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(Photo: Toni Montgomery)

Nitro Shots: There’s Something You Don’t See Every Day

Coming out of the 4-Wide Nationals, you can’t help but take note of all the really odd things you can only see at that race. There were a number of them last weekend, continuing to make Charlotte unique. Pro Stock came out of the box with a twin serving of odd, with a double holeshot on the first elimination pass followed by a triple redlight on the next. In the case of the first, Allen Johnson ran fast E.T. of 6.463 in his quad, but went home anyway because both Jonathan Gray and Greg Anderson beat him on reaction time. In the case of the second, Vincent Nobile was the only one of the four in his group not to foul, but Jimmy Alund went on anyway because he redlighted by the least amount.

In Top Fuel, one quad couldn’t seem to make up their minds where to start. Lane choice goes to the highest qualified driver, second choice to second qualified, third to third fastest, and the other driver gets whatever is left. The group of J.R. Todd, Antron Brown, Dave Connolly, and Shawn Langdon played musical lanes when Todd, fastest of the group, changed his mind, prompting changes for Brown and Connolly as well. Langdon’s team, being slowest, simply pulled their car back and waited for the other three to sort it out.

Both Top Fuel and Funny Car saw a whole lot more pedaling going on than the norm thanks to the unique format. In a two-wide race, particularly if one driver runs off cleanly, a driver who spins the tires or gets sideways usually gets out of the gas, but with four lanes and no idea what’s going on in all of them, drivers keep their foot in it more often. Antron Brown, Steve Torrence and Doug Kalitta pedaled furiously in round two because they heard Dave Connolly explode his ride off the line, except they didn’t know whose car it was. That was followed by the sound of drivers getting in and out of the throttle. Knowing the other drivers were also in trouble, they all did whatever they could to get them down the track. Ron Capps got dead sideways, and although he’d seen Jack Beckman drive away, he heard someone he couldn’t see struggling on the other side of the wall so he dirt-tracked his car down the lane. Unfortunately, he tagged the wall and fouled out, giving the pass to the next round to Tommy Johnson, Jr., who thought he was out of it.

The unusual lights threw Funny Car champion Matt Hagan off his game. Drivers see staging lights for all four lanes and Hagan apparently looked at the wrong ones. He timed out, thinking he was staged, but his foul was not the end of the confusion. Tim Wilkerson said he never saw the amber lights and sat on the starting line while John Hale and Cruz Pedregon drove off, with Wilkerson believing those two had redlighted and he’d gotten a free pass to round two. Wilkerson ended up with a 4.096 reaction time while Pedregon, who said he didn’t see the lights either, and Hale continued.

Love it or hate it — and there are opinions on both sides of the fence – the 4-Wides happen only once a year, an event unique to drag racing. Next time out, it’s back to traditional two-by-two racing.

Say What?

“Boy, it just went into instant tire shake and pulled loose and turned sideways. Then those instincts from my dirt track experiences kicked in like when I raced at Eldora (Speedway) and that really helped.” Ron Capps after his car got sideways in round one.

“I actually watched Doug blow up in front of me and I was hoping I could chase him down. I just ran out of real estate.” Spencer Massey, who’d spun his tires, but pushed on trying to catch a flagging Kalitta. He came up just a little short.

“Those milestones are huge for this class. It’s one of the last big ones in NHRA Mello Yello drag racing – 200 mph with no seatbelts on top of a motorcycle. We’re working on it.” Pro Stock Motorcycle winner Andrew Hines on the prospect of breaking the 200 mph barrier in the class. Hector Arana, Jr. came close in Charlotte, with a run at 199.88 mph.

What’s News?

* Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. has increased their backing of Alan Johnson Racing and driver Shawn Langdon in an effort to help give the team additional time to secure primary sponsorship. Toyota has been a partner with Alan Johnson Racing since 2001.

“With our expanded sponsorship of Shawn Langdon and Alan Johnson Racing, Toyota wants to show other potential sponsors that we are committed to the AJR program. They have proven to be one of the top teams in any form of motorsports and this sponsorship should assist them in securing a primary sponsor for the rest of the season,” said Ed Laukes, Vice President of Marketing, Performance and Guest Experience for Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A.

NHRA 2014 Charlotte V Gaines mirror image credit Mike Neff
Pro Stock veteran V. Gaines… seeing double. (Credit: Mike Neff)

* V. Gaines, popular veteran Pro Stock racer, is the K&N Horsepower Challenge fan vote winner. Gaines will take the eighth and final spot in the bonus event for Pro Stock racers at the next event in Las Vegas, facing off against number one qualified Shane Gray in the first round.

“We are just tickled to death that so many fans thought we ought to race in that race,” said Gaines. “I would have liked to gotten in the other way – we had a few issues that cost us a little bit – but to be able to race in that is fantastic. Anybody can win his one. We try to treat our fans right and communicate with them. They ask a lot of us and we ask a lot of them and they came through.”

The K&N Horsepower Challenge will be part of the live qualifying broadcast from Las Vegas on Saturday, April 11.

* J.R. Todd is celebrating his one-year anniversary with Kalitta Motorsports by making the SkyJump from the top of the Stratosphere Hotel Casino on April 9th. The SkyJump is a leap from 108 stories, one where jumpers travel nearly 1,000 feet at over 40 mph over 17 seconds.

