SON OF “BIG DADDY”
Don Garlits defined the basic layout of a Top Fuel dragster in 1971. Evolution did the rest.
n NHRA Top Fuel dragster looks fast just
sitting there. Three-hundred inches long,
with a towering wing on the back and a
500cu.in., 9,000hp engine, there’s no doubt
what it was built to do: accelerate faster
than any land-locked machine ever created.
The overall design of the modern
dragster actually isn’t much different than
the spindly, 215in. car that “Big Daddy”
Don Garlits unveiled in 1971, bringing
about a revolution in drag racing’s premier
category. Halfway through that landmark
’ 71 season, Garlits added a rear wing, and
that was the last obvious change to the
look of a dragster, though they’ve gotten
bigger and especially longer as their
power and performance have increased.
Joe Amato showed up at the 1984
NHRA Gatornationals with a wing mounted
more than a foot higher than anyone had
ever seen, dominated the event, cracked
the 260mph barrier, and eventually won
his first championship. Within months, just
as with Garlits’ rear-engine breakthrough
13 years earlier, everybody had one.
Shortly after Frank Bradley debuted
the first 300in. chassis at the 1988
Winternationals, NHRA capped the
(ABOVE) is still one of
the youngest tuners
in the NHRA’s nitro
classes, but he has
some serious juice
alongside him in the
form of co-crew
chief Mark Oswald.
Oswald was the
’ 84 NHRA Funny
Car champion and
is one of only 14
drivers to have won
races in both Top
Fuel and Funny Car.
maximum wheelbase allowable for
Top Fuel at that length, and it’s stayed
there ever since.
Teams experimented with sleek,
aerodynamic bodies in the ensuing years,
particularly in 1971-’ 72 and 1986-’ 87,
but the decrease in drag was never great
enough to offset the additional weight that
came with their new designs. Even with
that hulking engine exposed and those
giant rear tires out in the open air, nothing
has ever proven itself to be conclusively
better than the basic design that Garlits
perfected more than 40 years ago. All
that’s necessary is a wing capable of
generating 6,000lbs of downforce on the
rear of the car and a smaller one up front
that generates the 2,000lbs of downforce
necessary to keep the front tires pinned to
the ground on the top end.
Brian Corradi, crew chief on Antron
Brown’s Matco dragster, wouldn’t make
38 SEPTEMBER 2012
One tenth of a second
after driver Antron Brown
floors the throttle (LEFT)
and the injector butterflies
snap open, the engine
has revved from an idle
rpm of 2,600-2,700 to
more than 8,000.
The car rockets past the
60ft clocks already traveling
at more than 100mph.
Running on only the six
primary clutch fingers, the
engine screams at the same
8,200rpm it reached just
after the launch.
The programmable ignition
already removed as much
as 30 degrees of timing to
keep the car from losing
traction, and by now the
timing is climbing back
toward 60 degrees in tiny,
With Brown pinned to
his seat and straining to
hold his head upright,
the car blows past the
200mph mark as the
12 lockup clutch levers
are applied, one after
another after another.