Racing cars

How Top Fuel Drag Race Cars Hit 11,000 Horsepower

Like any self-respecting petrolhead, I’m captivated by all things internal combustion. I’ve been to racetracks around the world to see the best riders and riders on two and four wheels, respectively. But few experiences are etched into my brain as deeply as when I heard two 11,000-horsepower Top Fuel dragsters hauling off the start line. Following such a visceral experience – which might have made me believe the world was ending – I did some research to find out what makes these machines work.

Drag racing is one of the simplest forms of motorsport. with no corners, pit stops or gear changes, it comes down to “whoever is faster wins”. The sport began with a simple “run what you brought” philosophy, creating vast amounts of fun at little cost. However, the sport’s top level has since evolved into a power shootout, with the fastest Top Fuel dragsters pumping out up to 11,000hp.

For an internal combustion engine to work, you need three ingredients: fuel, air and spark. These are the building blocks of power. The engine of a Top Fuel dragster is largely similar to what you have under the hood of your daily driver. The (frankly ridiculous) amount of power coming from these machines is made possible by optimizing this mix of fuel, air and spark.

From fuel, these racing cars use nitromethane instead of gasoline. This alternative “premium fuel” (hence the name) is basically gasoline that has been pre-mixed with nitrous oxide. However, nitromethane is actually much less volatile than gasoline. Ergo, you can burn a lot more nitro in the combustion chamber, which gives a lot more power with each explosion inside the engine. Top Fuel dragsters are unsurprisingly thirsty machines, burning 16 to 23 gallons of fuel throughout warm-up, burnout, staging and a four-second run.

This staggering fuel consumption not only produces great power, but also cools the engine. These dragster engines do not have cooling radiators. So how do they not overheat instantly? Another unique advantage of nitromethane is that it has an incredibly high latent heat of vaporization, meaning it can absorb a massive amount of engine heat when vaporizing. The amount of fuel injected into the combustion chamber provides adequate cooling.

During each race, the spark plugs melt due to the incredible amount of heat coming from the combustion chamber.

Top Fuel engines are actually quite simple in design. All engines competing in National Hot Road Association of America (NHRA) sanctioned events follow the same design as Chrysler’s original 500 cu in (8.1 liter) 1964 Hemi Elephant race engine. ” comes from the engine. hemispherical (sphere-shaped) combustion chambers with double valves. This design allowed for larger valves, allowing much more air into the combustion chamber. And what does more air give you? More power.

While running a massive engine with equally large valves seems like the perfect recipe for big horsepower, it’s not enough when it comes to drag racing. This is where a compressor (also called a blower) forces even more air into the combustion chamber to produce more power. However, compressors consume energy to produce power; Top Fuel dragster fans typically need upwards of 700 horsepower to deliver the right amount of air to the car to produce the magic 11,000 horsepower. This is commonly referred to as parasitic loss.

Next, we come to the spark. Without sufficient spark, Top Fuel engines run the risk of hydraulic lock-up – where there is more fuel in the combustion chamber than can be ignited – which can blow the engine’s cylinder head. That’s the main reason these engines use two spark plugs per cylinder, fed by twin magnetos that produce up to 44 amps of juice. However, during each race, the spark plugs melt due to the incredible amount of heat coming from the combustion chamber.

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Spark plugs aren’t the only burned out components inside the engine. During a race, Top Fuel machines experience otherworldly levels of stress, so much so that pistons, rings, connecting rods and spark plugs only survive four seconds. To give some perspective, most engines under the hood of on-road vehicles have a 3,000 hour service interval.

Drag racing is often mislabeled as “boring” motorsport, but it’s actually quite the opposite if you understand what’s going on mechanically. Any vehicle that can catapult itself to over 300 miles per hour in just over three seconds is a modern marvel.

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