The Differences Between a Funny Car and a Top Fuel Dragsterby Rob WagnerUpdated August 06, 2023
The National Hot Rod Association, or NHRA, divides professional race vehicles into 12 categories: Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Top Alcohol Dragster, Top Alcohol Funny Car, Comp, Super Comp, Stock, Super Stock, Pro Stock Super Gas and Super Street. Stock cars’ engines and chassis are tightly regulated. Super Stocks look like Stock cars, but highly modified. Pro Stock cars technically are advanced factory hot rods. Pro Stock motorcycles are the two-wheeled versions of Pro Stock cars. Funny Cars often feature modified bodies of factory vehicles. Top Fuel dragsters use supercharged, nitro-burning engines instead of gasoline to power the engine. Top Alcohol dragsters and Funny cars use supercharged nitromethane-injected or methanol-burning engines. Comps are altered dragsters, roadsters, sedans, coupes, compact cars and trucks. Super Comp and Super Street vehicles have modified chassis, engines and bodies. Super Gas is a full-bodied version of an open-wheel Super Comp. Super Streets are full-bodied vehicles under 2,800 pounds.
Funny Car Origins
Funny cars began appearing on drag strips around 1964 when race drivers began using Dodge and Plymouth cars with radically altered wheelbases that had the rear axle moved forward by about 15 inches, and the front wheels moved toward the nose by about 10 inches. These early Chrysler vehicles featured a 426-cubic-inch Hemi V-8 engine. Racing teams reduced the Funny car’s weight by about 200 pounds by chemically milling the body and replacing the steel front fenders, hood, rear deck and doors with fiberglass versions. An NHRA track announcer noted the vehicles were “funny looking,” and the moniker not only stuck, but became an official NHRA category.
The Funny car and Top Fuel dragster share many characteristics. They can generate up to 7,000 horsepower, or about 750 horsepower per cylinder based on an eight-cylinder engine. Output is about 37 times more powerful than the standard factory production car. Both vehicles burn about five gallons of fuel in a one-quarter-mile run, which averages between 16 and 20 gallons of fuel for just one mile.
Modern Funny cars employ aerodynamically altered carbon-fiber bodies to reduce wind drag and vehicle weight. Most Funny cars have 426-cubic-inch supercharged nitromethane fuel-injected Chrysler Hemi engines capable of hitting the quarter mile in 4.6 seconds at 330 mph. Some drag teams use Ford-built machines. Team Wilkerson Racing, for example, used a 2009 Shelby Mustang in the NHR Funny Car category. It had a 125-inch wheelbase, Weld Racing wheels, Goodyear tires and a fuel capacity of 18 gallons. The engine was a 7,000-horsepower supercharged 500-cubic-inch Ford V-8.
Top Fuel Origins and Specifics
NHRA-sanctioned dragster racing dates to 1953. Front-engine Top Fuel dragsters were common until the early 1970s, when rear-engine versions debuted to improve driver safety. The 17-inch rear tires of contemporary Top Fuel dragsters experience up to 8,000 pounds of downforce created by the racer's aerodynamic wings that are used to reduce wind drag. These vehicles can reach 100 mph from a dead stop in about 0.8 seconds and can reach 280 mph in 660 feet.
Rob Wagner is a journalist with over 35 years experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines. His experience ranges from legal affairs reporting to covering the Middle East. He served stints as a newspaper and magazine editor in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Wagner attended California State University, Los Angeles, and has a degree in journalism.