Random Notes From a Long Memorial Day Weekend

I’ve come to the conclusion that other than rules regarding weight and cubic inches, the top professional classes in drag racing are pretty much unlimited classes. Today’s Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and especially Pro Mod are the most advanced and complex racecars in the world.

For instance, NHRA nitro racers aren’t supposed to have traction control or Electronic Fuel Injection, but they do. I say that because, while the nitro cars don’t have an engine electronic control unit that controls virtually everything regarding the engine, clutch, and drivetrain, the NHRA has allowed its tuners many other pneumatic, electric, and mechanical devices to control fuel delivery, ignition, and clutch, plus allowing or requiring devices that deploy the chutes and shut down the engine if it senses a problem. What's left on a nitro car's engine, fuel delivery, ignition, or clutch systems that the tuners can't control?

In today’s car the driver’s main job is to leave on time and keep the car in the groove. Back when computers were first developed they often were huge with a lot of moving parts and multiple tasks. The CIA had computers that filled a large warehouse. Then science developed micro-processors and in time the computer that filled a building now could be carried in a shirt pocket.

I submit that today’s nitro cars are computer controlled but with a computer for each job and that they all have traction control, EFI, and other crew chief-controlled and -programmed systems. Once again the racers have proved that given enough time and money they can circumvent any rule. Is it any wonder that an NHRA nitro team needs a $4,000,000-$5,000,000 annual budget just to be competitive?

I was talking off the record with an NHRA team owner the other day and a couple of the things he was upside down and on fire about was the number of engine failures and the constantly increasing cost of staying competitive in NHRA’s nitro classes. He referenced the fact that Cruz Pedregon, who has had a very competitive car for a couple of years, had to junk his current cylinder heads and buy $250,000 worth of Alan Johnson’s latest and greatest heads. And the heads won’t give Pedregon an advantage but will just keep his program abreast of his competitors.

I asked the owner why not make some actual enforceable rules to stop the constant R&D for nitro engines. I suggested that a smaller fuel pump or reduced blower overdrive might be a start. His response was any change to the current unrestricted engine program would cost the owners a lot of money. My next question to him was “How can any change that makes the engines less likely to explode cost the owners any more to race than it does now?”

Speaking of engines explosions, am I the only one who thought it strange that NHRA nitro tuners’ solution to the raft of exploding engines and bodies at Atlanta was not to work on a finding a way to limit the explosions but instead to engineer and build a stronger intake manifold that wouldn’t fail when the engine did explode? Am I missing the logic here? Wouldn’t you want to do something to prevent explosions?

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