Driver of the Week: Fast Jack Beckman

NHRA 2015 Charlotte Jack Beckman Wally
Fast Jack Beckman took home the Wally this past weekend at the 4-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway. (Credit: Toni Montgomery)

Category: Funny Car
Hometown: San Fernando, CA
Date of birth: June 28, 1966
2015 car: Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger R/T
Crew chief: Jimmy Prock
Team Owner: Don Schumacher

Career Highlights:
Career wins/runner-up finishes: 16/20
Best points finish: 1st in 2012
Career best ET: 3.983 seconds, Charlotte, 2015
Career best speed: 320.58 mph, Reading, 2012

2012 – Won first Funny Car world championship; set national performance record for speed and E.T. at Reading; earned three wins.

2008 – Won three of seven final round appearances; remained in contention for championship until the final race of the year.

2007 – Won the $100,000 bonus event for Funny Car in Indianapolis.

2005 – Competed in Top Fuel; raced to semifinal finish at Englishtown.

Some Things Most People Don’t Know About Jack: Has taught more than 7,000 aspiring racers as a consultant at Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School; licensed in 12 different NHRA categories; veteran of the U.S. Air Force where he achieved the rank of sergeant; cancer survivor.

Beckman offers military style challenge coins at each NHRA race. He sells them for $100 each and then takes them along in the car during the race, signing and returning them afterward. People who bought coins this past weekend got an extra special piece as Jack won the race. All of the money from the coins is donated to Infinite Hero. Last year, Fast Jack Beckman raised about $70,000 with his coins.

And finally, here’s Jack Beckman with the craziest thing that’s ever happened to him at a race track.

NHRA 101

The terms pedalfest and pedaling came up quite a bit at the 4-Wides, so what do they mean? When a driver loses traction with the rear tires, they will try to lift off the throttle and then get back on it again in an attempt to regain traction. When both, or in this case, multiple drivers have to get on and off the throttle to try to get their cars down the track, it’s a pedalfest.

Crossover Hits

Reigning NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton was at zMAX Dragway for the 4-Wide Nationals as a guest of driver J.R. Todd and Kalitta Motorsports this past weekend. Todd and Crafton share sponsorship from SealMaster, who set up the visit. While at the track, our Mike Mehedin spoke to Crafton about his experience at the 4-Wide Nationals. To read what he had to say about his race at Martinsville as well, check out today’s edition of Truckin’ Thursday for the full interview.

What’s your impression of the 4-Wide?

The 4-Wide is crazy. It’s a little bit harder to follow when you get all four of them out there. They go by so fast and you try to pay attention to all four of them. You pretty much can’t. You have to focus on one or two. It’s crazy. It’s so intense. These guys are very brave. We’ll just say that. I’ve stood at the finish line and watched these guys go by and when they go by at 300+ mph, they’ve got it going on.

Have you been in the pits at all?

Yeah. I went to the Kalitta’s and J.R. Todd and they showed me around and did the track walk this morning. Asked a lot of questions. Sat in J.R.’s car. It’s a really tight space, for sure.

What’s the fan interaction like in the pit area versus NASCAR?

It’s crazy, just how fans can walk up to your pits. We have some fans that get hot passes but pretty much everybody can go back there and stand in the pits and stand right there. Their interaction is very, very good with how the fans can get right up to the cars while they’re working on them.

Any chance of getting behind the wheel?

I sure the hell wouldn’t get behind the wheel right now. I did one of the drag race schools here and ran a high 9. I’d like to take some more classes and learn a little bit more and then maybe drive something a little bit faster but I’m far from that right now.

Tech Facts

The question we were presented with was how many gears does a Pro Stock car have, and how do drivers shift so quickly? Brian “Lump” Self, crew chief for Chris McGaha’s Harlow Sammons Pro Stock team helps us out with the answer. It’s still worth remembering that the average Pro Stock run is somewhere in the neighborhood of six and a half seconds.

Number of the Week: 6.455

The new national record elapsed time for Pro Stock, set by Jason Line in the first round of eliminations at the 4-Wide Nationals last weekend at zMAX Dragway. Line’s E.T. of 6.481 during Saturday’s second qualifying session was within the required 1 percent to serve as a backup and make the record official. Cool air temperatures and low humidity set up ideal conditions for record-setting runs at the 4-Wides.

Where to Watch

NHRA takes Easter weekend off before returning to action April 10-12 for the 16th annual SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals from The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This race weekend will also include the K&N Horsepower Challenge for the stars of the Pro Stock category so don’t miss the live broadcast on Saturday night!

ProgramDate/TimeChannel
AUTO CLUB NHRA FINALS
QualifyingFriday, November 10, 6:30 PM ETFS1 (Live)
QualifyingSaturday, November 11, 6:00 PM ETFS1 (Live)
EliminationsSunday, November 12, 4:00 PM ETFS1 (Live)

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About Toni Montgomery

Toni Montgomery
A writer for Frontstretch since 2002, and editor since 2006, Toni heads up the NHRA coverage for the site. She’s responsible for post-race coverage in the weekly Pace Laps multi-series round-up along with the weekly Nitro Shots column featuring news and features from the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. An award-winning former writer for the Presbyterian Church, Toni works in web design and freelances with writing in North Carolina.

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