DRIVING A POWERFUL DRAG RACECAR - part 4 - The Run

by Bob Szabo

IHRA DRM - 2007 Issue #9

Finishing up from the previous articles, my racecar is staged at the starting line, revved up, and ready to go.

LAUNCH: I see the amber lights on the timing tree that occurs 0.4 seconds before the green lights, swap feet, and release the brake handle as fast as I can. The racecar leaps forward. Zero to 60 in less than a second. I manually shift my racing planetary transmission. I have to reach from the brake handle to the 1-2 shift lever in about one second. Whatever the racecar wants to do at full throttle in low gear, it does. The front wheels are dangling in the air. The driver can do little to correct for drift or shake in this torque mode of over 10,000 foot-pounds at the rear axles.

FIRST GEAR HEAD TRIP: Low gear is somewhere between 2 and 3 gís of acceleration. That is my body weights 2 to 3 times its weight against by back. My 10-pound head weighs 30 pounds against the roll bar. My arms are trying to be pulled from the steering wheel. My left leg is in the air, off the clutch pedal. My right leg and foot are buried down hard on the throttle stop. Many drivers actually have a hard time keeping their foot on the floor especially in low gear. My competitor has launched with me. We are right along side. I am amazed that anyone else would have this kind of power and performance, a novel experience each round of competition. Where do they all come from? I do not think I am breathing in low gear. My shift light goes off, and I yank the 2nd gear shift handle.

SECOND GEAR BOOGY: The racecar settles down a bit. My left hand is steering the car straight against any drift that may occur. I notice the retaining barrier. Barrier features as seams and scrape marks from previous collisions are going by very fast. Any fence posts or signs are a blur. I notice my competitor still right along side of me. I cannot tell who is ahead. I see him on one side, the racetrack centerline between us, and the retaining barrier on the other side. By now, I am going so fast that I never see the foam blocks (every 330 feet) in the center of the racetrack that house the reflectors for the timing lights. As my racecar is climbing in engine speed, it starts to drift. I am steering against the drift with one hand, and it is a hand full. You have to be in decent shape to drive a Funnycar, especially if the car gets out of shape, and you have to steer all over the track to straighten out. It takes real strength in that small steering wheel. I hear my competitorís engine revving also as mine is climbing. You really cannot shift by ear very well between the noise from your car and from your opponent. You may shift from habit or from timing, but if you are waiting for a sound pitch, they are all different depending on your opponentís contribution. In 2nd very soon is that shift light again, and my hand has already moved from the 1-2 shift lever to the 2-3 shift lever. I see the light and pull the lever.

THIRD (HIGH) GEAR FLYING: Once in high gear, both hands are on the wheel. With any further drift, both hands are steering, and it is a lot easier. Torque steer can occur if one tire has better traction than the other. You have to turn against that torque. Smart drivers know the limit and will back off if it is excessive. Acceleration and drift settle down a bit in high gear but the speed is really climbing. The sensation is beyond words. The retaining barrier is a white blur that is coming close or going further away depending on your drift. At times, I have been within a couple feet of that barrier, flying along. You ask yourself after those experiences, was that close or not? If you blink, you miss it. While I doubt if I breathed in low gear, I doubt if I blink an eye the entire ride. First of all if you blink you miss 15 to 30 feet of your race. You are going that fast in high gear, you are boogying next to the competitor. It is a blast to be right along side another racer going that fast. You start to anticipate the finish line. I challenge anyone in a car like this to look away from the forward & side views and try to see a tachometer or oil pressure gage inside the car during the run. You do not have the time to focus your eyes close to see the gage, read it, and then refocus outside, ahead of the car. I tried that once on a straight run. I realized then that the time to refocus would be enough to hit the barrier or cross the centerline. That is why shift lights are so successful. Your eyes do not have to leave the racetrack. You hear the engine revving high in high gear. You know you are flying on the ground. Every run in high gear, I get a good feeling that all my parts are working well. I am proud of the performance even if I lose although losing is tough. I am approaching the finish line, my hand goes from the steering wheel to the parachute handles as I see the finish line sign blur by. An ET in the 6ís at a speed over 200 MPH appears on the track display behind me. And at this time, I do not know whether I won or lost as it was a close one.

BETTER SHUT IT DOWN: I pulled the first parachute handle and backed out of the throttle. It seems like an eternity before the parachute deploys. When it does, hang on. The racecar is yanked from under your head like a catapult. Your head is still traveling at 200+ when your body is decelerated by the 5-belt system in only a moment. It does not matter how fast you are going, when that chute deploys, you are halted faster than it took to get there. As I am slowing down, I down shift the racing trans to get ready to drive off the track after I slow down. I am watching for the return road and conscious of my competitor. I am on the inside between my competitor and the return road turnoff. I wait for him to go by first. I follow behind. My car is still a bear. I can feel the heat from the engine, clutch, and trans. I do not want to shut if off, but this round is over. I pull the fuel shut off and kill the magneto. When you are ahead, you know it. When you are behind, you know it. But in bracket racing, running too fast may disqualify the one that is ahead. You and your opponent wait for the tow vehicles. Only one is blowing the horn and waving their hands. When you have made it to the final round and your crew is blowing the horn and waving their hands, you know you have arrived. A feeling of success only a few have experienced. It is amplified by all of the round wins that occurred to get you there. That is the characteristic of drag racing. Every round is a winner. While all of us face losses, that humbling experience makes those wins even better. As a crewmember, I shared the wins with the driver. As the driver, I shared the wins with the crew and the fans. What a blast!

As a courtesy from IHRA to our readers, previous Tech Stop articles can be viewed or downloaded from our website www.racecarbook.com click on Articles.

About the Author
Bob Szabo is an owner / driver of a blown alcohol drag racecar and one of the few technical racing book authors. His new book: "5,000 Horsepower on Methanol, with Nitro, Racing Gas, Nitrous, & Ethanol Technology" covers fuel injection, carburetors, normally aspirated, supercharged, and turbocharged setups. His current book, "Fuel Injection Racing Secrets" provides added tuning info for methanol. Both are becoming popular gifts for birthday and anniversaries such as that first 9 or 8 or 7 second ET! Check the DRM Yellow Pages for Szabo Publishing or look on the Internet at https://www.racecarbook.com or call (916) 419 6649.

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