- The NHRA Funny Car and Top Fuel classes are on the verge of hitting the 340-mph plateau
- It was in 2017—five years ago—that Robert Hight, driver of the Auto Club Chevy Camaro Funny Car at John Force Racing, clocked the fastest run in NHRA history at 339.87 mph, at Sonoma, California.
- Goodyear says its current NHRA tire compound is eight years old, but it can handle the escalating speed record.
- Funny Car’s Ron Capps said rev limiter tweaks by NHRA can keep envelope-pushing speeds in check for the sake of safety.
Remarkably, Goodyear hasn’t changed the NHRA Top Fuel and Funny Car tire compounds for the oversized rear slicks in eight years.
And despite the flashy speeds in the past couple of years—mainly from Top Fuel’s Brittany Force and Funny Car’s Robert Hight, Ron Capps, and Matt Hagan—Goodyear representatives Todd Rogers and Bill Bedont said the current tire technology can handle the performance gains.
“We don’t really have any concerns the way things stand now,” Bedont, Goodyear’s lead engineer for drag racing said. “We have two race engineers who go to the track every [race]. We haven’t seen anything so far that has any red flags on our end. We monitor that week to week, and we talk to NHRA constantly. We test every year, throughout the year, multiple times.
“We also have a couple variations of this tire on the shelf that we feel comfortable rolling out if we needed to,” he said. “But we’re comfortable with what we have right now. We’ve been running this tire since 2015.”
Speed Milestones In Top Fuel
- 250 mph – 250.00, Don Garlits, 1975, Ontario, Calif.
- 300 mph – 301.70, Kenny Bernstein, 1992, Gainesville, Fla.
- 320 mph – 321.77, Cory McClenathan, 1997, Ennis, Texas
- 330 mph – 330.23, Tony Schumacher, 1999, Chandler, Ariz.
Speed Milestones In Funny Car
- 250 mph – 250.00, Don Prudhomme, 1982, Baton Rouge, La.
- 300 mph – 300.40, Jim Epler, 1993, Topeka
- 320 mph – 323.35, John Force, 1998, Englishtown, NJ
- 330 mph – 330.15, Gary Scelzi, 2004, Joliet, Ill.
Rogers, sales account manager, echoed that: “We really don’t have any concerns with where we are right now with the speeds. We’re comfortable with what we see. At Sonoma, with Brittany [Force] going 337 a couple of runs, her tires looked great, and actually, pair of those tires ran this [past] weekend (at the Northwest Nationals, near Seattle).”
Through constant testing and fine-tuning engineering, Goodyear actually has an ace up its sleeve.
“We’ve done testing. We’re always testing. Every season we try to come out with another development of the tire, whether we change sidewall construction for tread compound, trying to stiffen up the tire, make it more robust. We tested last January. So we have another tire sitting on the shelf,” Bedont said. “But there’s no reason to introduce it now. Teams have inventories of tires. No need to make a change now.”
Rogers said, “We have no plans to change it, but we always want to be learning, because everything constantly changes. Whether it’s clutch disc or whatever these crew chiefs are doing, they’re pretty smart guys.”
The question is at what point Goodyear would become concerned.
“I don’t know. We’re not there yet,” Rogers said.
“We are not worried about it,” Bedont said. “We have the technology to stay ahead of where they are. And we work very closely with the teams. We monitor every tire that comes down the track. We follow sequence numbers. We track the life of the tire so that if there are any issues we can go back to the teams and work with the teams or work with NHRA to see if somebody’s doing something different.”
The drivers certainly aren’t concerned. They always want to go faster and faster. As Bedont said, “They’re wired that way.”
Ron Capps posted the second-fastest speed in drag-racing history, 339.28 mph, in 2019 at Reading, Pennsylvania. And he said that when the Countdown to the Championship kicks off in September there at Maple Grove Raceway, it’s possible someone in the nitro rank will break the 340-mph barrier.
“You might see 340 this year when we get to Maple Grove (a facility known for its mineshaft conditions) and places like that. I’ve got confidence in Goodyear. I don’t see an issue there. We can’t go much faster,” Capps said. “They’ll do something to keep it down, I’m sure. I don’t have an issue with worrying about the tire.”
The Funny Car team owner of the NAPA Toyota Supra said, “The cars are so much heavier. I think the rev limiter has kept them pretty much at bay.” However, he said, “I foresee them [NHRA officials] doing something here if we throw those numbers out again. I bet they’ll do something if we see those numbers up, but it’ll be small, I’m guessing. I don’t even know. I haven’t heard anything. But I can bet you if somebody runs 339 like we did or 340, the NHRA just might want to do something—just a little bit, I would think.”
It was in 2017—five years ago—that Robert Hight, driver of the Auto Club Chevy Camaro Funny Car at John Force Racing, clocked the fastest run in NHRA history at 339.87 mph, at Sonoma, Calif.
He said he noticed that immediately the “NHRA changed the rules—made us stand our headers up and gave us a different rev limiter. And we haven’t even come close to that since.”
Consequently, Hight said, “I don’t think you’re going to see dragsters go 339 with the rev limiter the way it is. I mean, it’s pure physics. RPM is a function of speed, and when you have a rev limiter that’s taking timing out of the way it’s doing, a dragster’s on the rev limiter at half-track, at the eighth-mile. I don’t think you’re going to see 339 miles an hour.”
Moreover, Hight said, “And we don’t have any tire issues. Goodyear gives us a great tire. We’re putting more runs on tires now than we ever have in the past—ever. As a driver, I feel very, very confident and safe in one of these cars.”
Tire capability isn’t the hot topic among crew chiefs, Capps said.
“From what I’ve gathered, talking to crew chiefs, it’s not tires—it’s shutdown (room) to stop the cars,” he said. “It’s not just the short shutdowns at some of these tracks. There’s a lot more [factors] that adds to it, especially with the weight of the cars. It’ll take another few years and the crew chiefs will figure out a way around it.”
Hight knows that, too: “I commend NHRA—and trust me, I want to go as quick and fast as I can. It’s what this sport’s always been about, being quicker and faster, setting records. That’s the goal. That’s what you work for.” On the other hand, he said, “They also have made it where it’s really, really close, good racing. It’s a lot of fun, and the fans that sit in the stands are treated to some really close side-by-side racing. I’m not knocking their rules at all.”
Winners on the dragstrip are determined by elapsed time, or “ET,” rather than speed. But speed still is what makes the crowd go nuts. Maybe it’s just the number everyone can relate to more. As far as Goodyear is concerned, drivers can bring it on.
Speed Milestones In Top Fuel
250 mph – 250.00, Don Garlits, 1975, Ontario, Calif.
300 mph – 301.70, Kenny Bernstein, 1992, Gainesville, Fla.
320 mph – 321.77, Cory McClenathan, 1997, Ennis, Texas
330 mph – 330.23, Tony Schumacher, 1999, Chandler, Ariz.
Speed Milestones In Funny Car
250 mph – 250.00, Don Prudhomme, 1982, Baton Rouge, La.
300 mph – 300.40, Jim Epler, 1993, Topeka
320 mph – 323.35, John Force, 1998, Englishtown, NJ
330 mph – 330.15, Gary Scelzi, 2004, Joliet, Ill.
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