November 11, 2017, by Kay Presto,www.carsandcompetition.com
It’s obvious in the Top Fuel class of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing series, with Brittany Force piloting her Monster Energy dragster to a top speed of 330.31 miles per hour in Friday’s qualifying round at the Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.
But the Funny Cars excel at speed too. Jack Beckman powered his Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger R/T to a top speed of 334.98 miles per hour down the 1000-foot dragstrip.
Courtney Force also charged her Chevy Camaro Funny Car to a speed of 334.57 miles per hour.
How are these fire-breathing Funny Cars attaining those speeds? According to Beckman, part of that speed is due to the use of the six-disc clutch in those cars.
“We found our answer at the hot tracks this year, posting three wins,” he said, “Mid-season this year, we parked that car, brought out the new one, tested it at Norwalk, and now I feel like we have a good third-position race car.
“A lot of this is due to what the crew chiefs are doing. They are digging so deep into the timing box and working with the clutches. On our team, we went with the six-disc clutch. We ran it here last year at the finals, and that car either set low. E.T. or didn’t go five feet, so when our crew was moved back to John Force, and only John Medlen stayed with us, we knew that six-disc clutch was good for our car, and started from scratch with that. It took a lot of time, and it wasn’t just the clutch that was new. Except for Medlen, nobody on that crew had been with us the year before.” That change was so extreme that except for Medlen, nobody knew how to turn on the computers in the team area, and Medlen had his own location downstairs.
“The only choice we had,” Beckman said, “was to be smart about that, go to a bunch of different racetracks, and develop our data base as the season went on.”
Despite the excellent Safety Safari-prepped conditions of the Auto Club Raceway, which was actually a parking lot for the annual Los Angeles County Fair two months before, the teams do not have a lot of data to fall back when they come to the Pomona finals. “We do not use the same tune-up we ran in February, so we pick and we pick, and we make good intelligent decisions in our tune-up for these Finals,” Beckman said. He also stated that the only one of two Funny Cars that had been running without the six-disc setup was the Make-A-Wish team of Tommy Johnson, Jr. “That team put one in on a Monday after Las Vegas, ran well, and left it in for this final Pomona competition.”
Surprisingly, the only Funny Car running in competition this weekend with the five-disc setup is the NAPA Auto Parts machine driven by Ron Capps, who’s in tight competition with Robert Hight for this weekend’s NHRA World Title.
“That car has been stellar the last two years,” said Beckman; “make what you want out of that.“
The six-disc clutch gives the teams a wider tuning window once they sort them out, but it’s really finicky in the first twenty feet of competition. When a team changes anything that major in a Funny Car, it’s always going to create a learning curve, but the six-disc, for some reason, gives teams more authority over the driveshaft, more surface area transferring torque. So when they add that extra disc, they have to adjust the clutch levers and the weights to compensate for it.
“If we back it off too far, we go too slow,” Beckman explained. “If we don’t back it off enough, we don’t go three feet.” It’s crucial finding that balance, so the team designs different clutch levers that work on different radiances.
When the NHRA Finals concludes this Sunday, it will be interesting to note which team ran which clutch combination to win that prized Wally Parks title trophy.
It will all be determined by how expertly that team set their clutch setup to match the track conditions, and how well that driver took it down the dragstrip.