Top Alcohol Engines - Engine Builder Magazine

Top Alcohol Engines

When sportsman drag racer Dean Dubbin couldn’t find protective awnings that met his race team’s needs, he created his own. Similarly, when he needed engines for his Top Alcohol dragster, he turned to a source he could trust – himself.

When sportsman drag racer Dean Dubbin couldn’t find protective awnings that met his race team’s needs, he created his own. Similarly, when he needed engines for his Top Alcohol dragster, he turned to a source he could trust – himself.

Now, Dubbin, from Little Falls, MN builds race/hospitality and display trailer awnings for some of racing’s most successful teams (with DMP Awnings) and engines for several competitive sportsman racers.

“Typically, this time of year, we’ll start out with at least three complete motors and one extra set of cylinder heads in the trailer,” Dubbin says. “We have the extra set of heads because a lot of times you’ll burn a head gasket or drop a valve or something. Well, we can just change the liner, rod, piston on one side and we’ll be back ready to go.”

Dean Dubbin waves as he’s introduced before a previous the race-within-a-race program that is the NHRA JEGS Allstars. Contested at the Route 66 NHRA Nationals in Chicago, the event is reserved for 100 of NHRA’s top Sportsman racers. The best racers in 10 categories from each of NHRA’s seven geographic regions compete for team and individual honors and a share of the $119,000 purse.

According to the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) the Top Alcohol classes consist of Dragster and Funny Car racers. Visually almost identical to their professional Top Fuel counterparts, the alcohol cars have some major differences.

Top Fuelers use supercharged engines that burn a mixture of 90 percent nitromethane and 10 percent methanol. Top Alcohol Dragsters may be powered by one of two different powerplants, either a supercharged methanol-burning engine or an injected nitromethane combination. It’s kind of strange, Dubbin says, that both types of engines can run side by side in Top Alcohol, but he admits that it’s a pretty level playing field. “Our supercharged engines are 471 cid where the nitro engines are 331 cid, but they both make around 4,000 hp.”

Weights vary according to combination but are generally between 1,975 and 2,125 pounds. Like Top Fuelers, Top Alcohol Dragsters are restricted to a maximum wheelbase of 300 inches. 

Top Alcohol Funny Cars also look nearly identical to the Top Fuel counterparts, but are restricted to the use of methanol fuel and have a three-speed transmission. The less volatile fuel means Top Alcohol Funny Car bodies do not need as much downforce and use a much smaller rear spoiler, though they remain pure race cars with the same chromoly steel chassis and carbon-fiber replica bodies. 

Top speeds for Top Fuel cars have climbed well into the 330 mph range where Top Alcohol racers are usually between 270 and 290 mph.

“They’re getting pretty sophisticated,” Dubbin says. “You can spend thousands and thousands and thousands a year on just trying to tweak this little part in the converter. We’ve made leaps and bounds, but we need to pick up five hundredths of a second, and we can be the quickest car in the world. We thought we were going to be there recently, but multiple things happened that stopped us from doing that.”

Racing, of course, is never simple. “We went to five finals last year and won Dallas,” he continues. “We go to Dallas this year and we couldn’t even make it 100 feet without knocking a tire off. We led it all year and all winter and then we come into the last race you could count the points for and we get sent home with our tail between our legs. Pretty disheartening right now, but everybody will regroup and we’ll be all right.”

Dubbin says the majority of engines that are built for Top Alcohol racing are based on the big block Chrysler Hemi. His powerplants start with a billet aluminum Noonan Race Engineering block and matching cylinder heads.

Dubbin’s Top Alcohol cylinder heasds come from Noonan Race Engineering.

“The majority of competitors build based off the Hemi,” Dubbin says, “though there are some variations. One of those, the Miner Brothers engine built by Bob Miner and Adam Koester, has some pretty unique characteristics.” For more information about other engines built for Top Alcohol competitors and tractor pullers, see Engine Builder’s March 2019 issue, “Power To Pull,” page 78.

Dubbin says in addition to building his own engines, he supplies power to a few other competitors as well. “I do build motors for a couple of other guys who run in our class. They’re not out there every weekend, so to speak, like we are. Then I’ll build motors for a couple of the guys on my team for their Top Dragster stuff – that’s just the next class down.”

Dubbin says his shop is capable of completing most machining operations needed. “We will do everything but line boring or crank grinding. We have all the equipment and experience for cutting valves and doing valve jobs. Luckily, on these engines, the cylinders all have liners. We’ll just put sleeves in, but we’ll machine them prior to putting them in. We do that in house as well.

Some people familiar with televised drag racing coverage see Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Car engines being completely torn down between runs. The incredible stresses in the Top Fuel engines aren’t quite as violent with Top Alcohol, so the service requirements aren’t as great.

Dubbin says his suppliers have come up with great engine parts and assembly tools to keep his race team in the winner’s circle.

“Typically, at the track, we completely service the motor, which entails that we pull all connecting rod bearings and measure them,” Dubbin explains. “Sometimes we’ll change head gaskets, just to adjust horsepower or compression ratio. For the most part, though, if something doesn’t go wrong in the fuel system, you’re not burning pistons every run. You WILL burn pistons, guaranteed, but not every run. Otherwise, you better back your tune up a little bit.”

Dubbin explains that the bearings can give him all the information he needs for an exceptional tune. 

