Have you ever wondered how a top fuel dragster can put 10,000+ horsepower to the track? The answer is in the clutch.

Unlike a street or high-performance car that uses a manual or automatic transmission, a top-fuel dragster uses a centrifugal clutch and only operates in forward, high, and reverse. You may be wondering how it all works.

A centrifugal clutch operates using centrifugal force as the name implies. It is a system of timers, levers, and clutch discs making up a clutch pack. Centrifugal force wants to throw the clutch fingers outwards. That makes them pivot and push the pressure plate into the clutch pack, increasing clamp force. The cannon controls the throw out bearing, limiting the clamping force via a system of timers. Think of them as a very fancy lever.

Weight is added or subtracted with washers and nuts that are weighed out in grams for tuning by the crew chief. Then the timer controls how fast that cannon can move the throw out bearing. Timers are set up "in series," meaning that #1 trips #2, #2 trips #3, etc. during the run. It is basically rocket science meets black magic!

Some drivers use a five-disc system and some use a six-disc system. It all comes down to tuning and preference and requirements. For example, NHRA driver Lex Joon uses a five system. Lex is someone that I connected with via social media. He’s an up-and-coming top fuel driver who has won multiple FIA Top Fuel World Championships in Europe and is now fighting in the NHRA Top Fuel wars in the States*.

Knowing how these 10,000+ horsepower beasts work is not only interesting on its own—it makes watching the racing that much more intriguing. There's a lot of science and technology behind the sport of drag racing. And the clutches just scratch the surface!

* http://www.lexjoonracing.com/lex-joon.html

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About the Contributor
Blake Waterman
Nov 12, 2018

Blake is an automotive technology student with a passion for drag racing and is pursuing a career working in the NHRA on Top Fuel Dragsters. He has been around racing and drag-racing since he was a little kid.

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Tags: Racing