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October 20, 2014

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Fast facts: A look at the NHRA Toyota Nationals drag races in Las Vegas

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Sam Morris

Doug Kalitta, foreground, and Bob Vandergriff leave the starting line during the 12th Annual Big O Tires Nationals NHRA drag race on The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012. Drag racing returns to the speedway on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 26-27, 2013, during the 2013 NHRA Toyota Nationals.

Winning an NHRA Top Fuel dragster race requires a machine that can go from zero to 100 in less than one second.

That’s right, less than one second. Eight-tenths, to be exact — the first burst toward a top speed of more than 300 mph.

Such ridiculous acceleration and speed takes an engine capable of turning high-octane nitromethane fuel — a brew so potent its vapors burn the eyes, nose and throat — into 10,000 horsepower. That process generates a roar of noise and a blast of exhaust fire that resemble a bomb going off.

It’s a controlled explosion, and it will happen dozens of times this weekend at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway during the 2013 NHRA Toyota Nationals.

The event got underway Thursday and runs through Sunday. Tickets are $34 today and $39 on Sunday for adults, with free admission for children ages 12 and younger accompanied by an adult.

For a full schedule and more information, click here.

For those who don’t follow drag racing, here are a few facts about drag racing and this weekend's competition, drawn from websites for the NHRA and news releases on the event:

    • The space shuttle Columbia clears the pad on way to orbit after liftoff at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. in this Thursday Jan. 16, 2003 photo. Shortly after Columbia lifted off, a piece of insulating foam on its external fuel tank came off and was believed to have hit the left wing of the shuttle. Leroy Cain, the lead flight director in Mission Control, assured reporters Friday, Jan. 31, 2003, that engineers had concluded that any damage to the wing was considered minor and posed no safety hazard.

      Extreme acceleration

      A Top Fuel dragster can cover the length of four football fields in less than 5 seconds and accelerates from the starting line at about five times the force of gravity, or 5 Gs. That’s about the same amount of force as a space shuttle leaving the launch pad.

    • Top Fuel vs. Camry

      The engine in a Top Fuel dragster or Funny Car (shown here) produces about 10,000 horsepower.

      How does that compare with a commuter car? The most powerful engine option for a 2014 Toyota Camry generates 268 horsepower. Here’s the math: The NHRA engine is 37 times more powerful than the Camry’s.

    • Born to be wild

      The engine in a Pro Stock motorcycle can be the same type as one that powers a street-legal Harley-Davidson. But the drag bike’s engine has been hot-rodded to produce about 300 horsepower, making it more than three times as powerful as the power plant in the biggest Harley street cruiser.

    • Living legend

      John Force is drag racing’s version of Elvis, and this weekend he could add another highlight to his career.

      Force is a 15-time Funny Car champion and the only competitor to win both 100 NHRA tour events and 1,000 racing rounds. He and his family were featured in an A&E reality show, “Driving Force,” in the mid-2000s. He’s a team owner, and his daughters are successful NHRA racers.

      At 64 and having survived a number of spectacular crashes, he could collect his 16th title in Las Vegas, continuing a remarkably long run for somebody who once said, “I’ve been on fire in Washington, California, Indiana and Pennsylvania, and I’m tired of it.”

    • Gas prices are posted at a gas station in Breezewood, Pa., Monday, April 9, 2012. Gasoline prices in the U.S. fell by about a penny over the weekend to $3.927 per gallon. In Nevada, the average was $3.97.

      MPG? Try GPM

      Speed comes at a high price. A Top Fuel Funny Car burns 10 to 12 gallons of nitromethane fuel in every run, which would be equivalent to 16 to 20 gallons per mile.

      The fuel costs about $16 per gallon, meaning it would cost as much as $320 per mile to drive a Funny Car as a commuter.

      As if.

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