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Funny Car is a type of drag racing vehicle and a specific racing class in organized drag racing. In the United States, the other professional drag racing classes are Top Fuel, Pro Modified, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Bike. Funny cars are characterized by having tilt-up fiberglass or carbon fiber automotive bodies over a custom fabricated chassis, giving them an appearance vaguely approximating manufacturers' showroom models. They also have forward-mounted engines (engine placed in front of the driver), as opposed to dragsters which (currently) place the engine behind the driver.
Funny car bodies typically reflect the models of newly available cars in the time period that the funny car was built. For example, in the 1970s, then current models such as the Chevrolet Vega or Plymouth Barracuda were often represented as funny cars, and the bodies represented the Big Three of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. Currently, three manufacturers are represented in Funny Car -- Ford's Mustang, Fiat S.p.A.'s Dodge Charger, and Toyota's Camry -- are represented in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA). Worldwide, however, many different body styles are used. These "fake" body shells are not just cosmetic; they serve an important aerodynamic purpose.
The NHRA has strict guidelines for funny cars. Most of the rules relate to the engine. In short, the engines can only be V-8s displacing no more than 500 cubic inches (8.19 L). The most popular design is loosely based on the second generation Chrysler 426 Hemi "Elephant Engine" made from 1964 to 1971.
There can only be two valves per cylinder. The heads are machined from aluminum billet and have no water jackets, as the high latent heat of the methanol in the fuel coupled with the brevity of the run precludes the need for water cooling of the cylinder heads. Superchargers are restricted to a basic Roots type—19-inch (480 mm) rotor case width with a breadth of 11.25 inches (286 mm). The rotors are not allowed to have more than a certain amount of helical twist in them so the blower does not become a screw-type supercharger in function. Only single camshafts are allowed. There are two common bore-stroke combinations: 4.1875 by 4.50 inches (106.36 mm × 114.30 mm) (called a 3/4 stroker) and 4.25 by 4.375 inches (108.0 mm × 111.1 mm) (called a 5/8 stroker). The 3/4 stroker is the most common combination used today and equals 496 CID (8.1 L).
Crankshafts are CNC machine carved from steel billet then nitrided in an oven to increase surface hardness. Intake valves are titanium and of 2.40-inch (61 mm) width, while exhaust valves are 1.90-inch (48 mm) width of Inconel. Every funny car has ballistic blankets covering the supercharger because this part of the engine is prone to explosion.
Funny car fuel systems are key to their immense power. During a single run (starting, burnout, backing up, staging, 1/4 mile) cars can burn as much as 15 US gallons (12 imp gal; 57 L) of fuel. The fuel mixture is usually 85–90% nitromethane with 10–15% methanol. The ratio of fuel to air can be as high as 1:1. Compression ratios vary from 6:1 to 7:1. The engines in funny cars commonly exhibit varying piston heights and ratios that are determined by the piston's proximity to the air intake. Funny cars have a fixed gear ratio of 3.20:1 and have a reversing gear; power is transmitted from engine to final drive through a multiple staged clutch which provides progressive incremental lockup as the run proceeds. The rate/degree of lockup is mechanically/pneumatically controlled and preset before each run according to various conditions, in particular track surface. Wheelbase is between 100 and 125 inches (2.5 and 3.2 m). The car must maintain a 3-inch (76 mm) ground clearance.
Horsepower claims vary widely—from 6,978 to 8,897—but are probably around 8,000 HP. Supercharged, nitromethane-fueled motors of this type derive their extremely high speeds from their torque, which is estimated at about 7,000 ft·lbf (9,500 N·m). They routinely achieve a 6G acceleration from a standing start.
Many safety rules are in place to protect the driver and fans. The more visible safety devices are the twin parachutes to help stabilize and decelerate the car after crossing the finish line. Less visible precautions include roll cages, fire extinguishers and catheterization of the driver in case of prolonged entrapment.
During safety evaluations in the wake of the fatal crash of Scott Kalitta on June 21, 2008 in Englishtown, N.J., the NHRA reduced the distance of Top Fuel and Funny Car races to 1,000 feet effective July 2, 2008. Pro Stock and sportsman classes still race to 1,320 feet.
Origins and Name
The first funny cars were built in the early to mid-1960s. The name originated from the predecessors of the modern funny car, known as the "Altered Wheelbase Experimental" class, or "A/FX". On these early cars, the rear wheels (and sometimes the front wheels as well) had been moved forward on the chassis (thus the "altered wheelbase" designation). At the time, the rear tires were made with a bias-ply construction (the "wrinklewall" style slicks had not been invented yet), which meant that grip upon launching was poor. Racers who performed these altered wheelbase modifications found that it shifted the center of gravity rearward, which placed the weight of the car more on the rear wheels, enhancing the traction from these bias-ply slicks. Because of these many obvious modifications they did not look stock, hence the name "funny".
In recent years, a resurgence of interest in vintage drag cars has created many new "nostalgia" funny cars, which are newly made vintage-style funny car bodies mounted on modern funny car frames or, in certain cases, newly built frames that look close to the originals and are made NHRA legal. These "Nostalgia Funny Cars" often compete in various nostalgia drag racing events, such as the NHRA Heritage Hot Rod Racing Series, which includes the National Hot Rod Reunion and the California Hot Rod Reunion.
NHRA Top Fuel Funny Car champions (1974–2014)
- 1974 - Shirl Greer
- 1975 - Don Prudhomme
- 1976 - Don Prudhomme
- 1977 - Don Prudhomme
- 1978 - Don Prudhomme
- 1979 - Raymond Beadle
- 1980 - Raymond Beadle
- 1981 - Raymond Beadle
- 1982 - Frank Hawley
- 1983 - Frank Hawley
- 1984 - Mark Oswald
- 1985 - Kenny Bernstein
- 1986 - Kenny Bernstein
- 1987 - Kenny Bernstein
- 1988 - Kenny Bernstein
- 1989 - Bruce Larson
- 1990 - John Force
- 1991 - John Force
- 1992 - Cruz Pedregon
- 1993 - John Force
- 1994 - John Force
- 1995 - John Force
- 1996 - John Force
- 1997 - John Force
- 1998 - John Force
- 1999 - John Force
- 2000 - John Force
- 2001 - John Force
- 2002 - John Force
- 2003 - Tony Pedregon
- 2004 - John Force
- 2005 - Gary Scelzi
- 2006 - John Force
- 2007 - Tony Pedregon
- 2008 - Cruz Pedregon
- 2009 - Robert Hight
- 2010 - John Force
- 2011 - Matt Hagan
- 2012 - Jack Beckman
- 2013 - John Force
- 2014 - Matt Hagan
Currently, John Force is the driver in the Funny Car class with the most wins, having 16 championships, over 1,000 round wins and over 130 National Event wins. He is also the owner with the most funny car championships with 18, since Tony Pedregon (2003) and Robert Hight (2009) have each won one title while on his team. Force's former crew chief, Austin Coil, also has logged the highest number of wins in that position.
Most NHRA Funny Car wins
- Dahlquist, Eric (April 1966). "Dragster in Disguise". Hot Rod Magazine: 52-56.
- Cook, Terry (February 1973). "Special Funny Car Section". Hot Rod Magazine: 58-67.
- The Serious Business of Funny Car Aerodynamics, General Motors
- "A Brief History of Funny Cars". Jim Maxwell, Performance Business Magazine.
- "NHRA season champions, 1974-2013". NHRA.
- NHRA National Hot Rod Association Website
- IHRA International Hot Rod Association Website
- Drag Race Central
- Great Lakes Nostalgia Funny Car Circuit