This weekend is the dragster event, Festival of Power at Santa Pod. Performance Direct is an associate sponsor of Santa Pod, so it seems a fitting time to take a fascinating – and I do mean fascinating – look at how a dragster actually manages to achieve the awesome speed that it almost unbelievably does.
Top Fuel drag racing is the very pinnacle of power and speed when it comes to land based racing. These dragsters run on nitromethane (90% nitromethane and 10% methanol). Nitromethane is also used to propel rockets, so that gives you some idea of where we’re about to venture.
You will see a video above, and I do urge you to watch it as the slow motion footage of a Kalitta Motorsports dragster – and especially it’s tyres – going through the process of making rolling resistance look like it doesn’t even exist gives an insight into the tremendous stresses these vehicles and engines take on to achieve what they achieve.
Just one run will eat up 17 gallons of rocket fuel for a race that can last less than 4 seconds while generating up to 5G in the process. In fact, there simply isn’t another ground vehicle that will accelerate as fast as a Top Fuel dragster.
The V8 engine is subject to such unbelievable stresses that it has to be practically rebuilt after every single run. After just 2.5 seconds, many of the clutch plates start to weld together and just one second later many of the spark plugs join them on the scrap heap having burned away.
The tyres are fascinating, and looking at the video I am still amazed that they manage to do what they do. Now, I fully admit to having a bit of a fascination with tyres, whether on a car or a bike, it’s just one of those things. I would imagine though, that you are not like me in this respect, but I do guarantee that you will be as interested to see this as I was.
In slow motion, the tyres look like black paper about to collapse, the inordinately thin sidewalls allowing the rubber to bend and almost be left behind by the dragster in an eternal battle between grip and forward motion. Of course, there would be little forward motion without these amazing tyres. At the take off point, the tyre footprint is increased from 36inches to 44 inches before forward motion forces the tyre to adopt it’s normal position before then narrowing (that’s centrifugal force for you) and growing taller. Anyone who has been spun off a roundabout as a child will understand how this works in practice.
The burnout that you will see a dragster perform before each race is designed to warm the tyres up and deposit some rubber onto the track for added grip. If you read my article about winter tyres you will have seen how temperature affects the grip capability of rubber compounds. Each tyre costs around $700/£460.
The actual race itself is phenomenal. After half a second and around 21 feet into the race, the dragster has already reached a speed of approximately 74mph. By 2 seconds, 85 gallons of fuel per minute is being used and the dragster has reached 213mph.
After 2.5 seconds, the clutch plates begin to weld together and then after another half-second, with 5000lb of downforce being generated, the race car is travelling at 248mph.
It’s not quite reached its peak yet though, at 3.5 seconds we’re at a blistering speed of 293mph after travelling just 783 feet. The speed increases yet further up to 315mph before the finish line is reached and the parachute deployed to save the carbon fibre brakes.
Unsurprisingly, Kalitta Motorsports has 45 mechanics to keep things running smoothly. They are capable of a full engine rebuild in just 40 minutes.
Now if this hasn’t whetted your appetite for the Festival of Power then nothing will. But if you need a little more excitement than just watching, how do you fancy being a passenger in a dragster?
You can experience something that most people will never ever have the chance to experience by entering our competition to win the ride of a lifetime as a passenger in a dragster. Feel the full 5G force of a drag race for yourself by clicking the link below and entering our competition. Best of luck!