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Keeping Pace

Force, McClenathan, Edwards And Smith Race To Victory At zMAX Dragway

Four-wide drag racing action in the final round at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, NC. (Photo courtesy of NHRA)
Four-wide drag racing action in the final round at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, NC. (Photo courtesy of NHRA)

zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, NC hosted the first-ever four lane side by side drag racing event that awarded points on the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. Like most new occassions the sports biggest names rose to the top to claim victory.

Courtesy: NHRA Media Relations

CONCORD, N.C. – John Force continued his resurgence and made history Monday by racing to victory at the rain-delayed NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway.

It was the second win of the season for the 60-year-old Funny Car icon, who increased his series points lead to 89 over his rivals. Force, a 14-time world champion who suffered career-threatening injuries in a spectacular crash in Sept. 2007 in Dallas and endured one of the worst competitive seasons of his storied career in 2009, has returned to his familiar position as a championship-challenger this season.

"This is a little taste of history,” Force said. "This was special, like beating the dragsters at Bristol (2000 Winston Showdown). Thanks to (zMAX Dragway owners) Bruton and Marcus Smith. They took the money and spent it to make this happen. The hardest part was racing Ron Capps. He is always tough and (Matt) Hagan, now that he has (co-crew chief) John Medlen there, will put the fear into you. My own daughter also leaves nothing on the table. I’m proud of Ashley. She’s learned the game. This track is so good that we took wing off of it. I don’t usually run big speed, but it did this weekend.”

In the four-wide final, Force powered his Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang to a 4.036 second run at 316.23 mph to finish ahead of his daughter, Ashley Force Hood, longtime rival Ron Capps and second-year driver Matt Hagan. It was Force’s 128th career victory and first at zMAX Dragway. Runner-up Force Hood set a national speed record at 316.38 mph in her Castrol GTX Mustang.

Cory McClenathan (Top Fuel), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were winners at the first NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event to featuring racing in four lanes instead of the traditional two.

Veteran driver McClenathan became the first Top Fuel driver to win a four-wide race, finishing in front of runner-up Doug Kalitta and semifinalists Antron Brown and Doug Herbert. McClenathan, who regained the series points lead with the effort, finished in 3.820 at 319.60 in his FRAM dragster to earn his 33rd career victory and second of the season.

"(Crew chiefs) Todd Okuhara, Phil Shuler and the FRAM boys are just so good this year," McClenathan said. "They give me what it takes to go out there and win drag races. We came here with the opinion that we need to be able to go four-wide, we need to be able to understand the lights, and I had a certain way that I went about it all weekend long. I kept the same plan and it worked out for us. I was happy with the whole thing.”

Edwards raced to his third victory of the season and 23rd overall in Pro Stock, holding off Jason Line, Greg Stanfield and Bob Yonke. Edwards finished in 6.596 at 210.05 in his Penhall/Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP to take his second win at the North Carolina track and first-ever in the four-wide configuration.

"I'll tell ya, this four-wide deal is hard on people, but it's been a great weekend,” Edwards said. "It was fun; it was confusing a lot of times, but it was fun. It was different, but you still had to do everything right. I had a good time, and anytime you can win a race it's a great time. This is a great start to hopefully another great season. I feel real blessed to have won again and thank God and give him all the glory.”

Local-favorite Smith of King, N.C., raced to his first Pro Stock Motorcycle victory of the season and 11th of his career. He rode his Al-Anabi Buell to a 6.973 at 189.84 to finish in front of defending world champ Hector Arana, Steve Johnson and Michael Phillips.

"I love this four wide deal,” Smith said. “I’m glad that NHRA and Bruton [Smith] did this. It was fun, just like NASCAR having road races. It was a different atmosphere."

The NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series continues April 9-11 with the O’Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway Park, Baytown, Texas.

Keeping Pace

Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.