Electric dragsters are making big strides
A few weeks ago, Holley’s MotorLife blog covered an electric vehicle doing something we usually associate with combustion: dragsters.
What fans love about Top Fuel dragsters
While most normal drag racing cars start life as some sort of factory car and then battle the competition for quarters and eighths of a mile, the wildest drag racing machines are built on measure. Some add a normal car body on top to look like a car, while the more extreme machines pretend to be nothing more than a custom rig that prioritizes acceleration above all else.
Everything about Top Fuel dragsters is a caricature of automotive technology, and then a caricature of it. They’re powered by the most potent of alcohol-nitromethane fuels, and that potent mixture is burned by engines that are built from the ground up to run amazingly for just a few seconds (they’d melt if run for more than ten seconds ). They often don’t have a liquid cooling system (something some EVs get away with, but it’s very rare in today’s combustion vehicles), a sacrifice made for strength and stiffness . Otherwise, they tend to use relatively primitive pushrod, two-valve engine technology, but still produce insane levels of power using a supercharger.
When they lift off, they produce so much torque that they twist the tires into a smaller overall diameter from hub to tread, temporarily giving the vehicle a lower gear ratio and a much larger contact patch. As they accelerate (reaching 100 MPH in 0.8 seconds), the tires expand again and give the vehicle a more favorable gear ratio for speed. But all that power comes at a price. After each race, the entire engine must be overhauled. And, that’s assuming they don’t explode during their run, because the best runners are always about to explode. They are so crazy.
Even the tailpipes push out so much exhaust that they themselves push the car down and forward just from the pressure of those escaping gases.
For fans, it’s a sight to behold. The primal sound, the fastest accelerating cars on the planet and everything else racing is truly a spectacle of racing, automotive engineering and a spectacle that impresses our inner caveman, whether the car reaches the end of the runway, goes up in flames, explodes violently or flies away and disintegrates with full force.
Step into the electric dragster
If you’re an EV fan, you’ve probably thought, “Hey, that’s a great job for EVs!” They have a lot of torque! And, you are certainly right. That’s why racing equipment manufacturers have been working behind the scenes with racing teams to bring electric vehicle technology to the track.
In 2016, veteran racer Steve Huff saw a TV interview with legend Don Garlits, who was the first racer to hit 200 MPH in a Top Fuel car in the 1960s (today’s Top Fuel dragsters exceed 300). The subject? The race to do the same in an electric dragster. “I’m not really an electric car guy – I love internal combustion engines – but ICE technology has basically stayed the same for over a century.” huff said MotorLife. “I was inspired by this interview with Don, but what really struck me was that he said he didn’t think 200mph was possible with the technology that was currently available at the That’s when I decided to design and build a car to break that barrier, and we named it Current Technology.
When he first heard that other runners were trying to break the 200 MPH barrier on electric power, he looked at what they were doing. Unlike Tesla and other modern electric vehicles, these pioneers still messed around with DC motors instead of an inverter and AC power (which still has to come from DC batteries). To give them a hard time, he had to spend a lot of his:
“A DC motor will deliver massive amounts of power for a very short period of time, and it’s relatively inexpensive compared to an AC drive system,” he told MotorLife. “An AC drive system is more complex – we basically had to double the weight in order to get comparable power, and by doubling the weight we had to create even more power on top to make up for the extra pounds. And since that involves inverters, newer motor technology, and more motors, the costs quickly start to add up with AC drives, but the advantage is that AC systems are much more tunable. , more consistent from a performance standpoint, and our setup should be virtually maintenance free for well over a decade.There’s a reason all OEMs are going AC now.
This AC vs. DC competition, reminiscent of the Tesla vs. Edison days, propelled both teams to 180 MPH in 2017, but getting either technology up to 200 was an elusive challenge even for these well-funded teams. . The technology arms race continued, with teams battling at just 1-2 miles per hour, slowly climbing 180-186 MPH.
What ultimately propelled Huff’s team beyond the goal was an improved motor controller and data logger that finally allowed them to achieve fine enough control over the AC motor to achieve performance maximum in a drag car. On May 7, 2020, they finally topped 200 MPH. Further tuning took them to 202.52 MPH, the overall electric drag record, earlier this year. His competitors did not break this speed record, but they cover the quarter mile a little faster than him.
Now his goal is to fine tune the dragster and complete a quarter mile in 6 seconds, so there is a lot of development work ahead:
“Without a clutch, our car turns in 1.35 seconds over 60 feet. For a 200 mph drag car, that’s awfully slow. But we’ve developed a new clutch system for the car, and we’re going to test it. We’re the first team to use a clutch in an EV dragster like this, and it allows us to offset all the low-end power that a DC motor would produce. don’t have that – it’s a common misconception that it’s instant full torque.If this clutch does what is expected of it, it should get us first in 6s.
This latest version of the electric drag car uses a custom lithium-ion battery that produces 1.6 megawatts of power, but that’s not enough to stay ahead of the rest of the industry forever. As racing sanctioning bodies open electric divisions for drag racing and more teams jump into the fray, there are going to be some exciting years ahead.
Will fans accept quieter racing vehicles that don’t explode as often? I think they will. Huff and Garlits are already going on a racing tour this year, and fans want to see them in action.
Featured image by Holley.
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