So What’s the Big Deal about Drag Racing?

I’m writing this while watching the NHRA U.S. Nationals from Indianapolis. This event is their most prestigious; it’s like their Daytona 500, their Super Bowl. The Top Fuel dragsters qualified for this event, from #1 to #16 qualifier, are separated by only .067 seconds! That’s a record!

I enjoy watching drag racing almost as much as I do football! Why is that, though? I mean, I have to deal with football fans who think that NASCAR drivers race in a circle…


… which they don’t. So explaining straight line drag racing to these same people is an exhausting experience. Football, simply explained to my 6 year old, is a bunch of dudes attempting to get a ball across a line. Drag racing, explained to that same little girl, is a driver attempting to get a car across a line… first! There is no team in drag racing. Of course there is a team that prepares the car and tunes it; but come race day, it’s driver vs. driver. I’ve watched some upsets, thus far… things are getting interesting!

The real fascination, to me at least, is the power that the Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars produce, and the ability of the teams and drivers to get them down the track without going up in smoke or flames (which they do at times).

Here are some facts about these fire breathing vehicles.

One dragster’s 500-inch Hemi makes more horsepower then the first 4 rows of NASCAR race cars at Daytona. That’s 8 cars!

Fun Hemi fact: Ford was running engines with hemispherical combustion chambers long before Chrysler/Dodge/Plymouth ever did. Chrysler just marketed it first!

These cars don’t run on gasoline, but 90% nitromethane…


… and 10% methanol. If you’re within 50 feet of one of these cars while they’re running, the fumes burn your nose, mouth and eyes like you wouldn’t believe… It’s freakin’ awesome!

Under full throttle, a dragster engine consumes 1 1/2 gallons of nitromethane per second, the same rate of fuel consumption as a fully loaded 747 but with 4 times the energy volume.

The supercharger takes more power to drive than a stock Hemi makes.

Even with nearly 3000 CFM of air being rammed in by the supercharger on overdrive, the fuel mixture is compressed into nearly-solid form before ignition. Cylinders run on the verge of hydraulic lock.

Dual magnetos apply 44 amps to each spark plug. This is the output of an arc welder in each cylinder.

At stoichiometric (exact) 1.7:1 air/fuel mixture (for nitro), the flame front of nitromethane measures 7050 degrees F.

Brittany Force Night

Nitromethane burns yellow. The spectacular white flame seen above the stacks at night is raw burning hydrogen, dissociated from atmospheric water vapor by the searing exhaust gases.

Spark plug electrodes are totally consumed during a pass. After half track, the engine is dieseling from compression-plus the glow of exhaust valves at 1400 degrees F. The engine can only be shut down by cutting off its fuel flow.

If spark momentarily fails early in the run, unburned nitro builds up in those cylinders and then explodes with a force that can blow cylinder heads off the block in pieces or blow the block in half.

Antron Brown Explosion

Dragsters twist the crank (torsionally) so far (20 degrees in the big end of the track) that sometimes cam lobes are ground offset from front to rear to re-phase the valve timing somewhere closer to synchronization with the pistons.

A Top Fuel dragster leaves the starting line with a force of 5 Gs, the same force of the space shuttle when it leaves the launch pad at Cape Canaveral.

If all the equipment is paid off, the crew worked for free, and for once NOTHING BLOWS UP, each run costs $1000.00 per second.

A Top Fuel dragster accelerates from 0 to 100 mph in less than .8-second, almost 11 seconds quicker than it takes a production Porsche 911 Turbo to reach the same speed?

A Funny Car is slowed by a reverse force more than 7 Gs when both parachutes deploy simultaneously.

Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars consume between four and five gallons of fuel during a thousand foot run, which is equivalent to between 16 and 20 gallons per mile.

Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars use between 10 and 12 gallons of fuel for a complete pass, including the burnout, backup to the starting line, and thousand foot run.

NHRA Top Fuel dragsters can exceed 280 mph in just 660 feet.

From a standing start, Top Fuel dragsters accelerate faster than a jumbo jet, a fighter jet, and a Formula One race car.

A fuel pump for a Top Fuel dragster or Funny Car delivers 65 gallons of fuel per minute, equivalent to eight bathroom showers running at the same time.

The fuel-line pressure for Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars is between 400 and 500 pounds, about 20 times greater than the pressure on passenger-car fuel pumps.

Depending on size and angle, the large rear wing on a Top Fuel dragster develops between 4,000 and 8,000 pounds of downforce.

The 17-inch rear tires used on Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars wear out after four to six runs, or about two miles. Some brands of passenger-car tires are guaranteed for 80,000 miles.

It takes just 15/100ths of a second for all 7,000 horsepower of a Top Fuel dragster engine to reach the rear wheels.

It’s desirable for a Top Fuel dragster to race with its front wheels inches off the ground for about the first 200 feet of the run. This ensures proper weight transfer to the rear wheels, a crucial part of a good launch and quick run.

The nitromethane used to power the engines of Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars costs about $30 per gallon.

So there ya have it! Bad ass cars to say the least! Wish I could drive one at some point!

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