Anybody reading these blogs are more than likely pretty serious race fans, so when we as racers or even race fans brag about our love of motor racing, it’s hard to explain the ferocity of these nitro Top Fuel and Funny Cars to somebody who has never been to a live pro NHRA race. I don’t care what kind of motorsports you follow, there’s nothing like going to an auto race live and taking somebody with you who has never been to one to experience it.
In the sport of NHRA Full Throttle drag racing, fans can feel 9000 horsepower vibrate through their bodies during a run and see a Top Fuel dragster or a Funny Car go four seconds to over 300 mph right in front of their eyes from a standing start. That is as extreme as you can get, and it’s always neat to see somebody’s face while he/she is watching that chest-vibrating launch on the starting line for the first time. I’ve always said that once you’ve seen it live and then you watch it on TV it’s going to be a completely different experience because you’ve been there live and you felt the vibration and you heard the sound. It’s much like the first time I went to the Indy 500 and they dropped the green flag and those 33 cars went into Turn 1 just thundering. I had never seen anything like it.
I’m glad I was there to experience it, but now that I know how it truly feels and sounds, I’m ready to watch the Indy 500 on TV, mainly because of the great coverage and the side-by-side racing that you don’t always get to see if you’re sitting in one location.
As for professional NHRA drag racing, it is so hard to translate what makes our sport exciting to the “small screen.” I think our sport is much better viewed live. You can see the entire race from your seat in the stands. And you can feel the ground shake as the cars take off at the starting line.
I know being on ESPN2 every race weekend, the show is always on about the same time and people know when to tune in. But when we run into somebody in an airport or restaurant or someone who has never been to a race but maybe had seen it on TV, you try to tell them how neat it is to go a live race. But you could talk to them until you’re blue in the face; it just doesn’t explain how dramatic the sport is.
Our cars are making 9000 horsepower. They run on nitromethane, which costs well over $30 per gallon. It’s a very expensive fuel and it’s a very volatile fuel. And, basically, the small explosions that this fuel makes within the engine are what produces the 9000 horsepower. There is nothing like hearing a Top Fuel engine run live.
The reason these cars are able to make the 9000 horsepower is because when the piston comes up to fire in the combustion chamber and it’s compressed, the explosion it makes shakes the ground that you stand on. If you spill nitromethane on the ground or in a pan or a bucket and throw a match to it, it won’t light. But when you put it inside of a combustion chamber and compress it, it’s a whole different story.
One thing the NHRA has done is limit the amount of nitromethane we can use. We run a mixture of 90 percent nitromethane and 10 percent methanol. And up until about a decade ago we could run as much nitro as we wanted as far as percentage. We could run 100 percent if we wanted to, but it usually was very hard on the engines and on the parts – they wouldn’t last even a quarter-mile.
To bring down the engine explosions that some teams were having, NHRA imposed a limit of 85 percent nitromethane for several years up until a couple of years ago, when they raised it to 90 percent. That’s where we are now.
Changing the percentage makes such a big difference in these engines that they don’t just change by one or two percent. They don’t go from running 88 percent to 89 percent per run. Sometimes they go by a tenth of a percent. And that’s how important it is to know exactly what amount of nitromethane goes into the engines.
We have a crew member who measures ours with a hydrometer. He measures it per run and it’s one of the most important parts of a tune-up. It’s probably the biggest adjustment a crew chief makes in the tune-up. Our engines are so explosive and three major factors apply to the tune-up: the nitro percentage, the compression ratio and the supercharger overdrive percent. I would say that out of those three, the most important is the nitro percentage.
We, as racers, really enjoy introducing “newbies” to our dynamic sport, especially when we’re able to get them to come to the races, and that goes for the sponsors as well. When a sponsor comes out for the first time to see what your sport is all about, you always feel excited about it. You always feel proud to show off your sport to somebody who is interested. But seeing the looks on their faces when you take them to the starting line and when they hear the engine run, its something you never forget.
Talk to you soon!Ron Capps