The Ultimate NHRA Drag Racing Quiz


By: Dave Davis

7 Min Quiz

Image: Colin Anderson Productions pty ltd / Stockbyte / Getty Images

About This Quiz

They come in many different shapes, sizes and classes — from Top Fuel Dragsters to Nitro-burning Funny Cars — but the vehicles in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) have only one purpose: to burn down the track as fast as possible. No finesse or maneuvering — just raw power down the straightaway, competing against the racer beside you, the clock and the laws of physics. But how much do you know about this sport? This quiz will separate those who burn rubber from those who flame out.

There's something for every type of gearhead in the NHRA. The association has more than 200 classes, ranging from those just entering the field to seasoned professionals who push the boundaries in the sport. The matches are short compared to other sports — the top-performing vehicles can burn down the track in less than four seconds and reach speeds of 325 miles per hour — but the power and speed are thrilling to witness. Even those in the stands can feel the blast of vehicles jumping off the line to take the heat. Drag racing engages the senses of the fans, unlike almost any other competition. You hear the massive roar of the engines, you smell the rubber burning off the tires, you can feel the engines' power in your chest, and you witness men and women give it their all to hit the finish line first.

Are you ready to test your knowledge of this sport that has no equal? Then get your tires warm, pull up to the line, and wait for that green light. 3 ... 2 ...1... GO!

Drag racers Don Prudhomme and Tom McEwen had one of the greatest rivalries in the sport. What nicknames did they use?

Don "The Snake" Prudhomme and Tom "Mongoose" McEwen had one of the most fondly remembered rivalries, running from the mid-1960s to early '70s. The Snake, in his Barracuda, faced off with the Mongoose, in his Duster, several times over the years.


What is the "sand trap" on a drag strip?

The sand trap is the area at the end of the racing strip, also known as the "shutdown area." The sand trap is 80 feet long and filled with 6 feet of sand. It is designed to slow and stop a car. This area was made longer and deeper after the 2008 death of racer Scott Kalitta.


When fans come to watch a drag race, what is a vital but often overlooked item they should bring?

In addition to being powerful, engines as strong as the ones that launch drag racers down the strip are also something else: LOUD! These vehicles can generate 150 decibels when competing (a rock concert will hit 104 to 120 dB). In addition to being large and unmuffled, Top Fuel engines are exposed rather than being underneath a hood. Protect your hearing, because once hearing damage is done, it's permanent.


"Heart Like a Wheel" was a motion picture about what famous drag racer?

The 1983 biopic, "Heart Like a Wheel," told the story of drag racing driver Shirley Muldowney. It starred Bonnie Bedelia. Not only did it share the story of a pioneer in the sport, but it also introduced drag racing to many people who had never been exposed to the motorsport.


Which of these is a hazard when driving a drag racing vehicle?

With the power that a drag racer with a rear-mounted engine has coming off the line, there is a tendency for the car to tip up. This can lead to a loss of control or the car going airborne. Newer racers are designed to create enough negative air pressure underneath the car to keep all four wheels on the ground through the run.


Which of these is required by NHRA mandate?

Driving a vehicle to more than 300 miles per hour in under four seconds is an inherently dangerous pursuit, and the NHRA has put many rules in place over the years to protect participants. On-board fire extinguishing systems, five-point safety harnesses and wheelie bars are also required to compete.


What is the record for the fastest quarter-mile for a dragster?

In 2005, Tony Schumacher set a record time of 3.667 seconds, hitting 337.58 mph at a competition in Brainerd, Minnesota. To put this into perspective, if a sports car can go from 0 to 60 in under four seconds, it's a head-turner! Since Top Fuel racers now run a course of 1,000, this specific record is in no danger of being broken.


What is a HANS device in drag racing?

A Head and Neck Support (HANS) device is designed to keep the head in place in the event of an impact. This helps to prevent, among other injuries, a basilar skull fracture (a break at the base of the skull). This type of injury has killed many race drivers, the best known to most is NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt.


Why did Top Fuel races go from a quarter-mile track down to 1,000-foot length?

