At last year's SEMA show I experienced some engine intensity beyond anything I have before. For the week of SEMA I roomed with John McNulty, engineer extraordinaire, fellow nerd, and motorsports aerodynamicist. John was asked by one of his buddies who works with a Top Fuel team for some advice to aerodynamically tweak his team's Top Fuel Funny Car, so we headed to an NHRA Top Fuel event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. 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.
In case you're getting cocky because of a typical highly modified compact car's power-to-displacement ratio, there's 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 Car produce over 7,000 hp, or about the equivalent of seven of Titan Motorsports' Supras. No one knows for sure, however, because there isn't a dyno made that can contain the power of a Top Fueler.
One of the eight cylinders of a Top Fuel dragster or a Funny Car produces over 750 hp, equaling the entire horsepower output of XS Engineering's Time Attack GT-R. A Top Fuel dragster accelerates from 0-100 in less than 0.8 second, almost 10 seconds quicker than the new R35 GT-R. A Top Fuel dragster leaves the starting line with a force nearly seven times that of gravity or six times harder than a Turbo FWD Sportsman class Honda Civic, sometimes exceeding 280 mph in just 660 feet.
Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars consume as much as 20 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 10 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.
A Top Fueler's roots supercharger takes as much as 1,100 hp to turn at maximum output or about what a built-to-the-hilt 2JZ will do and produces over 75 pounds of boost. The blast from the exhaust headers alone produces over 1,000 pounds of downforce or about twice as much as all of the Cyber Evo's wings splitter, canards, and diffusers together, making a substantial contribution to traction at the big end.
We had the privilege of being part of the crew that accompanies the car to the burnout box. The experience was pretty scary because there's a complicated checklist that the crew must do with precision and discipline to just simply stage the car. Nearly any deviation from this procedure results in the engine blowing up spectacularly.
It goes something like this. The car is started on methanol with a squirt of gasoline into the butterflies-too much and the car explodes. The engine starts and the crew chief switches the master fuel control from start to lean. If he forgets this step the engine will blow up. If the driver fiddles with the throttle here, the engine will blow up as well. The crew lowers the body and the driver has to proceed to the burnout box fairly quickly due to the engine's lack of cooling system-any dawdling here will cause the engine to blow up.
The thing has hundreds of ways to blow up just at the starting line and we're all standing within feet or sometimes inches of this grenade. The car stages and launches when the light goes green. There's no fineness involved here; the driver has to instantly floor it. Anything less and the engine blows up. If you're in the crew, the effect is stunning. You're pounded by a 150-plus-dB blast of noise as well as a pounding concussion that knocks the wind out of your lungs. You're blinded by the fumes, deafened by the noise, and made dumb by the concussion that makes speaking impossible, as if you were standing too close to a detonating 105 howitzer round.
This is what crewing for a Top Fueler is like. Were we in pain? Yes. Were we dirty? Yes, we were drenched in a smelly and flammable mixture of oil, nitro, methanol, rubber dust, and sweat. Was it scary? Yes. Would we do it again? Hell yes, and this time I want to turn wrenches!