Competition Plus’ Water-Cooler Topics From The NHRA 4-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, NC.

1 – ASHLEY SWEEPS TOP FUEL HONORS - Justin Ashley joined Shawn Langdon as a two-time winner in the season’s first five races, driving his SCAG/Phillips Connect/Toyota dragster to the winner’s circle over runner-up Clay Millican and fellow finalists Antron Brown and Doug Kalitta. “Every quad is dangerous, and everyone in that quad is dangerous,” Ashley said after recording his 13th Top Fuel triumph and his 15th overall, counting his Top Alcohol Dragster victories. Points leader Ashley dominated the weekend, grabbing the Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty crown, his first of the season and the seventh of his career. “The only thing that derail [his momentum] is ourselves,” Ashley said, reminding himself to stay focused. “I couldn’t be more grateful. I couldn’t be more proud.”
2 – FIFTY IS NIFTY – Funny Car’s Matt Hagan earned his 50th victory, becoming the 16th person in any pro category to earn at least that many. Hagan used a holeshot to edge Dan Wilkerson, who posted low elapsed time of the final quad that included J.R. Todd and John Force. Along the way, Hagan, in the Direct Connection Dodge, also shook off hot-streaking Austin Prock and Bob Tasca III. The reigning race winner and series champion said, “Fifty wins is amazing. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go. … It’s incredible to think about. You can accomplish all this stuff, but if you can’t have fun, why do it?” Hagan, of Christiansburg, Va., called himself “very blessed” to achieve that milestone and said because his home is two-and-a-half hours away, he could “party up and get an Uber home” Sunday night. Just like at Las Vegas in the previous event two weeks ago, the final round featured four different automakers: Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, and Toyota. 


3 – ANDERSON IS HOMETOWN HERO – Pro Stock winner Greg Anderson extended his victory total to 105 with back-to-back victories at zMAX Dragway, in what the Duluth, Minn., native called his “new hometown,” at his home track, in the home of sponsor He said he gets “good vibes when I come out here” to the Concord, N.C., facility. Anderson denied Aaron Stanfield the chance for two Wally statues in one day. Earlier in the afternoon, Stanfield won the Factory X final – making he and his dad Greg Stanfield the only winners so far in the new class – but even his stellar .011 reaction time couldn’t make that happen. Anderson and his Chevy Camaro also spoiled KB Titan teammate Dallas Glenn’s shot at his 20th victory and Cristian Cuadra’s attempt to give retiring father Fernando Cuadra Sr. a farewell trophy. 





4 - HE WAS PLUM TO THE EIGHTH MILE BEFORE I LEFT -Rickie Smith has seen a lot in a lifetime of drag racing, but the one thing that transpired on Sunday he didn't see coming when he rolled through the gates at zMAX Dragway on Thursday. In fact, months ago, when he planned to run Competition Eliminator at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals on an off-weekend, he had never thought it could happen in a million years. 

Smith has been drag racing for a long time, but Sunday marked a million years. 

"I can't believe this is happening," Smith said. "I came down here for Parkway Ford just to put on a show. I'm more excited doing this than racing Pro Modified. That's badass racing, ya'll."

Smith was .028 on the tree to beat Joel Warren in the final. How impressive was this feat?

No. 1 Smith was running a full tree in a Pro Modified car.

No. 2, prior to this weekend, the last time he ran a five-tenths sportsman tree was in 1974 while racing the Maverick, which he would eventually use to dominate IHRA's Super Modified division. The eliminator would eventually die because Smith won so much. 

"God was holding my thumb," Smith said. - Bobby Bennett 


4B – TAKE THAT – Reigning NHRA champ Gaige Herrera led a three-bike Vance & Hines contingent in the final quad, claiming his second victory in as many Pro Stock Motorcycle races this season and 13th overall. His crew chief, Andrew Hines, said the team’s “lethal package” put rookie Richard Gadson and 2010 series champion L.E. Tonglet in the final round, too, against lone ranger and runner-up John Hall. Herrera said his team “really showed out this weekend,” and he slapped back at his critics. Herrera said his current Vance & Hines set-up is “a hard combo to beat. It’s going to take a motor blowing up or something to stop us. All the haters make us push that much harder. We’re out here to prove them all wrong.” Gadson was making his first final-round appearance, red-lighting Tonglet was looking for his 21st victory, and Hall was hoping to win for the first time since the 2013 U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis.
5 – OOOF – Ron Capps’s oildown in Lane 4 took about 75 minutes to clean and helped extend the first round of eliminations to one hour, 51 minutes. He didn’t address the situation in his post-race remarks. 
6 – BUTNER CARVES OUT PERSONAL RECORD - Bo Butner, the 2017 Pro Stock series champion and Sunday’s winner of the Mountain Motor Pro Stock final, tied Jeg Coughlin Jr. Sunday as only the second racer to triumph in seven different classes. “I’ve been fortunate to be in a lot of great cars with a lot of great people,” he said.




