In my last diary
, I started to write about how important it is to have a crew chief who totally understands what a driver is dealing with when driving a 300-mph-plus Funny Car down either a quarter-mile track or to 1000 feet.
I think the great drivers have always had a crew chief to not only help set up their car but with whom they could communicate really well. And I think that's what has made my career as successful as it has been so far, having Ed “Ace” McCulloch as my crew chief.
Besides being a crew chief, he's driven Top Fuel and Funny Car, so when I get back from a run and I try to explain to him what happened during a run, he gets it.
If I tried to explain to you the reader in the same terms I use to talk to my crew chief you would probably look at me like a dog hearing a high-pitched sound. It would be humorous to listen to. But, Ace understands, and I think that's probably the coolest thing about having a crew chief who has been a driver.
Now that I've given credit where credit is due, let's get back to explaining what goes on inside the cockpit of an 8000-horsepower Funny Car during a run.
Most drivers have two manual parachute levers mounted in the car. You have to remember, we're traveling so fast that we cover four football fields in four seconds racing to 1000 feet. Once the car gets going at half track and the clutch locks up and it throws you back in the seat, your next goal is to get ready to hit the parachute lever while you're trying to keep this 8000-horsepower Funny Car planted in the middle of the track.
You acquire an internal clock in your head, and for me personally, I always know at a certain point when I look out and I see the finish line coming – and at first it's pretty far out there – when to hit the lever. But, the car is moving so fast that by the time I hit that parachute lever I'm already to that point. I've gone several football fields in a fraction of a second.
When you reach up with one hand to deploy the parachute you're hoping that nothing unusual happens at that point, so you quickly get your hand back on the steering wheel. You're still on the throttle until you hit the finish line and then you let off the throttle and about that time the parachute opens.
The funny part is you think there's a lot of g-forces on your body when you're hauling down the track – and there are over six gs at that stage – but when the parachute deploys it's well over negative seven or eight gs, and sometimes more if you hit both parachutes. And it literally wants to throw you out the front of the car while you're going 310-mph-plus in four seconds with a whole lot of adrenaline gushing through your body.
You're quickly brought down to probably 150mph right when the 'chutes hit and then you're able to get on the brakes and bring the car to a stop less than another quarter-mile down at the end of the track.
That's why you see a Funny Car driver after he/she gets out of the car to do interviews at the top of the track so out of breath from just going a quarter of a mile (or 1000 feet). I think that answers the question of why we get out and we can hardly speak sometimes. It always amazes me to see a NASCAR driver who's just gone 500 miles get out of his car and is pretty nonchalant when doing his interview.
A lot of times when I race in other types of racing, the competitors joke with me that I should be more than comfortable because I'm used to going over 300mph. Everything is relative. When you get into a new form of racing, it's often uncomfortable just because it's new. So you're trying to adapt to it, and on top of that you have cars all around you, which we're not used to when we're drag racing side by side.
To be honest with you, during a run your competition is actually the lane that you're racing in. And your opponent is the wall on one side and the centerline of the track on the other side. These cars are so unpredictable and so squirrelly that they could, at any given moment, take a left or a right-hand turn and put you in either the wall or over the centerline (an immediate disqualification).
You're not even worried about who is in the lane next to you; you're worried about keeping the car straight.
I think what really separates our sport from other forms of motorsports, besides the fact that our speeds are the fastest of any auto racing series in the world, is that the technology that has continually advanced in most motorsports has taken the driver out of the equation in many instances. And you hear it from a lot of the drivers, whether they race in IndyCar or NASCAR. When it takes the driver out of the competition because of the advanced technology, it's upsetting to a driver who feels his/her driving talent should be the major factor in winning a race.
That's what is so neat about our sport of NHRA drag racing. As a spectator or a viewer, you may look and see that the car is just going straight down the track – but it's not. We're fighting for our lives to keep that Funny Car in the middle of the track.
And, on top of that, the reaction time is so very important from start to finish. Our races are won and lost on driver talent and there is no computer to control our car during the race. You can look at the computer data after the race and decide what to do for the following race. But during the run it's all about the driver – and the driver hanging on in a car that was given to him by a crew chief who knows how to tune a winner. But it's up to the driver to do his/her job on the Christmas Tree with the reaction time, and even more so to manhandle and finesse the car down the 1000-foot track.
You wouldn't think finesse is an appropriate word when talking about an 8,000-horsepower Funny Car, but in today's cars it is so important. It's a matter of inches a lot of times where races are won or lost, and whether the driver can keep that car in the center of the track where the rubber is.
It may sound easy, but when the car is trying to take off like a rocket and you're trying to keep it in the center of the groove and the front end is barely on the ground, it's hard to steer and it becomes a very difficult car to keep under control. And we certainly do not have power steering!Ron