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Four-wide Charlotte exhibition draws praise, concern

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CLERMONT, Ind.

The NHRA Carolina Nationals are already must-see viewing for drag racing fans, kicking off the Countdown to 1 playoff run.

But two exhibition races are the talk of the pits.

Bruton Smith's zMAX Dragway opened last year with four racing lanes, and earlier this week the NHRA announced it would use them all for the first time in two exhibitions — one with four Top Fuel dragsters and one with four Funny Cars. That's 28,000 ground-shaking horsepower running at one time, moments before the final round of eliminations on Sunday, Sept. 20.

"It's going to be a once in a lifetime thing to do something like that," said Morgan Lucas, driver of his family-owned Geico Powersports Top Fuel dragster. "I'd do it in heartbeat."

That opinion isn't universal. Offers to participate will be extended to the eight cars in each class that lose in the first round of eliminations, in order of season points. So no driver wants to be eligible, but some of those who end up with the free time expressed reservations.

One factor is that there will be no compensation for running. NHRA officials confirmed that the league will not reimburse teams, who pay thousands of dollars for every run.

"Why wouldn't you? You're asking us to come and make a run, it's going to be tough enough because we're going to be out of competition," said Tony Pedregon, the owner/driver of the Q Horsepower Chevy Impala Funny Car. "I think anyone should be compensated for racing their car down the racetrack as part of the show."

Others see a logistical nightmare, with four teams simultaneously firing up the engines and four drivers staging. Two drivers will be in lanes that the professional classes will not have used all weekend.

"You've got to be a quick loser to get that opportunity, because they'll take the quickest of all the losers (for lane choice). If you're over (in the non-professional lanes), no way, we won't do it. It's a green track," said Budweiser Top Fueler Brandon Bernstein. "It's an extra test run if you look at it that way, but you're not going to learn anything. You'll just waste money."

Funny Car driver Ron Capps proposed a different time for the exhibition.

"I would have rather had Friday night sessions, make the last four in points equal those lanes out and run," said Capps, of Don Schumacher Racing. "You get flames at night, the fans enjoying the fire. Our sport is all about the flames out of the pipe, so why not take advantage of it?

"The problem to me is I want to do everything to make Bruton Smith happy. I love his ideas, I love what he wants to do for our sport and I love going to his racetracks. I'm just not sure it was thought out on the competition side."

Or maybe those are just details.

"I think sissies have problems with stuff like that," Lucas said. "You've got to be able to step up and do it when you haven't had a chance to do it."

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