7 – HIGH SCHOOL REUNION - Super Street’s Brad Plourd earned his 23rd career victory, which gave him trophies at zMAX Dragway in four different Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series classes. And he did it in the car that he drove to high school years ago. Other sportsman winners were drag-racing legend Rickie Smith (Comp Eliminator), Mike Coughlin (Top Alcohol Dragster), Sean Bellemeaur (Top Alcohol Funny Car), Don Shuford (Super Stock), Billy Upton (Super Gas), Brett Candies (Stock), Colby Fuller (Super Comp), James Hinkle (Top Sportsman), and Holden Laris (Top Dragster). Waylon Bennett won the Jr. Dragster Shootout.  
8 – TAKE WHAT YOU CAN SALVAGE – Josh Hart and his TechNet/R+L Carriers Top Fuel team didn’t get what they had hoped for this weekend, but they learned to appreciate the small accomplishments they do achieve. In the opening round, Hart posted the quickest reaction time of his quad, but Clay Millican and Billy Torrence advanced. “That is how wild four-wide racing is. I knew I had a good light, and when we made the turn and they pointed to Clay and Billy I knew we must have just missed it. We are going to get back to two-wide racing in Chicago – and we went to the final at that race last season. We are making consistent runs, but we need to get quicker. We lost a run in the opening qualifier, so we need to take advantage of every run in Chicago.” As the third-place finisher Saturday in the Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty Challenge during qualifying, Hart pocketed $1,000 and a single championship point.  



9 – WALLACE CONSIDERING THE SPORT? – Mike Wallace, a Charlotte-area resident and former NASCAR racer, said he has been inspired by hanging out with longtime friend Tony Stewart and Leah Pruett, a Top Fuel veteran and Stewart’s wife, this weekend. Wallace, 65, said he grew up in Missouri with iconic chassis builder Jerry Haas, and that he has visited with five-time Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson about driving a Pro Stock car. Wallace, whose 20-year driving career wound down in 2015 after nearly 200 races, is the brother of NASCAR notables Rusty and Kenny Wallace. Mike Wallace has another drag-racing connection. His daughter, Chrissy, at one time drove in the NASCAR ranks for Rick Ware, owner of Top Fuel favorite Clay Millican’s dragster. NASCAR alum Ryan Newman also watched the competition from the starting line Sunday – but said that’s as close as he’s gotten to trying drag racing.    



John Force loves everyone he associates with but sometimes struggles to pronounce names correctly. This weekend he waffled between correctly calling his newest sponsor “Rick Hendrick” and on occasion incorrectly saying, “Rich Hendricks.” After advancing to the Funny Car semifinal round Sunday, he said in his top-end interview, “I’ll get it right sooner or later or he’ll fire me. He won’t put up with this s---.”
Krista Baldwin is anticipating her next Top Fuel race, which will be May 17-19 at the Chicago suburb of Joliet, Ill., the next stop on the schedule. She said she received a bit of a mock-ultimatum from her grandfather, drag-racing pioneer Chris Karamesines, this past week. Baldwin said he told her, “If you don’t run well on Friday, I’m going home.” She told him, “I hope you do. Well, you live there. I hope you go home.” She said, “That’s the way he says, ‘I love you.’ Nothing like some grandfatherly advice to get my butt in action. We’re going to go cheetah-fast.” Her dragster has a bit of cheetah-print trim on it. Baldwin gave a shout-out to all the women in the pro ranks Sunday morning for advancing out of their quads: Jasmine Salinas and Brittany Force in Top Fuel, Alexis DeJoria in Funny Car, Erica Enders in Pro Stock, and Angie Smith in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

“He showed up with their shirt on, so it was news to me.” J.R. Todd, regarding losing valuable Kalitta Motorsports team member David Boyer to Alexis DeJoria’s DC Motorsport crew.

“We didn’t have lane choice all day, and I don’t think it’s a big factor in regards to Four-Wides. I don’t think qualifying is a big factor when it comes to Four-Wides, either.” Third-place Funny Car finisher J.R. Todd

Pro Stock racer Camrie Caruso, still hobbling on crutches this weekend following her top-end crash April 6 at Phoenix, says she’s hoping to return to the racetrack by the August race at Brainerd, Minn.