Four-Wide Racing: A Different Kind of Challenge

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When the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals kick off today, NHRA fans will be treated to a different form of drag racing. Also referred to as “bracket racing,” the four-wide format offers a different kind of challenge.

We thought this might be a good chance to introduce the ins and outs of four-wide racing fans and readers.

The Four-Wide Format: How it Works

Four-Wide races pit four racers against each other, rather than the traditional two, in each round. The first two to finish advance to the next round.

This means that drivers who would have given up on a run in the two-wide format might continue the run in pursuit of a second-place finish.

As a result, many feel that the four-wide format rewards consistency much more than the two-wide format.

New Challenges

Drivers say that trust in your crew chief is extra important in the four-wide format. Simply hearing more than just one other car at the line means the run-up preparation to the race changes for the driver.

A driver must trust that their crew chief has taken account of how long the other cars have been running. This changes the driver’s timing in backing up and doing a burnout.

Rolling forward to the staging procedure is perhaps the most challenging part of the format. Visually, drivers are accustomed to looking at the light furthers to their right. So if, for example, a driver is in Lane 2, that light would actually be for Lane 4.

In a sport where a thousandth of a second can make a world of difference, even the slightest distraction can be a factor.

Staging Challenges

The four-wide format also presents staging challenges.

Due to a lengthier staging time, staging first puts drivers at risk of building up too much heat in the engine or clutch. They also risk burning too much fuel if another driver is taking a long time to stage, sometimes intentionally.

Drivers who stage last might fall victim to a “quick Tree.” While the lights are randomized, they can start as soon as the final driver is staged. That could catch the final driver to stage not being ready to go.

Challenges During a Four-Wide Race

In a standard two-wide race, drivers can easily get a feel for where their opponent is. However, trying to get a visual read on three other opponents can be a major distraction. Drivers need to really dial in and focus during the race.

A four-wide race is also exponentially louder for the driver than its two-wide counterpart. Drivers are less able to rely on conventional audio cues to get a sense of where they are and where they need to be.

In general, the margin of error is that much slimmer in the four-wide format.

What to Expect

First and foremost, expect a wild time. The crowd at The Strip in Las Vegas is enormous. The different format is exciting. Drivers will be going all-out.

But beyond that, look for more experienced and crafty drivers to pull out some wins.

Fan-favorite Clay Millican, a veteran of the four-wide racing format, said in an interview last week that he was looking forward to the challenge.

“I’m a bracket racer at heart,” said Millican. “I love the race and I love the huge crowds at an event like that. It’s way more fun to show out in front of a packed house and last year was a packed house.”


Coverage of the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals begins Friday, April 5th at 9:30 PM on FS1.