If you have never driven a fuel-burning dragster, I hope you find this description of what actually happens from my perspective in the driver’s seat during a 200 mph run in under 7 seconds in just a quarter of a mile to be of interest.
It begins when my crew member hooks up the electric aircraft starter to the front of the engine. I give him a thumbs up, he hits the button and the engine roars to life. He detaches the starter and I pull slowly towards the starting line and into the burnout area. I put my 3-speed Lenco transmission in high gear, roll through the water and floor the throttle to get the huge racing slicks to spin, thus heating the tires for better traction during the run that follows.
Then I engage reverse gear and the crew gives me hand signals to back me up in the sticky rubber tracks that I made during the burnout. That’s where the best traction is for the run, and I need all I can get to put my nitro burning Chrysler Hemi V-8 1500 horsepower to the ground.
The guy in front signals me when to stop, I put the trans into low gear and ease forward into the staging beams and pull the hand brake back really hard when the second staging light is lit. I apply light throttle pressure, bringing the engine up from an idle and ease off slightly on the clutch pedal to take the slack out of the driveline. I can feel the car bow up against the clutch and I’m ready to launch.
My opponent is staged beside me in the other lane and the four yellow lights come down on the tree. I am timing them in my mind so I can leave on the last yellow and am hoping my opponent will wait to leave on the green light at the bottom of the tree. I learned years ago that my body clock is such that I can leave early on the last yellow instead of waiting for the green light, thus giving me a holeshot advantage on almost every run.
The last yellow light comes on, I floor the throttle pedal, pop the clutch and let go of the brake handle all at the same instant and the car explodes off of the starting line, slamming me back hard in my bucket seat. The racetrack’s timing devices show that I go from zero at the start to 100 mph in the first 60 feet, and in less than one second, or just a fraction over that.
I shift into second gear by the sound of the 7800 RPM engine, since I don’t have a tachometer or red shifting light, and then again into 3rd gear when the time comes. I see the finish line coming up fast, I let go of the steering wheel with one hand and pull the parachute lever just past the finish line, push in the clutch pedal, shut off the fuel valve, hit the kill switch for the magneto and grab the brake handle. The chute comes out, throwing me forward into the tight seat belts. The G-force is higher when the chute hits than it is under acceleration. Without the center strap on the 5-point seat belts, the severe reverse force of the parachute blossoming at 208 miles per hour would “submarine” me right out from underneath the seat belts.
If I do all of this correctly, I won’t see my opponent’s car until we turn off onto the return road and wait for our push trucks to hook up our tow straps to bring us back to the pit area to get ready for the next run. And if I do it consistently four times in a row, we go home with the winner’s trophy, some prize money and sometimes an NHRA, IHRA or AHRA National Championship or an NHRA World Championship!
NOSTALGIA DRAG WORLD - By Ben Griffin; Photos courtesy of BG