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Building Drag Racing Engines and Modification Work
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Street Legal cars are vehicles that are legal to drive every day on the street with valid registration and insurance. These foreign and domestic vehicles range from late-model passenger cars and trucks to today's sport compacts. These cars typically run at NHRA Street Legal events, but they can also run at NHRA Sport Compact and NHRA Summit Racing Series events.
Reading down through these descriptions, you can see that there is a lot of opportunity for just about any shop to be involved in drag racing. However, don't expect to run right out to the shop and build engines for the NHRA "Pro" classes, particularly the Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car classes.
For the most part, the team builds the "nitro" engines and in most cases, they do not by assembled engines, they purchase components and assemble the engines themselves. These engines are completely rebuilt after each run, so it doesn't make sense to by a bunch of already assembled engines.
Here are some amazing facts about nitro-burning engines:
Under full throttle, a top fuel dragster engine consumes 1.5 gallons of nitromethane per second; the same as a fully loaded 747 during takeoff. They also accelerate faster than a 747, a fighter jet, or a Formula One racecar.
A stock Dodge V8 Hemi will not have enough power to turn the supercharger on a Nitro Dragster or Nitro Funny Car.
It takes dual magnetos to deliver the 44 amps of power it takes to fire each spark plug.
The spark plug electrodes are completely consumed during a run; by the halfway mark, the engine is running as a diesel with the fuel mixture firing from a combination of the compression and the glow of the exhaust valves. The engine can only be shut down by cutting off the fuel flow.
The national record for a quarter-mile in Top Fuel is 4.41 seconds set in 2003 by Tony Schumacher, while the speed record is 335.32 mph set in 2005, also by Schumacher. To reach these speeds, a Top Fuel dragster leaves the starting line with a force nearly five times that of gravity, the same force as the space shuttle when it leaves the launching pad at Cape Canaveral.
The Pro Stock class utilizes a carbureted, gas-fueled V8 that puts out around 1,200 hp. They will travel a quarter mile in less than 7 seconds and reach speeds in excess of 200 mph.
Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car each utilizes the supercharged big block V-8's that many of us are familiar with. These engines will produce in the neighborhood of 2,000-2,500
horsepower and will burn up the quarter mile in less than 5.5 seconds at nearly 260 mph. Most high
performance shops are capable of building these engines and, in fact, many specialize in just this one type.
However, where I see a lot of potential for a variety of shops, even those without a lot of high performance experience, is in the remaining classes. Although there might be some specialized applications within a few of these classes, for the most part, you will be seeing the same engines that you have been seeing for years.
From the 4-cylinder sport compacts, to the big V8's of the muscle car era, you'll find lots of variety. Because these vehicles all race in either ET bracket races, or "Indexed" handicapped racing, horsepower isn't always a concern. If you are already rebuilding automotive engines, then you will be seeing the same engines come in the door that you're used to. Your drag racing customers however, will be looking for a little extra.
Although some of these classes may allow unlimited internal engine modifications, most are limited, even to the point that the sanctioning organization specifies what replacement parts may be used. They may also specify cylinder head volume and even the fuel used.
For the most part, these engines must remain stock, and owners will be looking to your shop to give them as much of an edge as you can, while maintaining the stock configuration. They will be looking for solid, strong, and durable engine performance that will give them consistent times. The more consistent their times and the closer to the indexes they can run, the more likely they will find the winner's circle.
If you like to specialize in just certain engines, then there are other possibilities out there. The National Mustang Racers Association (NMRA) is the largest Ford focused drag racing group in the United States.
For instance, the NMRA's Super Street Outlaw class has these limitations; Super Street Outlaw is designed for single power adder 1964 and newer Mustangs and 1979 and newer Fox and/or Mustang-based vehicles. Super Street Outlaw entries are limited to 302, 351, 460 and 4.6L or 5.4L modular engine types. 302, 351, 4.6L and 5.4L single power adder engine types are permitted a maximum of 480 cid. Turbocharged entrants are permitted a maximum of 385 cid. Big block (nitrous only) entrants are permitted a maximum of 525 cid. Any internal modifications are allowed. They must also use commercially available, mass-produced cast iron, or cast aluminum heads, no Hemi heads allowed.
This is just one of 14 classes that NMRA recognizes.
The National Muscle Car Association is another drag racing organization that recognizes 1950 and newer American production cars and trucks. They currently recognize 12 classes.
For instance, the NMCA Pro Stock Class description is as follows; Pro Stock is a naturally aspirated class designed for 1950 and newer American production cars and trucks that are equipped with stock-type chassis and 10.6? wide tires. Pro Stock entries are permitted small block and big block engines up to and including a maximum of 525 cid (depending on combination). Pro Stock permits a variety of race-proven modifications and performance enhancements on stock bodied, stock appearing vehicles.
There are numerous other drag racing associations out there, and most are similarly organized. Engine rules can vary widely, so it's important to get a rulebook for any class or organization you'll be building engines for. As you can see from our summary above, the world of drag racing is wide open - somewhere out there is a place for you.
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