Nerd's Eye View - Inside 10,000 horsepower!

Part 1: How do they do it?  A look inside the engine of the Matco Tools Championship-winning Top Fuel dragster

by Pablo Mazlumian

"One of our favorite and most viewed articles to date is breaking down this nitro-powered, horsepower madness. We not only show you the intricacies of what goes into making these motors last, but the DSR team also let us see data logs of some of the runs! Plus, we've got some "fun facts" about these cars that will make your jaw drop!"


You're strapped firmly inside the cockpit of a Top Fuel dragster, the belts just loose enough for you to breathe.  The 1000-foot finish line is nearly a blur in the distance. 

At the starting line, the six yellow Christmas tree lights flash for an instant and you release the hand-operated brake a smidgen before the light hits green.  Suddenly, in the next nanosecond, the supercharged V8 blasts out the most horrifying, eardrum-shattering roar to come from a non-nuclear, man-made device, triggering an eye-rolling 5.5G catapult into the distance.  In three-quarters of a second you've hit 100mph and then, count them, "1, 2, 3…"seconds later you've warped to 330mph, and are still pulling 1.5 G's—about the G-force the shuttle astronauts experience at launch.  That's 10,000 horsepower.

It's a scary thought, but there are a few dozen individuals experiencing this 24 weekends out of the year.  I was privileged to spend time with the Matco Tools-sponsored NHRA Top Fuel team, piloted by 2012 Championship winner Antron Brown and owned by Don Schumacher Racing.  Thanks to assistant crew chief Brad Mason, who's been with Antron Brown since his 2008 start in Top Fuel, I got a MotoIQ-exclusive look at just what on earth makes these engines pump out so much madness.

First, you may be wondering how the power is calculated.  You can't strap these car's to a dyno.  However, according to Mason a test was done around 2006 by a third party, and they came up with 10,000 horsepower using mathematical equations.  That said, Mason reports the Matco Tools team does use a torque-measuring device in the rear differential, and it has spiked to 12,000 lb-ft of torque at times.

Today we'll dive into the intricacies of the engine and entertain with some head-scratching facts and data logs.  Toward the end I also included a phone video I shot from 15 feet away, giving you just a taste of the acceleration.  We also have Part 2 already published!


Nitro cars sport an 8.2-liter (500 cubic inch) V8, which is slightly smaller than the current Dodge Viper 8.4-liter V10's displacement.  However, where a Viper averages around 76 hp/liter, a Nitro car pumps out 1200 hp/liter, thanks to a 14-71 roots-type blower pressurizing the motor to 65 PSI.  That's about 30% more power than a Nascar or Formula 1 engine...um…per cylinder (but the aforementioned cars will take it in the twisties). 

Fact #1: The Nitro car classes include Funny cars and Top Fuel cars. Both sport the same engines, but Top Fuel cars tend to cross the finish line about a quarter-second sooner, due to their sleeker design, 255-lb weight advantage (2300 vs 2555 lb for Top Fuel and Funny Car, respectively, with driver.), and the engine's location.  Top Fuelers have the engine behind the driver, putting more weight over the rear tires.

Considering the significant differences between the two, you'd think it should amount to a bigger difference than 0.25-seconds.  However, considering their trap speed, a quarter-second advantage equals a 120 foot advantage, or nearly eight Funny Car lengths (wait…what?).

The V8's aluminum block is rebuilt after each sub 4-second pass down the 1000 ft strip, and in an astonishing 40 minutes.
Notice the 9/16th-in A1 head studs, which secure the head to a torqued 185 ft-lb.  The flat top pistons are forged aluminum.  The "-3" designation you see represents minus three-thousands from the team's standard piston, the choice of which is dependant on predicted weather and altitude.


I geeked my way through the entry gates with a piston and rod assembly from our Project Supra for this.  Check out the difference between it on the left (duh) and a Nitro's.  The rod cap is nearly as big as a Supra's main cap! Yes, I know the Supra's piston looks damaged (more on that in Supra articles if you're curious).




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Monday, June 17, 2013 6:44 AM
Very cool. Gary Densham shwoed up to our school with a Funny Car and indicated that it would cost about $3,000 to start the car and shut it back down (this was 10 years ago). At the track that weekend I was amazed at how disposable some of the parts were. Particularly amazing was the pair of engine blocks sitting in a tub of motor oil with a 4" hole punched through each one.
Monday, June 17, 2013 7:37 AM
"The V8's aluminum block is rebuilt... in an astonishing 40 minutes."

So in about the same amount of time it takes me to change oil? I guess that's "not bad." ha!
Monday, June 17, 2013 7:59 AM
Amazing coverage..
If you have a bucket list one of the items should be, "Standing near the track when a Top Fuel dragster runs."

