4-wide race to return to North Carolina
Only two weeks after NHRA competitors sent a letter to the NHRA saying they would not race another four-wide event, the NHRA announced Saturday that four-wide drag racing would return next year to the zMax Dragway in Concord, N.C.
An agreement was reached Saturday morning at Las Vegas in a meeting between NHRA officials and members of the Professional Racers Owners Organization (PRO), the team owners and drivers group which voted against four-wide racing 60-3 on a petition circulated during the inaugural four-wide event last month at zMax.
"I've been smiling and happy all day," said Funny Car legend John Force, a winner at the four-wide race. "What really excited me this morning was seeing PRO and the NHRA sit down together for first time and agree on a lot of issues.
"I'm very proud of them. This is big for our sport. There's still a lot of work ahead, but if Republicans and Democrats could do what we did today this country would be a lot better off."
The Four-Wide Nationals were the first time in NHRA history that four cars raced down the track at the same time.
Some fans loved it and some hated it, but PRO listed four concerns for not doing it again: safety issues, confusion, sponsor identification problems and a circus-like atmosphere. The letter PRO sent to the NHRA also said they were willing to race four-wide in an exhibition or all-star event.
Bruton Smith, chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc. and owner of the zMax Dragway (the first four-wide facility) was angry about the PRO letter and said he expected to race four-wide again next year. He was thrilled when he heard the NHRA's decision Saturday.
"This is such good news," Bruton said Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway. "It's onward and upward now for NHRA drag racing. It's good for everyone and will really help the NHRA grow. I'm very pleased and I'm so excited I'm going to make plans to add an additional 10,000 seats to the grandstands [at zMax]."
The main grandstand at zMax is named after Force, who said four-wide format will need improvements from the inaugural race.
"I've always been a big supporter of Bruton," Force said. "He has invested more in our sport than any track owner.
"But to be honest, there are a lot of issues to resolve. The [starting] lights were very confusing and we have to be sure to get that right so everyone is safe. But I think PRO and the NHRA will announce changes on that soon."
Tom Compton, president of the NHRA, said in a news release plans are underway to improve the experience for the fans on viewing options, along with enhanced sponsor recognition and changes to the staging lights.
"Few would argue the amount of attention the four-wide race received leading up to and even following the event from our fans, racers and the media," Compton said. "The spectacle of four-wide racing is nothing short of breathtaking and we want to build on that and share the four-wide experience with our fans once again in 2011."
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com.