Video: Courtney Force Walks Away From a Violent Engine Explosion

Nitromethane is powerful and tricky stuff. NHRA Funny Car driver Courtney Force qualified number one in New Hampshire this past weekend, but nearly destroyed her car in the process. Watch this. 



Nitromethane (CH3NO2) is a colorless, oily, highly flammable liquid with a strong, disagreeable odor. That’s the opening description from the material data sheet, anyway, and brother, it doesn’t do the stuff justice. The elixir of choice for drag racing’s Top Fuel and Funny Car categories, nitromethane is a monopropellant (that is, it doesn’t require oxygen for combustion) and a commercial explosive. And when used as a fuel in an internal combustion engine, nitro generates huge amounts of horsepower when everything goes just right. But if anything goes a little bit wrong, the result can be absolute mayhem.

Courtney Force, the youngest daughter of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force and an eight-time national event winner in her own right, was well on her way to the number one qualifying spot at the New England Nationals this past weekend with a run of 3.842 seconds at 331.53 mph, a track record. But just as she pulled the parachute release the engine grenaded with violent force, blowing the carbon fiber body to smithereensand engulfing the chassis in flames. Thanks to NHRA’s extensive safety measures, Courtney walked away without a scratch, but the same can’t be said for the car and its supercharged, 500 cubic-inch engine. Video follows.


4 thoughts on “Video: Courtney Force Walks Away From a Violent Engine Explosion

  1. Most intense automotive racing on the planet. I’m continually amazed at what they get out of a piston engine. It’s difficult to measure, but some estimates are as high as 10,000 hp. If you are a gear head, and have never seen top fuel, you need to experience it. Nitro burns so hot, the flames coming out of the exhaust ( not blowup) is actually the hydrogen in the air being burned. At night, you can actually see ” sparklers” coming out the exhaust, the engine eating itself up. During the warmup in the pits, I can take the nitro fumes for about 20 seconds. It burns your eyes, and chokes your throat, but at the same time, smells sweet. Nitro is so explosive, they have to start the motors on alcohol, then slowly switch to nitro. If they started it up on nitro, it would blow the heads off. The motors run for a total of about 90 seconds. Including warmup, burnout, and run. It’s costs approximately 40-50 THOUSAND dollars to rebuild one after every run, unless something like this happens, a total loss here, probably about $300,000. ( bodies alone are $50g’s) Top fuel facts are pretty impressive. Fuel pumps put out 65 gallons of fuel per minute, equal to 8 showers on full blast and they consume 16 gallons of fuel in 1000 ft.
    The media is making a big deal out of this, in part, because Courtney is a woman. Truth be known, this happens to every driver of top fuel cars. The drivers know this. John Force has tried, and succeeded in bringing more women into the sport, not to mention his contributions to safety after his driver, Eric Medlen was killed in 2007. His daughters pit area’s are jammed with women, although, still, only a handful compete. Not sure why, but as evidenced, her sister, Brittany, who drives a top fuel dragster, won her 1st event this year, and are every bit as capable. Another notable “explosion” that day was Terry McMillan. This guy is the original hard luck joe. Check it out. Don’t worry, Courtney will be fine in her “backup car”. It’s big bucks to run these, between 7 and 8 MILLION dollars per car per year. Thanks MCG for featuring NHRA, sorry for the ramble, but I obviously, love top fuel.

  2. Thanks for that, it sums it up much better than I could say. What isn’t mentioned, is how to get all that power to the rear wheels. It’d done through a massive 5 plate centrifugal clutch, invented by John Force’s then crew chief, Austin Coil. There’s no shifting, just a 1 gear blast. They inch up to the staging beams, take their foot off the clutch pedal, open up the fuel pumps all the way( notice slight drag on the motor) light turns green and mash the throttle.
    After top fuel went to 1000 feet, after Scott Kalitta was killed, shortly after your article, sadly, and took a lot of the zing out of it. A lot of races were won or lost in that 320 feet. It was implemented after Scott’s death, in an effort to slow the cars down, but they are going faster now in 1000 feet, than they were in the 1/4. This is probably the the most common reaction for a 1st timer. Note the fumes are burning his eyes. Very important, don’t forget the earplugs.

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