Nerd’s Eye View – Inside 10,000 horsepower!

Nerd's Eye View – Inside 10,000 horsepower!

Part 1: How do they do it?  A look inside the engine of the Matco Tools Championship-winning Top Fuel dragster

by Pablo Mazlumian

“One of our favorite and most viewed articles to date is breaking down this nitro-powered, horsepower madness. We not only show you the intricacies of what goes into making these motors last, but the DSR team also let us see data logs of some of the runs! Plus, we've got some “fun facts” about these cars that will make your jaw drop!”


You're strapped firmly inside the cockpit of a Top Fuel dragster, the belts just loose enough for you to breathe.  The 1000-foot finish line is nearly a blur in the distance. 

At the starting line, the six yellow Christmas tree lights flash for an instant and you release the hand-operated brake a smidgen before the light hits green.  Suddenly, in the next nanosecond, the supercharged V8 blasts out the most horrifying, eardrum-shattering roar to come from a non-nuclear, man-made device, triggering an eye-rolling 5.5G catapult into the distance.  In three-quarters of a second you've hit 100mph and then, count them, “1, 2, 3…”seconds later you've warped to 330mph, and are still pulling 1.5 G's—about the G-force the shuttle astronauts experience at launch.  That's 10,000 horsepower.

It's a scary thought, but there are a few dozen individuals experiencing this 24 weekends out of the year.  I was privileged to spend time with the Matco Tools-sponsored NHRA Top Fuel team, piloted by 2012 Championship winner Antron Brown and owned by Don Schumacher Racing.  Thanks to assistant crew chief Brad Mason, who's been with Antron Brown since his 2008 start in Top Fuel, I got a MotoIQ-exclusive look at just what on earth makes these engines pump out so much madness.

First, you may be wondering how the power is calculated.  You can't strap these car's to a dyno.  However, according to Mason a test was done around 2006 by a third party, and they came up with 10,000 horsepower using mathematical equations.  That said, Mason reports the Matco Tools team does use a torque-measuring device in the rear differential, and it has spiked to 12,000 lb-ft of torque at times.

Today we'll dive into the intricacies of the engine and entertain with some head-scratching facts and data logs.  Toward the end I also included a phone video I shot from 15 feet away, giving you just a taste of the acceleration.  We also have Part 2 already published!


Nitro cars sport an 8.2-liter (500 cubic inch) V8, which is slightly smaller than the current Dodge Viper 8.4-liter V10's displacement.  However, where a Viper averages around 76 hp/liter, a Nitro car pumps out 1200 hp/liter, thanks to a 14-71 roots-type blower pressurizing the motor to 65 PSI.  That's about 30% more power than a Nascar or Formula 1 engine…um…per cylinder (but the aforementioned cars will take it in the twisties). 

Fact #1: The Nitro car classes include Funny cars and Top Fuel cars. Both sport the same engines, but Top Fuel cars tend to cross the finish line about a quarter-second sooner, due to their sleeker design, 255-lb weight advantage (2300 vs 2555 lb for Top Fuel and Funny Car, respectively, with driver.), and the engine's location.  Top Fuelers have the engine behind the driver, putting more weight over the rear tires.

Considering the significant differences between the two, you'd think it should amount to a bigger difference than 0.25-seconds.  However, considering their trap speed, a quarter-second advantage equals a 120 foot advantage, or nearly eight Funny Car lengths (wait…what?).

The V8's aluminum block is rebuilt after each sub 4-second pass down the 1000 ft strip, and in an astonishing 40 minutes.
Notice the 9/16th-in A1 head studs, which secure the head to a torqued 185 ft-lb.  The flat top pistons are forged aluminum.  The “-3” designation you see represents minus three-thousands from the team's standard piston, the choice of which is dependant on predicted weather and altitude.


I geeked my way through the entry gates with a piston and rod assembly from our Project Supra for this.  Check out the difference between it on the left (duh) and a Nitro's.  The rod cap is nearly as big as a Supra's main cap! Yes, I know the Supra's piston looks damaged (more on that in Supra articles if you're curious).





  1. Thanks for the kind words, Charlie! I had gobs of fun doing it. Assuming you have looked through all nine pages published here, this is the only place that I know of. Let us know what you think of part two, which is linked here as well!

    1. I’ve stood next to “Big Daddy” Don Garlits when his crew chief puffed on his cigar and before he tossed into the “bleach” he poured around the slicks, told me to take cover.
      Before anyone had time to react the night sky lit up from his infamous fire burnout. So cool!

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