A couple of weeks ago the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series ran at Bruton Smith?s Z-Max Dragway near Charlotte, North Carolina. What made the event significant was that it was the first time a championship drag race was run using four lanes instead of two. They dubbed it the ?4-Wide Nationals?
In each of the three rounds of eliminations, the first and second cars to reach the finish line advanced to the next round. This set up the possibility that a car could ?lose? twice and still advance to the finals. And sure enough, that actually happened in Pro Stock.
It certainly was different and lots of people thought it was exciting, especially the noise and fury of four-at-a-time top fuel dragsters and funny cars. But once the initial excitement of the event wore off, most who watched it have come to their senses.
Recently a letter was sent to NHRA headquarters from the PRO, Professional Racers Organization. (This is as close to a racer?s union as any form of motorsports has.) In this letter the racer?s stated in no uncertain terms that, if the NHRA conducts another 4-wide event for championship points, 61 of the 64 voting members will not participate. The PRO cited reasons of safety, confusion over the additional staging lights required, and lack of sponsor identity due to the necessary wide shots the TV cameras had to use to get all four cars on the screen.
In addition, ESPN has been conducting an informal fan poll on their website. They asked; ?Do you like four wide drag racing, yes or no?. As of this writing nearly 70% have voted no.
The picture is clear, the racers refuse to do it again for points, and the majority of the fans don?t like it. During the weekend of the ?4-Wide Nationals? track owner Bruton Smith announced that he planned to add two more lanes to his drag strip in Las Vegas. Since then he has wisely decided to put those plans on hold.
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It?s a true fact of racing that the only lap that pays any money is the last one. Never was that more obvious than Saturday night during the ?Subway Fresh Fit 600? at Phoenix International Raceway. Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch both had strong performances and they held the lead for a total of 113 laps each. Juan Pablo Montoya also had a strong car and he led for 104 laps. However, none of them won. Johnson had the best finish of the three and ended up in third place. Montoya finished in fifth and Busch, after looking like a sure winner, was a disappointing eighth.
Over the course of the entire 378 lap distance Ryan Newman only led for a total of four laps. But, because one of those four was the very last one, the record books will forever show Newman as the winner and those other guys as also-rans.
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Finally this week, a note of sadness; over the weekend I learned of the passing of one of the greatest race photographers of all time, Ken Coles. Most of you probably have never heard of him but from the fifties all the way into the eighties, Coles was one of the sport?s best. His images of sprint cars, midgets, and champ cars during the fifties and sixties consistently brought the viewer right into the action. Looking at a Ken Coles photo you could clearly see the determination of the drivers as they wrestled for control of the bucking and lurching race car. You could sense the danger, almost hear the engine, and feel the heat of competition.
As a race photographer myself, I could only look up to Coles? work as an almost unattainable goal but one toward which I continue to strive. I was never fortunate enough to meet Ken Coles in person but I have in my possession several prints of his photos.
R.I.P. Ken Coles, and thank you for inspiring me to become a race photographer myself.
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