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5 Things We Learned at the NHRA 4-Wide Nationals in Charlotte

The second and final four-wide race of the season is in the books after an interesting weekend in Charlotte. Here are our five big takeaways from zMAX Dragway.
29 Apr 2024
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
Five Things We Learned at the NHRA 4-Wide Nationals in Charlotte

The second and final four-wide race of the season is in the books after an interesting weekend in Charlotte. Here are our five big takeaways from zMAX Dragway.


For the second straight event, a winner from Saturday’s Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge carried that momentum into Sunday’s race and walked away a double winner. In Las Vegas, it was Jeg Coughlin Jr. in Pro Stock and in Charlotte, it was his Scag Power Equipment teammate Justin Ashley who mowed through both Top Fuel fields.

The Mission Challenge, introduced last season, brings racing to Saturday qualifying in a series of rematches from the previous event, and it’s been warmly received by teams eager for bonus bucks and points, and it’s proven to be a welcome warmup for the drivers heading into Sunday.

Ashley was the king of the Challenge last year, winning six times, and he’s clearly gotten the knack of winning.

“It doesn't matter whether it's qualifying, whether it's the Mission Challenge, or whether it's race day, we want to win each and every lap that we make down the racetrack,” he said. “Whether it's a race, an event, or the Challenge, it's all equally as tough to win because the Top Fuel field is just that. I definitely try to push the Tree as hard as I can each and every time.”

He left first on both finals, with near-identical lights of .045 and .046, and walked away from zMAX a huge winner with a points lead nearing 100 markers. Mission accomplished!


Matt Hagan didn’t suddenly grow (more) muscles and turn all green and superhero, but it’s clear that the four-time Funny Car world champ and crew chief Dickie Venables had had enough of this not-winning stuff.

Winless since last year’s Dallas event, the Direct Connection team put it all together on Sunday to get Hagan his milestone 50th career win and turn the attention away from early-season dominators Austin Prock and Bob Tasca III.

“I kind of felt like we were behind the eight ball, because this time last year, we'd already won three races,” he said. "But it's a long season; it's a marathon, not a sprint. We want to win as many races as we can for all of our sponsors, but at the end of the day, you have to make sure you're ready to go with those [last] six [Countdown to the Championship races].

“We came in pretty much over clutched at the beginning of the season — we made some changes in the bellhousing and did some R&D motor stuff — and it's paying off, but when you change one thing, it changes six things, and it takes some time and takes some races to fix that. We just didn't have the test sessions that we normally would have. It seemed like it rained everywhere, and we weren't able to get enough runs. We just ended up using some of these races to do that.

“But it always feels good to get that first one off your back and take a deep breath and and go, 'Well, we didn't go winless this year,' and I assure you more wins are coming.”


There’s a little doubt that Aaron Stanfield has the DNA of his four-time championship-winning father Greg as he already had scored 24 wins in four different classes entering the event, but he almost pulled off a rare double in Charlotte, winning the Holley EFI Factory X class in his Janac Brothers Camaro and then finishing second in the Pro Stock final quad in his JHG Camaro.

Stanfield previously almost doubled in Gainesville in 2020, winning the Flexjet NHRA Factory Stock Showdown title — his milestone 25th victory — and runner-upping in Pro Stock, but there seems to be little doubt that he’ll double in both Factory X and Pro Stock sometime. Factory X only runs six times this year, and we’re not saying he won’t do it this season, but he’ll clearly do it.


Although 2017 world champ Bo Butner seems to be at least momentarily done with racing in the traditional Pro Stock class – his most recent victory in the 500-inch class came in Richmond in 2019 – he clearly still knows how to win, which was evidenced by his score in the season opener for the Johnson’s Horsepower Garage Mountain Motor Pro Stock class in Charlotte.

Butner, who was racing alongside wife Randi Lyn in her class debut, qualified his Frank Gugliotta-tuned Camaro No. 1 and then raced to his 31st career victory. The victory gave Butner a win in a seventh different category, tying Jeg Coughlin for bragging lights in that impressive display of versatility.

"This was what we were hoping for, to start it out this way, and it's so cool to get a win in my seventh different class," said Butner. "That's something I've been trying to do for a while now, and to join Jeg Coughlin in that accomplishment feels pretty good. I've been doing this a long time, and I'm very fortunate to have driven a lot of great cars for a lot of great people. But this is awesome."

Since his last Pro Stock win in 2019, Butner has racked up four Super Gas national event wins – including Indy in 2022 – to go with previous wins in Comp eliminator (where he was the 2006 world champion), Super Stock, Stock, and Super Street.

Joining Butner in victory in Charlotte was Brad Plourd, who won in Super Street for his sixth different category (Comp, Super Stock, Stock, Super Comp, Super Gas, and now Super street), tying Peter “the Great” Biondo with wins in a half-dozen classes.


What started out as a little bit of a lark and a chance to get his sponsor, Parkway Ford, a little exposure in Charlotte, where his usual class, Pro Mod, was not competing, turned into one of the most enjoyable wins of Rickie Smith’s career.

Driving his big-inch nitrous-assisted Mustang, Smith dominated Competition eliminator racing at zMAX, qualifying No. 1 at a staggering .90 under the A/PM index with a 5.76 and, despite the fact that he hasn’t raced on a full Tree since 1974, when he was running NHRA Comp (for a brief time) and IHRA Super Mod, he cut great lights throughout most of eliminations to try to preserve as much index as he could while chasing all of his opponents.

He had to give up two seconds on Tree against tough David Billingsley in round and 2.3 seconds to Lonnie Johnson in the second frame (.035 light) to earn a semifinal bye. Against second-generation slugger Joel Warren in the final, Smith had to sit on the line for 2.7 seconds as Warren headed downtrack but, after an .028 light, passed him at nearly 100 mph in the traps – 249.21 mph to 154.51 – to take the win.

“I’m more excited and more happy than when I win in Pro Modified; that’s bad-ass racing there,” he said.

Look for a detailed story on Smith’s victory later this week on NHRA.com.