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Off the Charts
Racing Records Were Made to be Broken.
And Mopar-Fueled Passion Has Been Pushing the Limits for Years.
Mopar® Racing Records – 250 MPH Drag Racing
When researching the connection that Mopar® has with setting records in motor sports, an interesting comparable emerges. And that’s the Mopar Brand’s place in drag racing and NASCAR when it comes to powering notable mph records.
In the world of nitro-fueled drag racing, Mopar has been an engine partner for many notable records. The primary factor for this was the introduction of the HEMI® engine head design for Mopar engines. A second factor was the partnership with drag racing pioneer and legend Don Garlits. The ’50’s, ’60’s, ’70’s and ’80’s saw this partnership between Mopar and Don Garlits establish numerous firsts on the drag strip.
Swamp Rat 1 established Garlits and Mopar as a record-setting combination with a new ¼-mile world record of 176.40 mph in November 1957. From this point moving forward, Garlits would employ his evolutionary Swamp Rat series of Top Fuel cars to set the first 180, 200, 240, 250 and 270 mph ¼-mile passes in drag racing. The 270 mph record occurred during the 1986 Gatornationals and, as always, included a nitro-powered HEMI engine in Swamp Rat 30.
Of note, the technological advancements in manufacturing and electronics from the late 1950’s through the mid ‘80’s (along with Garlits’ ability to apply his notable advances) allowed this 100 mph increase in ¼-mile performance. As we now look at the 30-plus years since the landmark 270 mph performance, there is one incredible trend that has been established. The push to 300 mph only took six years to reach. Then the Top Fuel class reached 330 mph in another ten years. However, once the Top Fuel class reached 330-plus mph, the NHRA became concerned that there were major safety concerns to going any faster. For a number of years following the 330 mph benchmark, the NHRA worked with the teams to limit the amount of nitro allowed in the fuel. The teams, however, just kept pushing.
By 2008, the Top Fuel class was pushing near 340 mph. Then, on June 21, 2008, Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta was killed while making a pass in Englishtown, New Jersey. Soon after, NHRA decided to shorten the distance to the finish line for Top Fuel and Funny Car competitors from 1,320 feet (1/4-mile) to 1,000 feet. This move resulted in reduced speeds, and also allowed drivers more time to slow down their vehicles after the completion of each run.
By 2014, though, the Top Fuel class pushed back into the 330 mph zone for 1,000-foot runs. Therefore, in April 2018, the NHRA made the unilateral decision to change the track preparations that involve the amount of “glue” applied to the track surface. This decision has had short-term success in keeping the Top Fuel class from getting much above 330 mph. However, now that the sport has established the 330 mph “limit”, it will continue to be an interesting game between the teams and NHRA to keep the speeds in this zone.
While Don Garlits was a pioneer in pushing the boundaries of performance in drag racing, recent years have seen Don Schumacher Racing continue this tradition. Matt Hagan and Leah Pritchett have been part of a few notable speed and event accomplishments. In 2017, Hagan set the fastest elapsed time and speed records for a Funny Car. In May, at Heartland Park, Hagan went 3.802 seconds at 338.85 mph. Not to be outdone, Leah Pritchett set and then reset the NHRA elapsed time record for a Top Fuel Dragster. First, in February, she ran a 3.658 in Arizona. She eclipsed this ET in Brainerd with a 3.640 to reset the ET record.
Mopar® Racing Records – 200 MPH Drag Racing
While drag racing’s quest for speed has continued to exceed over 300 mph, the sport of NASCAR has remained a form of motorsports that has hovered around the 200 mph barrier for more than three decades. However, like the records attained in drag racing, Mopar was there as a partner in NASCAR to power the first 200 mph lap
Like drag racing, the 1950’s and 1960’s saw average lap speeds soar. As an example, the pole position speed in the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959 was 140.121. By 1969, the record lap speed had jumped to 188.901
Larry Rathgeb, the engineer in charge of Dodge race car development, had been working on a plan throughout 1968 and 1969. He wanted to enter a new Charger Daytona engineering test car for
the Talladega 500.
Following this debut, where the Charger set the 199-plus mph lap speed, Frank Wylie, the Dodge Brand’s public relations director for racing, contacted him. Wylie thought that it would be good to officially break the 200-mph barrier first and NOW. On March 24, 1970, NASCAR driver Buddy Baker piloted the Dodge Charger Daytona to a new NASCAR single lap record speed of 200.447 mph on his 34th lap.
As tire technology and aerodynamics improved in NASCAR, the 200 mph mark was continually pushed further toward 220 mph by 1987. However, following a massive, fence shearing accident in the 1987 Talladega 500, the NASCAR sanctioning body began the use of “restrictor plates” at Daytona and Talladega. This plate has limited the cars to maximizing at 200 mph ever since.
As with all forms of spectator motorsports, speed has a limit. For drag racing, its 330 mph, and for NASCAR, it’s a mere 200 mph.