by three live shows. This Sunday will mark the first of five live elimination shows planned for 2015. ESPN2 will also air one live qualifying show from Las Vegas on April 11, which includes the K&N Horsepower Challenge.
“We’re thrilled with our viewership gains in 2014 and the strong television performance we’re seeing for the start of the 2015 NHRA Mello Yello season,” said Gary Darcy, NHRA senior vice president of sales and marketing. “With compelling action on the track and the addition of more live programming scheduled for this season, we look forward to that trend continuing.”
NHRA also reports increases in at-track attendance at each of the first three races, continuing an upward trend that started in 2012.
Driver of the Week: Jason Line
Category: Pro Stock
Hometown: Wright, MN
Date of birth: July 24, 1969
2015 car: Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro
Crew chief: Rob Downing, Tim Freeman
Team Owner: Ken Black
Career wins/runner-up finishes: 36/40
Best points finish: 1st in 2006 and 2011
Career best ET: 6.477 seconds
Career best speed: 214.83 mph
2014 – Scored four wins and five runner-up finishes, three wins in a row at Sonoma, Seattle, and Brainerd, en route to a second-place points finish.
2011 – Won second NHRA Mello Yello Series championship; won six races; No. 1 qualifier at seven events; led the points for 19 of 22 events.
2006 – Earned first NHRA Mello Yello Series championship; won in four of nine final round appearances.
2004 – Won the Auto Club Road to the Future Award for the top rookie performer; won four times in eight final round appearances.
Some Things Most People Don’t Know About Jason: Cars are also his hobby as he is a muscle car enthusiast. Although Jason grew up around drag racing, he originally moved to North Carolina to work in the engine shop as a dyno operator for Joe Gibbs Racing in NASCAR. While working at JGR from 1998-2003, Line was part of the engine building team that won NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships with Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart. He did not meet fellow Minnesota native and teammate Greg Anderson until Anderson rented shop space in Mooresville, N.C., from a mutual acquaintance.
“Long story short, Greg Anderson ended up renting shop space from them over there to run his Pro Stock team out of their building so it was kind of a Minnesota connection because Greg is from Minnesota as well,” said Line. “And when he did, I basically volunteered to help him work on stuff just because I loved Pro Stock. I knew who Greg was. He didn’t know who I was but I just wanted to work on a Pro Stock car.
“Greg eventually offered me a job and offered me the chance to drive a car. I told him I couldn’t leave my job at Gibbs, because I had a really good job, and the only way I would is if I got a chance to drive and he said ‘Well, we’re going to get a second car, so you can drive it.’”
This weekend’s race, the 4-Wide Nationals, is different from any other on the schedule in that drivers/riders in the four Pro categories that make up the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series will qualify and compete in groups of four, utilizing all four lanes of zMAX Dragway instead of in the traditional two-at-a-time fashion. This calls for some tweaks to regular procedures this weekend and this section will cover a few of the highlights.
First, for identification purposes, the lanes are referred to in numerical order from left to right facing down the track. Lane No. 1 is the outermost left lane, and lane No. 4 is the outermost right lane. Four lanes and four qualifying runs means each driver will get one run in each lane.
Eliminations are a bit of a different animal. First round eliminations will feature four races with four drivers in each. Race A will be qualifiers 1, 8, 9, and 16 while Race B will be qualifiers 4, 5, 12, and 13. Those two races will make up one side of the ladder while the other side will be Race C, made up of qualifiers 2, 7, 10, and 15, and Race D, made up of qualifiers 3, 6, 11, and 14. Lane choice will be given in order from fastest to slowest driver in each race, based on qualifying in the first round and then on elapsed time in subsequent rounds. The top two finishers from each race will go on to the second round. There will only be three elimination rounds, as the top two drivers from each of the second round races will go on to compete in the final round of four drivers. Those four drivers score their finishing positions based on the order in which they cross the finish line.
As to some other other odds and ends that differ, there are two Christmas Trees, one for the two left lanes and one for the two right lanes, but both will be equipped with specially designed LED pre-stage/stage lights that indicate the pre-stage/stage positions of the drivers in all four lanes so drivers will be able to keep track of where all three of their competitors are in the staging process. Should three drivers red light in a round, the ones who will advance are the one who got the green light and the one who red lights by the least amount. Finally, to make it easier on fans, in eliminations the lane number of the first-place car will flash while the lane number of the second-place car will be lit solid.
Here’s a preview of what four-wide looks like.
Number of the Week: 4
The number shall be four. It used to be three and four was right on out of there, but not anymore! The number shall be four, as in the number of lanes at zMAX Dragway, site of the next race on the schedule, the 4-Wide Nationals, the only event of this type on the schedule. Four is also the number of drivers who have won this event multiple times, namely Spencer Massey, Robert Hight, Greg Anderson and Mike Edwards, who have each won twice. And in case more fours are wanted, Robert Hight has four wins overall at zMAX Dragway, adding two wins in the fall event to his two at the 4-Wides.
Where to Watch
If you can’t get out to the track this weekend, you are in luck because this is also the first of five live race broadcasts scheduled for this season. Catch eliminations from the 4-Wide Nationals from zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, N.C., live on Sunday!
Program Date/Time Channel AUTO CLUB NHRA FINALS Qualifying Friday, November 10, 6:30 PM ET FS1 (Live) Qualifying Saturday, November 11, 6:00 PM ET FS1 (Live) Eliminations Sunday, November 12, 4:00 PM ET FS1 (Live)