NOTE: Cross-Posted at Carloves.com
What’s the fastest accelerating car on the planet? A top fuel dragster. Nothing comes close. 0-100 in 0.7 seconds. These 8,000 to 10,000 horsepower beasts are something to behold. The speeds and the stresses involved in drag racing at this level are so tremendous that the engines have to be rebuilt after each and every run.
I recently photographed the NHRA event at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Not only did the event feature top-fuel cars, there were funny cars, motorcycles and a candy truck that one-quarter mile wheelstands! I had unfettered access to the cars and drivers and came away mightily impressed. It’s tough to imagine what it’s like to sit in a car going 325 miles per hour in just a few seconds. I thought my Corvette had some torque but these babies pump out 14,000 foot pounds of torque. Makes my Corvette look like a Hot Wheels car.
The top-fuel cars use a special fuel called Nitromethane. Each run takes about 15 gallons of this very expensive concoction. The pressure put on the tires on take off literally causes them to distort!
But no matter how many words I write or how much I talk about the experience, standing at the start line 10-feet from these cars is a life-changing experience. The concussion from the exhaust is so powerful that it blew me off a small footstool I was using to get a better angle at the start. Each run literally caused my bones to rattle. And the noise – I was wearing my usual -24db noise-canceling Racing Electronic Platinum Headset. Let’s just put it this way. I wish it were -48db because my ears are still ringing from the noise.
In addition to cars, this event also featured motorcycles traveling at speeds in the 200 miles per hour club. I got the chance to talk to some of the young riders. To a man and woman – they were all friendly, approachable and full of joy at getting to go fast.
Before each round, the vehicles need to warm up their tires so they do burnouts. Here’s a fun fact – when you’re 10 feet from cars doing a burnout, you get covered in oil and rubber. I was digging bits of tire out of my teeth for days after shooting these photos.
The crews, race officials, team owners and even spectators are downright close to the action at an NHRA race. REALLY close. You could probably get some great images without credentials at these events.
Photographing these cars takes a very high-speed, high-end DSLR if you want to really capture all the action. I used a Canon 1D MK IV with a 70-200 F/2.8 lens and a 400mm F/5.6 lens for most of the action. Most of the time I was using the 70-200 since I was allowed to stand so close. But you have to be quick. Within seconds of the start – the cars are literally a mile away. This is no place for slow pokes.
With any race you have to figure out how you want your photographs to convey motion. Fortunately, when cars are doing wheel stands, it’s pretty obvious, even to the very casual observer, that the car isn’t parked.
I love cars, racing, speed, and everything that goes with it. Decades ago, I did some super stock drag racing. I was never good enough at it to seriously compete, but enjoyed it. I can tell you after being this close to these cars this weekend, I think I’ll stick to the Corvette. My 11-second quarter mile times seem turtle-slow compared to these guys but I can keep IT on the track.
One last thing to ponder – the top fuel car drivers are saner than the funny car drivers. The funny car engines that are almost as powerful as the top-fuel cars sit IN FRONT of the driver!
If you get a chance to go to a drag race, with or without your camera, it’s a good time. Bring some ear plugs and relax. I can’t wait for my next drag race!
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