Top Fuel Dragsters
One Top Fuel dragster's 500-cubic-inch Hemi
engine makes more horsepower than the first four rows at the Daytona 500.
A stock Dodge Hemi V-8 engine cannot produce
enough power to drive the dragster's supercharger
With 3000 CFM of air being rammed in by the
supercharger on overdrive, the fuel mixture is compressed into a near-solid
form before ignition. Cylinders run on the verge of hydraulic lock at full
At the stoichiometric 1.7:1 air-fuel mixture
for nitromethane, the flame front temperature measures about 7000 degrees
Nitromethane burns yellow. The spectacular
white flame seen above the stacks at night is raw burning hydrogen,
separated from atmospheric water vapor by the searing heat of the exhaust
Dual magnetos supply 44 amps to each spark
plug. This is the output of an arc welder in each cylinder.
Spark plug electrodes can be totally consumed
during a single pass. After half-distance, the engine is dieseling from
compression plus the glow of exhaust valves at 1400 degrees Fahrenheit. The
engine is shut down by cutting the fuel flow.
If a spark plug fails early in the run,
un-burned nitro can build up in the affected cylinder and explode with
sufficient force to blow the cylinder head off in pieces or split the
cylinder block in half.
In order to exceed 300 mph in 4.5 seconds,
dragsters must accelerate at an average of more than 4 g's. In order to
reach 200 mph before half-distance, the launch acceleration approaches 8
g's. A Top Fuel dragster reaches more than 300 mph before you have completed
reading this sentence.
With a redline that can be as high as 9500
rpm, Top Fuel engines turn approximately 540 revolutions from light to
light. Including the burnout, the engine needs to survive only 900
revolutions under load.
Assuming that all of the equipment is paid
off, the crew works gratis, and nothing breaks, each run costs an estimated
$1000 per second.
The current Top Fuel dragster elapsed time
record is 4.441 seconds for the quarter-mile (October 5, 2003, Tony
Schumacher). The top-speed record is 333.25 mph as measured over the last 66
feet of the quarter-mile (November 9, 2003, Doug Kalitta)
Putting all of this into perspective: You are
driving the average $140,000 Lingenfelter twin-turbo Corvette Z06. More than
a mile up the road, a Top Fuel dragster is staged and ready to launch down a
measured quarter-mile as you pass. You have the advantage of a flying start.
You run the Vette up through the gears and blast across the starting line
and past the dragster at an honest 200 mph. The "tree" goes green for both
of you at that moment. The dragster launches and starts after you. You keep
your foot down, but you hear a brutal whine that sears your eardrums, and
within three seconds, the dragster catches you and beats you to the finish
line, a quarter-mile from where you just passed him. From a standing start,
the dragster spotted you 200 mph and not only caught you but nearly blasted
you off the road when he passed you within a mere 1320 feet.
Hemi to Hemi