The phrase “business as usual” isn't something you'll hear many NHRA Full Throttle Series drivers say very often when the circuit visits Bruton Smith's state-of-the-art zMAX Dragway this weekend.
While just about everything about the VisitMyrtleBeach.com NHRA Four-Wide Nationals remains routine for the crew members who service the cars between rounds, the drivers are required to make a bit of an adjustment for competing in the unique format. From inside the cockpit, the resulting 28,000 horsepower eruption on each run requires a distinctive focus.
“Racing four-wide is just an incredible experience,” Top Fuel driver Antron Brown says of the April 14-17 event which will be televised on ESPN2 HD. “It is intense and action-packed. It's the ultimate throw down.”
In the inaugural running of the event last year, Brown advanced to the final round and finished third behind winner Cory McClenathan and second-place Doug Kalitta. Brown edged fourth-place Doug Herbert in the final. In one of the special twists offered only by Four-Wide racing, Brown actually finished in front of local favorite Herbert in all three rounds of racing during eliminations. In the first two rounds of competition, the two quickest finishers in each elimination set advance to the next round. In the final, the drivers place in order as they cross the finish line.
“If you make it to the final in the four-wide race like we did last year, then you have the top four gladiators of the event all racing at the same time,” Brown said. “Last year I got my butt whipped in the final. But we licked our wounds and we'll try to win it this time around.”
Brown says all Top Fuel drivers must alter their usual race strategies just a little bit.
“Instead of one driver you have to focus on three other opponents in each round,” he said. “You have to look at everybody you are racing and their performances over the weekend and you can't race on the strategy of trying to go quicker than your one opponent. You have to go out there and give the track all it can handle and you have to hit it hard because you know those three other guys are going to do the same thing. It's definitely a rush.”
After winning in Las Vegas two weeks ago, Brown is ready to continue to build on his position in the point standings. He's currently second overall, eight points behind series leader Del Worsham. In addition to Worsham, a strong cast of Top Fuel challengers awaits him at the event, including defending world champ Larry Dixon, seven-time world champ Tony Schumacher, Winternationals winner Morgan Lucas, Las Vegas runner-up Brandon Bernstein and Spencer Massey, who is the new driver for the Prestone/FRAM dragster that won the event last year.
Brown says his Matco Tools dragster team will be ready for the challenge.
“We've got some momentum from Las Vegas but Charlotte is a brand-new race,” Brown said. “We're still hungry to go out and prove that we can win again. We're ready to go out there and work hard and try to win another race.”
In Funny Car, the John Force Racing team has a stronghold on the category, as they have won the last five races in a row, dating back to the final two events of the 2010 season. Series leader Robert Hight has won two of three races this season in his Auto Club Ford Mustang and teammate Mike Neff pulled double duty as driver and crew chief in his Gatornationals victory. Team leader John Force, who won the final two races last season to earn his 15th world championship title, is the defending winner of this event and sits ninth in the point standings in his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang. A strong group of challengers will try to break the Force team streak in North Carolina, including two-time world champ Cruz Pedregon, DieHard Dodge Charger driver Matt Hagan, Las Vegas runner-up Johnny Gray and veteran Ron Capps.
Defending Pro Stock winner Mike Edwards has momentum heading into the event as the Oklahoma driver and 2009 world champ ended a dry spell from the winner's circle with his win two weeks ago in Las Vegas. Local favorites Jason Line, who has claimed two wins in the first three races this season, and defending world champ Greg Anderson will be trying to win for their hometown friends and family in their Summit Racing Pontiac GXPs. Other favorites in the 200 mph category include Greg Stanfield, Erica Enders, world record holder Rodger Brogdon, veteran Allen Johnson and rookie Vincent Nobile, who finished runner-up in Las Vegas.