Cool Car and Driver Video: How a Top Fuel Dragster Works

NHRA Top Fuel racer Dave Grubnic with team owner Connie Kalitta in Winners circle at the Dollar General NHRA Summernationals at Heartland Park Topeka in Topeka, Kansas

By Gary P Jackson

A Top Fuel Dragster is the quickest and fastest accelerating race car in the world. These cars can go from 0-100 mph in less than one second, and 0-330 mph in under four seconds. At launch the driver experiences more g-forces than astronauts aboard the space shuttle. The cars accelerate faster than a fighter jet being catapulted from the deck of an aircraft carrier.

The engine in a Top Fuel dragster, as well as it’s Funny Car sister, makes 8,000 horsepower. By comparison, NASCAR Sprint Cup and Indy Car engines around 700. Put another way, one cylinder in a Top Fuel car equals an entire Cup or Indy Car engine. In fact, it takes the horsepower equivalent of one Cup or Indy car engine, just to turn the massive supercharger on a top of the Top Fueler’s engine!

Put yet another way, one Top Fuel car has more horsepower than the first 11 cars starting a NASCAR or Indy Car series race. Two Top Fuel cars have almost as much horsepower than the entire starting field at the Indianapolis 500! They do have as much power as the first eight out of the ten starting rows.

The sound is mind-blowing and the power ground-pounding. What feels like a mini-earthquake actually shakes the ground so hard that car alarms in the parking lots, often a half-mile or more away, are set off when two cars make a run.

Part rocket science [literally] and part “black magic” tuning a Top Fuel dragster well is one of the most difficult jobs in all of motorsports. Hundreds of data points are continually analyzed and the most minute of adjustments can be the difference between winning and certain disaster. Not for the faint of heart.

In this video from Car and Driver’s Popular Mechanics series, fan favorite David Grubnic gives us a tour of his car and the Kalitta Motorsports team. Crank up those speakers!

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