Unholy power and speed: Top Fuel Dragsters

Unholy power and speed: Top Fuel Dragsters - Drag Racing

Most petrolheads have a common car in their head when they think fast and powerful. For me, it’s a 2004 Ford Mustang Cobra “Terminator”, a car I’ve lusted after since it first came out. With a base horsepower figure of 390, a simple porting of the supercharger or addition of a new one can easily bump it up to 500 horses. Might I also add they sound great with aftermarket exhaust! You may be wondering though why I bring the Cobra up, but you’ll see soon enough. Today I want to give facts and technical information of the fastest cars in drag racing, Top Fuel.

The Chasis and Body

Notice all the welds and wiring that goes into a Top Fuel dragster!
Notice all the welds and wiring that goes into a Top Fuel dragster!

Top Fuel Dragster chassis are constructed from chromoly steel tubing, and the bodies are made from magnesium. Although they only go in a straight line, the chassis is very important in keeping the dragster stable and of course protecting the driver in an accident. In the past few years, more safety has been added to the driver’s compartment by either a full aircraft-type canopy or a raised shield. The overall design of these dragsters haven’t changed the past decade, and have done really well in protecting the driver in an accident.

The aircraft-like canopy used by Brittany Force
The aircraft-like canopy used by Brittany Force
This dragster crashed hard previously, but the chassis held up.
This dragster crashed hard previously, but the chassis held up.

The Powertrain

The typical Hemi motor found in a Top Fuel Dragster.
The typical Hemi motor found in a Top Fuel Dragster.

Now for the fun part, the big slice of America! Top Fuel dragsters are powered by a 500 cubic inch (8L) V8, loosely designed from the Chrysler Hemi used from the 60’s and 70’s. They are very basic motors, with a single cam in block and only two valves per cylinder. The block is composed of aluminum with cast iron liners. The pistons are also made of aluminum. Since these motors only run for up to two or three minutes at a time, there is no cooling system. The motors are cooled by the air and fuel constantly being brought into it. On top of the motor covered in a bulletproof blanket is the roots supercharger. It puts out typically 56-66psi and the supercharger requires 600hp for it to operate! Lastly we have the fuel, which is nitromethane. Nitromethane or known as “Nitro” is very explosive, smelly, and burns everything from your eyes to your mouth to your lungs. What is great about this fuel is that it allows the dragsters to make an estimated 10,000 horsepower! That’s 20 of my ‘04 Cobras!

That "smoke" from exhaust is actually raw nitromethane. Don't stand next to it too long it burns your eyes, REALLY BADLY!
That "smoke" from exhaust is actually raw nitromethane. Don't stand next to it too long it burns your eyes, REALLY BADLY!

Tires

Look at those big and meaty Goodyears!
Look at those big and meaty Goodyears!

The tires are 36.0 x 17.0 in the rear, and are usually filled to 7psi to allow for the “wrinkling” as seen above for optimum traction. The tires during a run actually decrease in width and increase in height due to the torque and speed of the dragsters! They last about 6 to 10 passes, or two miles.

Costs

Going 300 mph isn't for the poor!
Going 300 mph isn't for the poor!

My high school automotive teacher I had works on a Top Fuel team currently. Along with being able to see the car up close and get free parts used from the car, I get to learn the costs of running a Top Fuel car. His owner and driver is Pat Dakin, and he owns a huge metalworking business that is on his car (seen in the first picture in black and blue). What many people don’t realize about Top Fuel drag racing is how expensive it really is to go out for a weekend. Here’s a list of how much it costs.

One pass down the track if all goes well: $10,000 The motor is rebuilt after every run due to the explosiveness of the Nitro.

Supercharger: $30,000

Set of 2 tires: $1,000

Pistons (each): roughly $800

Connecting rods (each): roughly $250

Each team usually has 5 engines with them, 8 cylinder heads, 3 superchargers, and plenty of other motor parts. Top Fuel dragsters usually go through 10-14 gallons of Nitro in one 1100ft pass. My teacher has told me that for this year, his owner spent over 3-5 million dollars in engines for this year’s season. Is is not for the poor indeed.

I hope this informed you about one of my favorite race cars to watch, and I highly recommend you go see one when you can, seeing 10,000 horsepower monsters go 300mph in under 4 seconds is a true sight to behold. Just don’t forget to bring your earplugs!

Thanks for reading, and here’s a video for a good laugh!

Don't end up like this guy, and I wasn't lying about the Nitro burning! :)

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