The racetrack for Top Fuel competitions went down in 2008 from a quarter-mile (1,320 feet) to 1,000 feet after racer Scott Kalitta died in a crash in Englishtown, New Jersey. The shorter track limits the speed the machines can reach and also gives a longer stretch for the vehicles to slow down. The change was said to be temporary, but there are no plans in place to change the distance.


Which of these classes is NOT part of the top division of the NHRA?

The top division of the NHRA is the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. It has four pro classes: Top Fuel Dragster, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle.


Why is Wally Parks a notable figure in drag racing?

In 1951, Wally Parks founded the National Hot Rod Association in order to have a governing body to oversee the sport of drag racing and help it gain popularity in the United States and Canada. The winners of the NHRA U.S. Nationals are given a trophy that is nicknamed "The Wally" in his honor.


"Big Daddy" Don Garlits is credited with what safety innovation in drag racing?

"Big Daddy" Don Garlits lost part of his right foot in 1970 when his transmission exploded and broke his car in half. He then drew up plans for a rear-engined car that would put the engine, transmission and fuel lines behind the driver.


How do Top Fuel dragsters get more out of their engines than other vehicles?

When the name of the game is to jump off the line and run straight for the finish, you've got to get every bit of horsepower out of your engine as quickly as possible. Since these aren't endurance cars, mechanics can put all their effort into short, massive bursts of power, and this shows up in the engine design and the type of fuel used.


When a dragster is said to be a "nitro-burning," what type of fuel is it using?

Nitromethane is used to power dragsters because its chemical structure contains oxygen as well as carbon and hydrogen (gasoline only has carbon and hydrogen). The addition of oxygen makes the fuel need less outside oxygen to ignite and can get more power per stroke out of the engine.


Don Prudhomme and Tom McEwen weren't just on-track rivals. What else did they do?

While The Snake and The Mongoose were fabulous on-track rivals, they both had a head for business, and they partnered with Mattel to have their vehicles immortalized as "Hot Wheel" racers in 1970. Not only did this help both drivers pay the bills, but it also helped the sport of drag racing reach out and get wider public attention.


About how much does a Top Fuel engine cost these days?

This isn't a cheap sport. A Top Fuel engine that's ready to be dropped into a dragster chassis will set you back about $60K — about the same as a 2019 Dodge SRT Hellcat.


Which soft drink has been the sponsor of the top competition series of the NHRA?

Winston cigarettes was the sponsor of the NHRA's top competition level from 1975 through 2001, as well as the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. After the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement of 1998, the company had to drop one sponsorship and decided to continue to sponsor the NASCAR series and drop the NHRA. The Coca-Cola Company then got the rights and has used Powerade, Full Throttle and Mello Yello to sponsor the series.


On average, how many G-forces does a driver feel from the acceleration in a typical drag-racing run?

Standing still, we are experiencing one "G" (the amount gravitational force exerted by the Earth). When you accelerate, you "pull" more Gs. When you're going from 0 to more than 300 miles per hour in under four seconds, you're pulling a LOT of Gs — about 4, to be exact.


Where did the organized sport of drag racing find its first tracks?

As soon as cars were developed, there were people wanting to race them — and some got very serious about it. Drag racing began as a sport on dry lake beds in Southern California in the 1930s. The beds were perfect because they were unused, wide open and relatively flat. Racing Pioneer Wally Parks helped to organize the sport in 1938 by forming the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) and later the NHRA in 1951.


In one word, describe the suspension system of a Top Fuel drag racer.

Top Fuel dragsters have no suspension system because the track is already as smooth as possible and the back tires are large enough to absorb any bumps along the way. Because of this, the wheels are directly connected to the chassis.


What is the playoff system called that determines the champion of each NHRA class?

The NHRA started the "Countdown to The Championship" playoff system in 2007 to crown the winner of each class the association sanctions. The season is divided into two sections, with the top 10 teams in the standings after the first section is completed going on to the second section. The standings are points-based.


When was the Pro Stock Motorcycle class added to the NHRA lineup?

The Pro Stock Motorcycle class was added to the NHRA Championship Drag Racing Series in the 1980s, with the first points championship being awarded in 1987.


