Speed equals horsepower. Alan Johnson knows how to make both.
In August 2005, as a tuner for Don Schumacher Racing, he guided Tony Schumacher to a 337.58 mph blast at Brainerd Raceway. Earlier this season DSR’s Spencer Massey established the 1,000-foot speed mark for the NHRA’s 1000-foot course at 332.18 mph.
Only 5.40 miles per hour separates today’s nitro racing on a shortened race track to the speeds NHRA Top Fueler dragsters reached when running it out the back door.
Johnson said he could only guess where the speeds would be if they were still running to 1320 feet.
“That’s kind of hard to say because we run the cars a bit different now,” admitted Johnson. “We wouldn’t run the cars as aggressively as we do if we were trying to make them go to the quarter-mile. A 1320-foot run is pretty tough on the engine. The way we run them now … with the rev-limiter, it probably wouldn’t change at all. If we didn’t have a rev-limiter and we ran quarter-mile with the car we have now, I’m sure we’d run well over 340. With the rev-limiter, it’s not possible.”
Plus, as Johnson revealed, at most tracks back in the quarter-mile, the land-based rockets were slipping and sliding for the last 320 feet. The move to 1,000 foot race courses has made the driver the most important part of the equation.
“That last 320 feet, at a lot of tracks, we’d spin the tires,” said Johnson. “That generally doesn’t happen anymore. The tracks are really good, all the way to the 1,000 feet. Generally you don’t spin the tires there. There are some places you do when it is really hot. Generally, we don’t. The driver doesn’t have that extra 320 feet to make up for a bad reaction time. It’s put all of the cars a little closer together. There’s more emphasis on the driver whether they are going to win or lose.”
“It was kind of a 50/50 thing. If you got behind and you had a quicker car, and you got an extra 320 feet to run that guy down, it doesn’t put as much pressure on your driver. It’s tightened up the guys with a lot of power because the space to drive around someone has been eliminated.”
The no-nonsense Johnson says the speculation many of the teams have gotten more aggressive earlier in the run with the change in track length is for the most part inaccurate. In his case it is. The biggest change he believes is the shorter distance is easier on the engine.
“It’s the same,” Johnson explained. “We are constantly exploring ways to make the car run quicker. The quickest we have been to the 330-foot mark is 2.08. We did that when we were running quarter-mile. The quickest we’ve been since this is 2.10 at 1,000 feet. We are always trying to get it where we can get it. Anywhere from 60-feet to 1,000 feet … every incremental time, we are trying to get it. That doesn’t matter if you are racing to 1,000 feet or quarter-mile. We are aggressive and going after every bit … especially now that it’s shorter.”
Johnson has kept his opinions on the canopy to the media at a minimum and while he hasn’t ruled out an aerodynamic focus in the future, he’s primary concentrating on a new engine combination which already has him running with the leaders. He hasn’t seen enough of an advantage to make adding the new canopy design from Aerodine to the Al-Anabi dragsters.
“The aerodynamics with the DSR cars, the canopy, there’s really not much advantage in the canopy itself,” said Johnson. “They may have 50 to 100 pounds of drag off of their cars when compared to us and that doesn’t amount to a whole lot. What they have going for them is the injector pressure. That’s where all of their performance comes from. They’ve cleaned up the air where it enters the injector and upped the pressure in the injector, where it makes them run so well. Once the car gets up to speed and it’s got a ram air into the injector. It helps the supercharger.”
Performance increase or not, Johnson isn’t sold on the value of the canopy when it comes to his team speeding ahead of the competition. This would be a last resort for the seasoned tuner turned team manager.
“It would be for us,” said Johnson. “I don’t know that my drivers are all that comfortable about sitting in it for starters. There’s some safety concerns I have with that as well. Plus it’s forty pounds heavier. Our drivers aren’t exactly lightweights. If you have light drivers like Tony and Antron, for example, they can afford to throw some weight on right there and not be well overweight. We can’t get down to the minimum weight as it is. To put an extra 40 pounds on, is pretty much a handicap. For nothing more than the injector pressure, we’re hoping we can get around that without having to do it, we’ll be better off.
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