It wasn’t all that long ago that a sub four-second run in a nitro funny car was the stuff of which dreams were made. But now, crossing the line under 4.0 is the price of admission. Mopar® Express Lane Dodge Charger R/T Funny Car driver Matt Hagan and crew chief Dickie Venables have led the charge, taking their nitro-powered HEMI® engine to the first three-second run – 3.995 seconds, to be exact – in 2011 at the fall NHRA event in Charlotte. By the end of 2015, there were a total of 250 three-second runs in the books.
Lately, a large part of these renewed expectations have been credited to a revolutionary move by the minds of Don Schumacher Racing (DSR). The Infinite Hero Dodge Charger, driven by DSR teammate and two-time NHRA Funny Car world champ Jack Beckman, arrived at the NHRA Sonoma Nationals in 2015 with the header pipes laid back ever so slightly, and the performance gains were immediate.
It made a bigger difference than the team expected. The daring tweak to the header angle helped them reset the national record for elapsed time four times that weekend and culminated in a total of seven wins on the season for Beckman, who finished No. 2 in the points standing. The change had a positive effect on the car’s ETs as they hoped it would, but it also drastically affected how the car works. Pivoting the escape route of the powerful exhaust to the rear of the Dodge was the key. The exhaust becomes thrust, and that’s essentially given the car more traction. They estimate that each of the eight exhaust pipes delivers about 800-lbs. of thrust.
The team is able to push harder than they used to, and that’s where the performance comes from. The equipment alteration came with another performance change, however, as the fierce funny car became a bit of a beast from the driver’s standpoint. But drag racing instructor-turned full time nitro driver Beckman played the role of test subject neatly. The crew was able to hammer out the necessary changes – mainly, weight adjustment – for a smoother, more drivable ride.
The other teams soon caught on, and as they all toyed with cutting as much elapsed time as possible, the lay-back of the headers became more and more pronounced. During the 2016 season, NHRA stepped in to govern the activity in the name of safety. NHRA mandated that header pipes may not exceed 2.075 inches in diameter and may not angle more than 32 degrees.
In 2017, funny car teams will have to look for performance gains in other areas.