Top Fuel Dragsters

Six Senses – Sight – Sound – Touch – Smell – Taste – Top Fuel V8

by David Forward

Drag Racing is something best, first experienced without any prior knowledge of it or having seen it before, either on the screen or in real life. It is best if you are first taken to what is known as a Top Fuel meeting.

Your first port of call as early in the morning as you can make it, preferably just as the gates open, is to the pits. These are open to the public and you can get to within touching distance of all the drivers, crews and vehicles.

Make straight for a Top Fuel Rail, that’s the longest thing there with an engine right at the back, or a Top Fuel Funny Car, that’s a chassis with great big engine right in front of the drivers seat that looks as if they can’t see where they are going, and has a fibreglass replica car body propped up at the front at about 45 degrees so as they can work on it, or most likely lifted right off and lying somewhere nearby.

Now here’s what you do, look for the one with a man or woman sat in it, wearing what looks a bit like a gas mask, a face mask come hat with two breathing filters attached, and four or five mechanics in attendance, probably in uniform, all stood around it, fiddling with it.

Take note here, stand to the front end of the exhaust pipes, I will repeat, the front end of the vehicle, I won’t remind you again. A man with beefy muscles will be holding a great big starter motor on the end of fat cables leading back to several large batteries on a trolley.

He will clip this to the front of the engine at the top, just like a bayonet fit light bulb. When given the instruction he will switch it on. Don’t worry, it will not start yet. Well not straight away.

You see, first it will turn over the engine until the oil pressure is at the right level. Then most likely another man will start to squirt neat petrol from a washing-up-liquid soft plastic bottle into the air intake, that’s those huge round butterfly things at the front, top, of the engine.

Now for the FUN. When it fires up! You will think, bloody hell fire, then you will think WOW, that sound is so metallic and crisp and so strangely very MACHINE like, very PRECISION machine like, almost a milling machine cutting metal in a factory.

THAT’S NOTHING, honestly you haven’t got it yet. The crew will check underneath for any type of leaks, they will hold a hand over each exhaust pipe to check each is pumping out correctly, the timing will be checked and adjusted and other tweaks made here and there.

The person sat in it wearing the gas mask will be looking So, So serious, and they and the rest of the crew will probably be wearing ear defenders. But you, if you appreciate spectacle, will be savouring this new special sound.

A man near the engine will be feeling the cylinder heads and cylinder block in different places, he’s checking for it to reach the right temperature. This warming up only takes about a minute or two. NO, NO, NO, its by no means over yet!

So its probably warmed up now and someone will move something on the front where the fuel pump is, then the person in the hot seat will be given the signal to give it some throttle pedal.

Now these engines are built to extremely high precision and designed to rev from tick-over to say 15,000 revs in maybe less than a second. Now you might have thought it was revving up already and that is why it was so loud.

Well NO, so far it has just be ticking over, barely 900 revs maybe. So gas mask man jabs the throttle, you see, well you will notice later that those big butterfly valves, top, front, open fully each time the throttle is jabbed. BUT the FIRST instance he jabs the throttle on command for the first time, COMPLETELY unexpected by you, you will think you have been hit by the biggest earth quake ever in the history of the planet.

You will think a Ten Ton Weight has landed on your head, at the very same time, you think you have been propelled a foot off the ground. Every hair on your body will be standing on end and the biggest ever shiver will be shooting down your spine and it will feel as if you have stepped into a refrigerated warehouse.

It will not have been humanly possible for you to have reached to your ears. What you heard at tick over doesn’t even register on the LOUD scale. NOW you will be thinking for a millionth of a second, will I ever be able to hear anything ever again.

This will all take place in tenths of a second, it will then be tick-over again, you will have sh*t yourself, then the gas mask B*stard goes and does it again, whist you are still frozen to the spot, well before your brain has even had time to react, to the total shock to your system from just a second before.

You SUDDENLY realise and can’t believe that your feet actually did remain in contact with the ground and you are still the same height as you were before.

You have just experience what LOUD ACTUALLY IS and its not over, the shock to your senses is so overwhelming, you will not be able to take in all that has happened, BUT, you will absorb more of what is going on before you, at each jab of the throttle.

Each instant split second explosion from 1000 revs up to 15,000 revs and back again as fast as you can blink, will pump fuel straight through the engine and out of the HEADERS, or that’s exhausts to you and me, without even burning half of it. This is how the valve timing is set by the special cam, it will hold the inlet and exhaust valve open at the same time for part of its cycle, using the fuel as a coolant to keep the engine cool.

You see this thing doesn’t have any water in its block, that has been replaced by resin, and there are no water hoses, or pump, or radiator, or fan, THEY are just not required.

SO you may have noticed all the un-initiated who were stood in line or behind the HEADERS, have mysteriously disappeared and are now standing rubbing their eyes and coughing badly, as they were swamped by the neat fuel, AND it ISN’T petrol, its WORSE, its a pre-calculated, precision combination, of methanol and nitro, and it knocks you for six, HENCE THE GAS MASK.

You look around you, the world still seems to still be intact, only several seconds have passed, there are no huge cracks in the ground, there wasn’t a real earth quake at all. NOW that noise, tick-over is noticeably faster, adjustments are being made all over the shop and still temperatures are being checked as well as any leaks any where, that just shouldn’t be happening.

If all is going to plan, the engine is being heated up to working temperature and final adjustments made to timing and fuel pump. You may have finally manged to force your arms up towards your head and put a finger in each ear, you will then think, the fingers don’t seem to be having any effect. You will probably remove them. Thinking to yourself, I only live once, this sound is so unusual and so fantastic and indescribable, with its metallic content and whistling from the super charger and its huge drive belt. You will take it full on, at each jab of the throttle, so as to remember it for ever.

Someone in the crew will now be making HAND SIGNALS, cutting his throat. NO the engine does not stop instantly. It returns to tick-over for a split second and then a new sound, as it rises up perhaps 500 revs for several seconds, before everything is KILLED.

You then realise some of the crew have been holding fire extinguishers all this time, and they are now putting them back down on the floor. YOUR MIND will be catching up with its self, thinking all the things it was temporarily unable to do, as it took that stunning shock to your brain cells.

Just as if time goes into slow motion in a car crash, your brain will now be replaying all that happened, and all you saw without realising it, and it will now be back to normal speed. BUT something is STILL NOT QUITE RIGHT.

The sudden SILENCE, it almost seems as loud in itself as the BIG LOUD that followed the smaller NOISE of tick-over. Then your ears will start to hear again just as if the volume knob on a radio is being turned up SLOWLY. The sound you can hear, IS other peoples VOICES. Lots of shocked, EXCITED voices, all saying exactly the same things to each other. Everyone re-telling what has just happened to them, right before their eyes.

You will probably realise you too are doing the same, and it takes a second or two before you are sure you can hear your own voice. Then intense relief followed by overwhelming excitement. You will be trying yourself, to explain the whole experience days later to friends who have never been, and you will be struggling for words. It cannot be done. You’ll tell them, it can only be experienced first hand live, it just cannot be adequately described or repeated in any form of audible media.

Just you wait though, until you see these things perform the pre-race routine, down at the start line, even more stunning, THE FIRST time you see one GO on the green light, will TOTALLY BLOW YOUR MIND. The pits experience, is just to prepare your bodily functions, so as you don’t suffer HEART FAILURE, when two of these beasts run side by side in FULL ANGER.

23 August, 2014
All images and written works by David Forward are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License