“Yeah, we check the tune up, by the upper rod and lower main bearings. The rod bearing tells us pretty much everything we need. That’s how you tune the car. The more you squash the rod bearing, the harder you are on that cylinder.”

Dubbin acknowledges that his mechanical tune may be unfamiliar to many who may think electronics are required.

”That’s how I started out back then. We’d put in a shorter connecting rod in those cylinders – 20-, 30-, 40-thou shorter connecting rods in those certain cylinders, and them make them all happy and even and you’re good to go,” he says. “People would look at us like, ‘wow, doesn’t that throw off the balance?’ Let’s be honest – at 10,600 rpm we shift. At that, you want the balance as close as you can but at 10,600, all bets are off.”

Dubbin says his shop is capable of completing most machining operations needed in house.

Dubbin says his car takes two shifts per run. “Years ago, you were guaranteed to break something nearly every run – you’d wreck push rods, valve springs, rocker arms almost every pass. But the parts have evolved so much, especially the last six or seven years, that it’s incredible.”

Dubbin says the network of parts suppliers to the Top Alcohol community is fairly limited. “To be honest, it’s a pretty tight group out there. Teams and engine builders know who’s got the best parts – they’re on display at the races each week. But the PRI Show is a good way to keep up on that stuff.”

Even though the supplier network may still be small, Dubbin says that over the past decade things have evolved dramatically, meaning choices and quality are better than ever. This gives racers like himself better chances to compete from year to year.

“Quite a bit carries over from season to season nowadays,” Dubbin says. “Just six or seven years ago, no, that wasn’t the case, because the availability of better parts just started to open up.”

Dubbin says his suppliers have come up with great engine parts and assembly tools to keep his race team in the winner’s circle.

“A HUGE thank you to our sponsors that make this possible: DMP Awnings, Central McGowan Welding and Automation, Jamie and Renee Noonan at Noonan Race Engineering, Kelly O’Tool at Aluminum Cabinet Company, Chase Copeland for building an awesome car, Jeff and Mike at B & J Transmissions, Steve, Brock & Blayne at Quick Drive, Anthony at MGP, Paul Lair at Engineered Seals and Components, Dave at Goodson Tools, and especially Karen Dubbin for taking care of us,” Dubbin says. “None of this would be possible without all the support.”

You May Also Like

Choosing Between the LS and the LT: The King and the Heir to the Throne

There are times when the “eeny, meeny, miny, mo” approach works well for decision making, and other times when you really need to stop, look at all of the variables and then make your choice. For today we’re going to focus on deciding between two GM V8 engines, the LS and the LT.

LS vs. LT

Whether you’re working on your own project car, or a customer’s vehicle, choosing the right engine is one of the most important decisions to make. By the end of this article, you’ll be armed with the knowledge to choose the right engine for you or help your customer to make the right decision for them.

Vintage Engines: Rebuilt to Drive

Classic and vintage car culture in is a diverse one. It’s more than just muscle cars. In addition to the unmistakable rumble of American V8 power, vintage European and Asian marques are part of the regular scenery too, and there are premium events around the world that bring out some of the most sought-after models

Vintage Engines
Off-Road Race Engines

As the off-road racing community and technology grew, so did the vehicle speeds and related suspension components. Today, these are without a doubt one of the most highly strained engines in motorsports – bar none.

Off-Road Engines
Motorcycle Drag Race Engines

Back when we started to get serious about competing in the V-Twin drag racing scene, there were four or five manufactures making engine cases, heads, crank/flywheel assemblies, and connecting rods, along with other parts for large cubic inch competition V-twin engines. At the time, the largest factory engines from Harley-Davidson were 80 cubic inch big

Motorcycle Engine
Offshore Boat Engines

While not impossible to build, offshore marine engines are not the easiest to build either, so it takes a skilled and experienced engine builder to churn out the power levels most customers desire.

Race Boat

Other Posts

David Pearson’s Vortech Supercharged 578 cid Big Block Chevy Engine

Walking the show floor at PRI 2022, we passed the Vortech Superchargers booth and caught a glimpse of David Pearson’s Pro275 car. Featuring Vortech’s V131 supercharger and a 578 cubic inch big block Chevy, we had to know more about this engine! Related Articles – Reviewing Callies’ Ford Magnum Crankshaft – Twin-Turbo LB7 Duramax-Powered Z28

One-on-One with Jim Dunn Racing’s Johnna Dunn

After speaking with Kaylynn Simmons a couple years ago, we found out there are only a few women who work on the pit crews of the NHRA teams. One of those few other women is Johnna Dunn, a clutch specialist for Jim Dunn Racing. It’s a family affair for Johnna, who works alongside many family

Supercharged 500 cid Billet Hemi Engine

Doc Baker is a racer and builder who does things his own way. A perfect example of his work can be seen under the hood of his 1971 Dodge Demon – this supercharged 500 cubic inch billet Hemi engine. Check out what went into the build!

Doc Baker’s Supercharged 500 cid Billet Hemi Engine

Doc Baker is an engine builder and racer who does things his own way. We were excited to learn more about his 1971 Dodge Demon with a supercharged 500 cid billet Hemi engine in it, and caught up with Doc at the 2022 Builder’s Brawl race event at World Wide Technology Raceway. Check it out!