Revenge of the Nerd – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or Top Fuel Fun!
By Mike Kojima
A couple of weekends ago I took my 9 year old Daughter Christa to the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona. Being the jaded 9 year old she is, she loved the Top Fuel cars, liked the funny cars and thought the 6 second Pro-Stock cars were lame because they were “too slow”. In between runs I explained how the inner workings of Top Fuel and Funny cars tick. She was pretty amazed at some of the facts I told her about the cars and wanted to know how I knew so much about them. I told her the story of how I was a crew member for a Top Fuel Funny Car last year during SEMA week. I learned a lot about these amazing cars that day and I'll tell you the story I told her.
No our title has nothing to do with a Hunter S. Thompson Novel just something like it. If you are not a member of “The Industry” meaning the high performance industry, it’s hard to grasp the intensity of SEMA week, the world’s largest automotive trade show. It’s a week of non stop walking, networking and too fun extracurricular activities in Las Vegas. For the last SEMA show I got to experience some engine intensity beyond anything I have before by a long shot. For the week of SEMA I roomed with John McNulty, engineer extraordinaire, fellow nerd and motorsports aerodynamicist. John had gotten asked by one of his buddies who works on a Top Fuel team for some advice to aerodynamically tweak his teams Top Fuel Funny Car and I asked if I could tag along. Thus we headed to an NHRA Top Fuel event that was happening at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Now I have been around racing most of my life and both John and I are active road racers but my drag racing experience is limited to FWD Imports. Yes I had attended an NHRA Top Fuel weekend before but I had never gotten to look at or tinker on a Top Fueler up close. Well this day I got to and learn the meaning of fear.
In case you are getting cocky because of a typical highly modified compact car’s power to displacement ratio, there is nothing like perusing a Top Fueler to put things in a new and humbling perspective. Top Fuel cars are ruled by brute force engineering, the nitromethane-fueled engines of a Top Fuel dragster or Funny Cars produce over 7,000 horsepower, or about the equivalent of 7 of Titan Motorsports Supras. No one knows for sure because there isn’t a dyno made that can contain the power of a Top Fueler.
One cylinder of the eight cylinders of a Top Fuel dragster or a Funny Car produces over 750 horsepower, approximately equaling the entire horsepower output of Billy Johnson's FXMD Time Attack NSX. A Top Fuel dragster accelerates from 0 to 100 mph in less than .8-second, almost 10 seconds quicker than a R35 GT-R. A Top Fuel dragster leaves the starting line with a force nearly 8 times that of gravity or 6 times harder than a 9 second Turbo FWD Sportsman class Honda Civic, sometimes exceeding 280 mph in just 660 feet.
Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars consume as much as 30 gallons of fuel during a quarter-mile run. The fuel pump for a Top Fuel dragster delivers around 65 gallons of fuel per minute, equivalent to around 14 big Walbro fuel pumps running at once. The maximum fuel pressure for a Top Fueler is between 400 and 500 psi, about 10 times greater than the pressure on a modified turbo car. So much fuel is being dumped into the cylinders via 4 sets of injector nozzles that the engine runs very close to hydraulic lock. So close that it takes a huge amount of electrical power to fire the spark.
The magnetos that power a Top Fueler’s ignition system take about as much power as a Smart Car puts out to spin at maximum rpm. Because the engine is run nearly at hydraulic lock, the engine gets its oxygen mostly from the Nitromethane rather from the ambient air. In fact the power is controlled by metering the fuel, like a diesel instead of the throttle blades controlling the air flow like a conventional gas powered engine. The white flame you see from the exhausts when these cars run at night is hydrogen burning after being disassociated from the fuel by the engines violent pressure and heat. The cars burn a rules mandated fuel mixture of 90 percent Nitromethane and 10 percent methanol. Nitromethane can give 2.5 times the amount of power per an equivalent amount of gasoline.