News and Analysis

New spec engine will allow NHRA to return to quarter-mile nitro racing?

DRO has been hearing for sometime now that the NHRA has assigned Graham Light the responsibility of creating a new set of specifications for Top Fuel and Funny Car engines. We first heard the rumors of this last year from several prominent nitro crew chiefs, but without any corroboration we basically decided it was a non-starter as a story.

Well, we have now been given information regarding this scenario from very reliable sources that lead us to believe that the NHRA is indeed working towards a radical new “spec” engine for their Top Fuel and Funny Car classes Once the engine has been developed and tested, if it does what the NHRA and Light hope it will do, the nitro cars will return to the more traditional quarter-mile race track length.

Aside from the information I have been told by my sources another item that makes me believe that the information I’m getting is probably factual is the fact that the NHRA has so far refused to sanction new records for 1000 feet racing, with no explanation of any sort.

So, let’s get to the meat and potatoes of this rumor, so far unconfirmed by the NHRA.
My sources tell me that a spec engine is being built that will be 413 cubic inches using a 3.75 inch stroke and a 4.187 bore that would make a 413.06 cubic inch motor. The crank stroke is different but the bore is standard for a 500-inch nitro motor so that current blocks and block configurations could be used.

I am told that along with the smaller cubic inches other restrictions would include a restriction to a single down-sized spec fuel pump. In other words, no more 80-100 gallon per hour fuel pumps. Along with this restriction would be a limit of an 8-71 supercharger and a single magneto instead of the two-generator, twin plug set-up that all current NHRA fuel cars are running.

As I understand it, despite shortening the track to 1,000 feet and using a rev-limiter, the insurance companies are seeing the return of 325+ trap speeds and increased explosions and other failures related to crew chiefs extracting the max amount of power from 500-inch nitro motors.

It has also been suggested that a clutch with fewer discs and floaters could also be mandated. Again, the blame is being directed at the insurance companies, who have been hammered in recent years financially by natural disasters and mismanagement. They don’t want to pay off lawsuits when they believe the situation that puts them at risk could be easily changed and controlled to deliver slower and safer nitro drag cars.
I am hearing two rumors here that I haven’t yet been able to confirm that either Alan Johnson is building the spec motor to test or that Tim Wilkerson is going to build and test it. I did get some confirmation from one source that NHRA has purchased parts from Alan Johnson to build an R&D engine to test their own theories.

I think that basically this combination has already been tested, albeit in a slightly different form. For years Steve Plueger has brought out a nitro funny car with a 500-inch Hemi utilizing a single mag and a single fuel pump. That car was a 5.50/260 mph car as I remember.

So, it seems that sooner or later the NHRA is going to issue a new set of engine rules, and it actually may encourage the building of more race teams considering that there are currently 50 to 60 nostalgia racers who have been working on a very similar engine combination. Who knows, if this actually happens it could be the best thing to happen to nitro racing in 50 years. If nothing else, it will restore the sacred  (to everyone except me and Wally Parks) quarter mile, and evidently there are many of you out there who believe that there is no price to high to pay to return fuel cars to quarter-mile racing.