Cory McClenathan raced to the Top Fuel qualifying lead Friday at the inaugural NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway. Robert Hight, Jason Line and Matt Smith also were leaders in their respective categories at the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event, the first in NHRA history to feature four-wide drag racing.
McClenathan posted a track-record time of 3.790sec at 315.93mph in his FRAM dragster to hold the early lead over teammates Antron Brown, who was second with a 3.819 at 213.93 in his Matco Tools dragster, and third-place Tony Schumacher, who posted a performance of 3.830 at 315.49 in his U.S. Army dragster.
"The last time we were here we did well," said McClenathan, who won here last September during the Countdown to 1 playoffs. "Todd [Okuhara, crew chief] said he was gonna push it and see what it would hold. The lane was good; it was fantastic all day long. At 800-feet I knew it was on a good run. We punished the motor a little but [team owner] Don [Schumacher] will be OK with it. I look at this as being a special event. It seems to come together for me. Now, we'll just see how it stacks up."
The day featured many spectacular four-wide runs with thrilling side-by-side-by-side-by-side finishes in all four pro categories. In Brown's first session run it was the first of the day where four nitro cars crossed the finish line together at full speed, producing an incredible rush.
"I was just relaxed and wanted to have some fun," Brown said. "I watched the entire Pro Stock car and Funny Car sessions and that gave me a chance to get accustomed to the staging process. It's just a different atmosphere than what we're used to with staging against one other car. When we went down there, all the cars were between a 3.86 and 3.88 and that just shows how phenomenal this facility here at zMax really is."
Defending world champ Hight set both ends of the track record to lead Funny Car qualifying. He posted a 4.024 at 314.24 in his Auto Club Ford Mustang to edge first session leader Ron Capps, who was second with a 4.039 at 310.34 in his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger. Jack Beckman was third in his Valvoline/MTS Charger with a 4.040 at 310.48.
"So far, our first two runs have been flawless," said Hight, whose leading time was just short of Capps' 1,000-foot national record time of 4.023sec.
"NHRA has done a great job setting up the tree so we can see who is where in staging," Hight continued. "[Crew Chief] Jimmy Prock lives this car night and day. He gave it a ton more fuel and it worked. We haven't run that well since back when these cars were 150lbs lighter. I've had the quickest runs in quarter-mile and 1,000-feet, but I've never gotten a record. Tomorrow, my goal is to back it up. I'm going to have to, or I won't be the No. 1 qualifier."
Local-favorite Line was quickest in Pro Stock. The Troutman, N.C.-based driver posted a 6.584 at 210.50 in his Summit Racing Pontiac GXP to pace the 16-car order. Jeg Coughlin was second in his JEGS.com Chevy Cobalt with a 6.584 at 210.08, while defending world champ Mike Edwards was third with a 6.601 at 209.85 in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries GXP.
"It feels good to run that good and have the Summit car on the pole, especially in front of a lot of friends and family and friends in our hometown," Line said. "I don't know if it will stay No. 1, but it's good to be there for one night. The four-wide thing is definitely throwing us Pro Stock guys for a loop and it's a challenge to get used to, but we're definitely enjoying it. The run itself is no different, but you stage a Pro Stock car with the throttle and the clutch, so it's a bit of a challenge. By Sunday we should have it down pat."
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, another North Carolina resident, Smith of King, N.C., powered his Al-Anabi Racing Buell to a leading performance of 6.904 at 193.16. Andrew Hines was second on his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson with a 6.941 at 192.93, while defending world champ Hector Arana was third with a 6.942 at 191.59 on his Lucas Oil Buell.
"We ran the first race here two years ago and I really wanted to win," Smith said. "I was confident that I could pull it off, but it just didn't work out. This time, if I can stay No. 1 and do my job I think we've got a good chance."