Which of these can a Pro Stock vehicle use in NHRA-sanctioned races?

While the Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars are all designed to the top mechanical specifications possible for a motor vehicle, those in the Pro Stock class of the NHRA are required to use components that the general public can purchase, and modifications such as turbo or superchargers, nitrous oxide and others cannot be used. This is the "Factory Hot Rod" class!


How much horsepower does a Top Fuel dragster generate?

It doesn't generate that kind of force for long, but a Top Fuel dragster can generate up to 11,000 horsepower during its run. They are among the fastest-accelerating machines in the world. To put it in perspective, the $3.4 million Bugatti Chiron puts out about 1480 horses.


At what point does a Top Fuel dragster motor hit the redline?

Top Fuel dragsters are built to take abuse (1,000 feet at a time). While a gas engine can hit about 6,000 to 7,000 revolutions per minute before reaching the redline on the tachometer, dragsters blow past that point and top out at about 9,500 RPM.


What can happen if a spark plug fails early in a dragster's run?

All the spark plugs must fire during the run; otherwise, unburned nitromethane will build up in the engine and explode. The force of the explosion could blow the cylinder head off the block, or even split the engine block in half.


The car bodies of how many manufacturers are currently represented in the NHRA's Funny Car class?

The outer shell of the Funny Car is designed to reflect the style of a consumer car, and currently there are four examples on the Funny Car track at NHRA-sanctioned events: Ford (Mustang), Chevrolet (Camaro), Dodge (Charger) and Toyota (Camry).


How much downforce does the rear wing of a dragster generate during a run?

It is not the most prominent feature of a dragster, but the rear wing plays a vital role in helping the vehicle reach its top speed. By putting that much downward force on the back wheels, the rear tires grip the track better and can translate the torque generated by the engine into acceleration.


As fast as the cars start, stopping them can be even more brutal for the drivers. How many "Gs" does a driver experience at the end of a race?

While the acceleration phase of the race puts a lot of strain on the driver, the moment when the parachutes deploy and bring the car to a stop can be even harder. NHRA Funny Cars, for example, put a strain of more than seven times the force of gravity (7 Gs) on the driver as the car comes to a stop!


How many times can a drag racing engine be used in competition?

Drag racing is all about the explosive nature of barreling down the 1,000-foot strip as fast as mechanically possible, and as you might suspect, this is very hard on the engine. So hard, in fact, that the engine needs to be rebuilt after every heat, complete with new pistons, rod bearings and other vital components.


Which of these statements is true about a Funny Car?

The NHRA has some pretty strict guidelines about the build of vehicles in the Funny Car class. The car, which has a tilt-up shell built around the chassis can only have a V8 engine which displaces no more than 600 cubic inches, among other restrictions. A Funny Car will also set you back anywhere from $2.6 to $3 million, which isn't funny at all.


How hot does the air/fuel mix in a nitromethane-burning engine get?

Keep clear of the exploding gasses! It takes a special kind of engine to get a vehicle to more than 300 mph in under four seconds, and that engine needs a special kind of fuel. The air/fuel mix in a nitromethane-burning engine can reach 7,050 degrees Fahrenheit!


Assuming the engine doesn't blow up, the car doesn't crack in half, etc., how much per second does it cost to run a dragster?

Not counting the crew payroll and unexpected damage to the car or the engine system, it costs about $1,000 per second to run a Top Fuel dragster. While this sport started in the 1930s with hobbyists, drag racing is not a "weekend" sport!


About how many drivers are on the NHRA's roster at any given time?

The National Hot Rod Association claims to be the largest motorsports sanctioning body in the world, and with 40,000 drivers listed in its ranks, it's hard to argue that claim. With more than 200 classes, there's room for amateurs wanting to test their meddle as well as die-hard professionals ready to test their metal.


Between 2002 and 2018, how many fatalities have occurred at NHRA-sanctioned events?

No matter how many regulations are put in place and how many safety devices are installed, the risk can't be eliminated from the sport of drag racing. There were nine fatalities in the sport between 2002 and 2018.


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