The jagged part of the green line at around 2.5 seconds is where the clutch starts to really grab. You can see that the RPM's drop and the wheels begin to shake as the clutch really engages.
Hopefully you can cover how the clutch in a Top Fuel dragster works in the next installment..
Monday, June 17, 2013 9:42 AM
Looks like you got a decent picture of the combustion chamber to me on page 7. That valve layout is pretty interesting.
Monday, June 17, 2013 10:03 AM
I think it's great that MotoIQ is doing articles on professional drag cars now, keep it up for my sake!
Monday, June 17, 2013 11:43 AM
@SOULPWR That's the legit hemi design that they only allude to now. You can look in the intake and see out the exhaust with the valves removed.
Monday, June 17, 2013 6:24 PM
Oh wow, I didn't know Brown was racing Top Fuel. I know him from his motorcycle drag racing days!
Monday, June 17, 2013 10:26 PM
Why do they rebuild engines each pass instead of replacing them and then doing the rebuild in a more controlled environment? Is there a rule requiring reuse of the block or ??? Seems like a lot more effort and risk to do it the way they do, must be a good reason I assume?
Wednesday, June 19, 2013 1:47 AM
@mxpop its not a rule to reuse the same block. the main reason for on site rebuild is, the hour to hour and a half between races can dramatically affect the tuning required. its not unusual to have 8 different deck heights on the pistons to compensate for air temp,track temp and lane choice/grip levels.
Pablo Mazlumian
Pablo Mazlumianlink
Wednesday, June 19, 2013 7:26 AM
Yes if you haven't experienced it is an absolute must-see event. And part two will indeed involve clutch discussion with some logs of that as well. thanks for reading!
Wednesday, June 19, 2013 12:44 PM
I've been to one Top Fuel event in my lifetime. Earplugs sell for $5-10, and for good reason. That was the LOUDEST (WHAT?!??!) thing I've ever been around, including CIWS and other amazing inventions of mankind.

I still remember waiting in line for a soda for 20 minutes right before the Top Fuelers, paying $5-6 (back in '96 or so that was like half a tank of gas!), getting to my seat just in time for them to start, setting the soda on the bench beside me, then feeling it on my feet when the vibrations/sound shook it right off. Completely and totally amzing. If you've never been, you're missing out on an amazing experience.
Dusty Duster
Dusty Dusterlink
Tuesday, December 24, 2013 6:40 AM
The way those things accelerate is much more similar to a literal rocket than to a car. =-0
Saturday, June 28, 2014 5:37 PM
You mention the use of a "14-71" blower on these top fuel cars. These blowers came from GM and their Detroit Diesel products. The particular engines had a cylinder capacity of 71 cu.in. Hence there was a 4-71 blower for a 4 cylinder, a 6-71 for a 6, a 8-71 for a V-8 and a 12-71 for a V-12 (two V-6 blowers end to front). There was no 14 cylinder engine. These would have to be a 8-71 blower.
Pablo Mazlumian
Pablo Mazlumianlink
Sunday, June 29, 2014 12:29 PM
@CaC15-435: appreciate the info and sounds like you know your blowers, but on this one you may want to check your sources. Multiple publications, as well as the Matco team crew themselves, refer to this as the 14-71 blower. In fact, it's even on the NHRA site in the rules (Page 8, 1:10):
Dr. Detroit
Dr. Detroitlink
Wednesday, March 11, 2015 12:11 PM
The largest GM/Detroit Diesel blower was the '8-71'. The '14-71' puts out 14/8 of what an 8-71 pumps. In other words, it's 1.6 times larger.
Monday, February 13, 2017 9:35 PM
Thanks for being kind enough to translate the fuel usage stats into something palatable for us trailblazers under the Metric system :)
If you would be kind enough, can you still use litres per minute instead of per hour to make it easier on us to 'see' whats happening quicker, the division kinda puts our brain boxes in a whirl.. And we have to put our drinks down for too long to do it. Especially for us troglodytes from down under, we have bigger problems to deal with - such as our toilets and sinks draining the wrong way.. (allegedly) ;)
Wednesday, February 15, 2017 4:58 AM
It's not so much draining the wrong way as it is swirling the wrong way. Please remedy post-haste for legitimacy. :)
Tuesday, May 09, 2017 1:05 PM
everything ok at MotoIQ? there hasn't been new material for almost a week now.. usually something new everyday
Tuesday, May 09, 2017 4:37 PM
So I read this, and I'm trying really hard to find something beneficial to the world at large in all this fascinating stuff. And failing to. I can only think it proves the validity of the old saying "just because we can do something doesn't mean that we should do it". The clock is ticking kiddies, and this kind of engineering talent is needed elsewhere.
Tuesday, May 09, 2017 5:08 PM
it provides jobs and awesomeness... why you hating?
Dusty Duster
Dusty Dusterlink
Tuesday, May 09, 2017 5:17 PM
Most of the magazine staff was at LS fest all weekend, and they didn't trust me with the keys to the website. Something about "Vince can't drive; he just dodges cones in parking lots" or something.
Tuesday, May 09, 2017 6:15 PM
@Hap: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
Tuesday, May 09, 2017 8:19 PM
@Hap, do you do nothing for fun?
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