A (Barely) Managed Explosion, and 330 M.P.H. Earlier than You Can Blink
On the head of a straight ribbon of pavement, a swarm of technicians and employee bees is attending to an odd contraption — a seeming cross between a automotive and the Batmobile. A quick, explosive present is about to thrill 1000’s watching from the grandstands.
In 4 seconds of madness, that contraption, often known as a humorous automotive to followers of drag racing, seemingly dances on the pavement, exploding to 330 miles an hour in little greater than an immediate.
Inside its 500-cubic-inch engine, all hell is breaking free. Nitromethane gasoline is pouring into the eight cylinders at a fee of as much as 115 gallons a minute. A supercharger packs in huge portions of air, and the earth strikes as the ability of 10,000 horses hammers the 17.5-inch-wide tires, which distort, squat after which swell because the automotive rockets down the strip.
Battling 5 Gs of power, the motive force struggles to maintain the automotive aimed straight. A thousand toes down monitor and fewer than 4 seconds later, the two,600-pound machine journeys the end line lights.
Austin Coil, a retired drag racing crew chief who gained quite a few nationwide championships over 44 seasons, as soon as mentioned, “You painstakingly put together this racecar. Then a driver sporting a foolish costume beats it to dying.” A lot of the data on this article is predicated on interviews with Mr. Coil, who’s among the many sport’s biggest innovators. His accomplice in mechanical shenanigans, Bernie Fedderly, one other prime tuner, contributed as properly.
Drag racing engines, that are loosely primarily based on a half-century-old Chrysler design, have been developed by 1000’s of yard mechanics and some engineers working independently however sharing information. Many took massive daring steps, inflicting big explosions and violent accidents. However they persevered and created what’s undoubtedly essentially the most highly effective — and most disposable — racing engine identified to man.
Step one within the evolution of at the moment’s drag racing engine was recognizing nitromethane’s potential as a gasoline. A industrial solvent used to scrub the plates of printing presses, nitromethane accommodates oxygen, so it will possibly burn with much less atmospheric oxygen than gasoline. In reality, an engine can burn roughly eight occasions extra nitromethane than gasoline in a single stroke of a cylinder. Gasoline has larger particular vitality than nitromethane, however as a result of a lot extra nitromethane will be burned, it will possibly produce greater than twice as a lot energy as gasoline when mixed with the identical quantity of oxygen.
Step two was the supercharger. Since nitromethane can produce plenty of energy with solely atmospheric oxygen, packing extra air into each cylinder with an enormous air pump will increase the ability output by a number of multiples. The primary drag racing superchargers have been cribbed from GMC diesel engines. Immediately, they’re manufactured with unique supplies to exacting specs and examined extensively earlier than being bolted onto an engine.
Within the early years of drag racing, opponents have been proud of a modest 1,000 horsepower or so and have been loath to destroy their tools with large a great deal of nitromethane and ungodly cylinder stress. However starting within the mid-1970s, when humorous automobiles have been hitting 220 m.p.h. in about six seconds, the competitors turned fierce and racers began pushing their engines more durable. The cast-iron Chrysler cylinder blocks turned a weak level, cracking the principle webbings after only a few runs. So aftermarket suppliers started producing stout and light-weight aluminum blocks and cylinder heads.
And the experimenting accelerated. Quickly, damaging the engine turned acceptable, and rebuilding it after each run turned normal. At first, crews of mechanics simply changed damaged elements. Immediately, the motor is sort of completely rebuilt with recent elements. The crew has 90 minutes to finish the rebuild earlier than automotive and driver are referred to as to the beginning line for one more spherical. The work must be fastidiously coordinated, very like a mix of dance and sport.
Over time racers discovered that gasoline quantity is the important thing to mind-bending horsepower. Extra gasoline burned equals extra horsepower. Immediately, the gasoline is pumped into the engine by way of 42 fuel-injection nozzles within the manifold ports, the cylinder heads and the throttle physique that sits atop the supercharger. The gasoline system works in synergy with a spread of variables, together with ignition timing, supercharger increase, compression ratio, clutch software fee and extra. Errors or sudden adjustments in air density can result in destruction.
Mr. Coil had the benefit of getting labored with John Farkonas a few years in the past. Certainly one of only a few skilled engineers within the sport, Mr. Farkonas preached scientific technique.
“Farkonas taught me that for those who can’t clarify why one thing occurred with science or physics, it didn’t occur,” Mr. Coil mentioned.
As drag racing engines turned extra advanced, the scientific technique turned extra vital, each by way of successful and avoiding catastrophe. Knowledge from each 1,000-foot dash is downloaded to a pc system that information 32 channels of knowledge from a wide range of temperature, stress and r.p.m. sensors. The Nationwide Sizzling Rod Affiliation, a sanctioning physique, doesn’t allow laptop adjustment of variables throughout a run. As a substitute, the crew chief adjusts parameters between runs utilizing previous information.
Mr. Fedderly has additionally contributed drastically to engine growth. Skilled as an automotive technician, his actual schooling got here whereas wrenching a variety of humorous automobiles and prime gasoline dragsters. Requested how a violently highly effective engine will be tuned to maintain the automotive proper on the sting, he mentioned, “success requires absolute accuracy.”
He identified numerous variables, together with climate and monitor temperature. A digital map of tuning specs “will be plugged into the management programs proper up till the time the automotive pulls to the beginning line,” Mr. Fedderly mentioned. “Get it unsuitable and the outcomes will often be disastrous.”
The crew chief offers his go forward, the automotive pulls to the beginning line and one other flame-throwing dash begins. Ought to a vital engine half malfunction, gasoline within the manifold explodes, shredding the $70,000 carbon-fiber physique and demolishing the engine. Even when the ability plant survives, it’s as totally used up as a detonated stick of dynamite. It will likely be utterly rebuilt earlier than one other run.
Again within the pits, the crew begins one other 90-minute thrash, diving in earlier than the towed racecar has come to a whole cease. If the physique was sacrificed on the final run, a brand new one is downloaded from the highest ground of the group’s eighteen-wheeler workshop. The driving force, drained by the four-second battle with a monster machine, catches his or her breath, autographs hats and T-shirts and appears ahead to doing it once more.
With a area of 16 automobiles competing in an elimination-style event, the crew must rebuild the engine 3 times and the motive force must endure three rounds of bone-crushing G forces to get to the ultimate spherical. If the win mild comes on after that fourth run, it would all be value it.