Go experience an NHRA drag racing event in person

The numbers are staggering. At the highest level of drag racing, the Funny Car and Top Fuel race sleds are propelled down the strip by 11,000 horsepower monster motors. In just 1,000 feet of tarmac, a Funny Car will reach 320 to 340 miles per hour and needs less than four seconds to do so. The site is truly awesome, but it’s the sound of these beasts that rocks you to your core.
And the nitromethane fuel will leave you a bit teary eyed while crying out for more.

I’m introduced to both the team and mechanical elements that make a proper Funny Car crew come together. Bob Tasca III is the driver for the Ford Motorcraft race car, which wears a Mustang-esque shell of carbon fiber. Tasca hails from Rhode Island. It’s in the cozy confines of New England where he oversees a number of dealerships his family has run for decades. In fact, the Tasca name is Ford drag racing royalty. Back in 1967, Bob’s grandfather created one hell of a car when he had drag racer and builder Bob Gilbert help him figure out how to stuff a 428 into the engine bay of a Mustang.
The car was called the Mustang KR-8. It quickly caught the attention of Hot Rod readers and Ford corporate. Tasca showed the car to Ford engineers, who used the KR-8 as the model for the 1968 Ford Mustang Cobra Jet. Fast Forward to 2019, and Tasca III is running a Mustang with quite a bit more power than his grandfather’s old pony car.

When sitting sans body, the Funny Car chassis and powertrain are on full display. Unlike a Top Fuel car, the engine sits ahead of the driver. It’s a V8 paired with a massive supercharger. Series rules dictate that the engine can be no larger than 500 cubic inches. Everyone can make claims as to what sort of engine architecture their car runs, but it’s common knowledge throughout the pits that pretty much every car runs a modified version of the old-school 426 Hemi Elephant. 
With that powerplant pulling the car down the track at ridiculous speed, the driver experiences 6G of acceleration. Once the shoot is pulled, that initial moment of deceleration can hit 7G. This all takes place in the span of four seconds time.

Before the heavy hitters are out on the track, the NHRA event runs “slower” alcohol-fueled classes. The noise here is loud. The action on track is fast. And I’m quickly told that this is nowhere close to what’s yet to come. While the most powerful cars are getting ready, I get a taste of this next level back in the Motorcraft pit.
Tasca’s crew sets to work on an engine test. As the team stands by, Tasca himself is seated behind the wheel with the car up on jack stands and the body removed. A squirt  of nitromethane is applied into the intake, a starter is applied to the nose of the engine, and the organized insanity process resumes again. Everyone in the pit space is wearing masks because nitromethane will burn up your eyes and throat. Though it dissipates quickly, it’s not fun even for those short blasts. Here the crew watch for any potential issues and it’s all done at part throttle.
Once that’s concluded, the car is put together and brought to the staging area. Cars, support trucks, drivers, and crew all mingle ahead of their runs. Drivers might often stow away in the support truck to focus on the impending task, while others shake off any anxiety by chatting with others and putting their mind elsewhere.

Once on the start line, each driver will rip through a burnout. It’s a violent process that gives only a hint at the madness about to be unleashed. A short burst of power heats up the tires while the noise is a siren call to let everyone in a 30-mile radius know that a race is about to go down.

Drivers stage their cars. The lights align. There’s a flash of yellow which tells the drivers to get their throttle foot in motion ahead of the green that’s about to illuminate on the tree. And then it hits you. By it, I mean everything. You have the tremendous noise. There’s concussive pressure ripping through your torso. The sensation of nitromethane entering your eye, ear, and nose holes is burning and oddly thrilling all at once. And in a flash, what was once stationary has moved 1,000 feet away from you at a rate of speed that makes small aircraft owners jealous.

The car returns to its pit space, where Bob Tasca III jumps out to talk over the run with his Crew Chief. As he’s doing so, the squad of wrenches attack the car. The body is removed quickly. It’s followed by the supercharger. After that, you’ll see the headers, heads, and soon the clutch discs all coming out. Those clutch discs are still giving off a very visible amount of heat, yet each is checked for remaining thickness. Some are saved, while others are tossed. Everything is broken down, examined, and then prepared to be put right back together. Organized insanity, indeed.

If you haven’t been, you need to fix that. This is a spectacle. It has to be seen in person to be fully appreciated. Your heart and soul will thank you… even if your body and ears do not.

[Images copyright 2018 – Hooniverse/Jeff Glucker]

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8 responses to “Go experience an NHRA drag racing event in person”

  1. 0A5599 Avatar

    A squirt of nitromethane is applied into the intake, a starter is applied to the nose of the engine, and the organized insanity process resumes again.”
    Most teams use alcohol to prime and start the engine, and then switch to nitro once the engine is running. The exhaust noise gets noticeably more cackle in it when the switchover takes place.

    1. Jeff Glucker Avatar
      Jeff Glucker

      Ah good to know – I just knew it was a bottle of fuel, I assumed nitrometh…

      1. 0A5599 Avatar

        Methanol is considerably cheaper, and more forgiving on parts/less blow-uppy than nitro, so it is often used to warm up the engine/leak check in the pits.

  2. robbydegraff Avatar

    This is fucking fantastic

  3. outback_ute Avatar

    A friend wrenches on one of these, but I haven’t caught up with him since they started racing. When I spoke to him they were still chasing sponsorship to make it happen, these things run on bulk $$$.

  4. neight428 Avatar

    Well put.
    I attended one of the NHRA national races out in Baytown, Texas one spring and had walked back to the car in the parking lot to eat lunch between qualifying rounds. One of the Nitro funny cars had a solo pass due to some screw up with the timing system earlier, and from a half mile away where we parked, the noise made me jump when it went into the burnout routine. It’s bonkers.

    1. dukeisduke Avatar

      When the Top Fuelers or Funny Cars go down the track, it practically turns your whole body into Jell-O. Epic!

  5. dukeisduke Avatar

    Jeff, did you make it to Burgers & Burnouts (the combined Hot Rod Magazine and In-And-Out Burger 70th anniversary celebration) this weekend? I’m sorry that I’m 1,500 miles away and couldn’t make it. Scrolling through my Instagram feed was almost more than I could take. Sniff, sniff.