By Don Prieto




Headline: Nitromethane-fueled drag race cars go 335 miles per hour in the quarter mile.

It is a fact that Nitromethane was used by the Dooling Brothers in their model airplane engines (the most famous was the Dooling .61) in the late 1940s. They learned of the stuff from German Text books on the operation of internal combustion engines on various fuels.

Just who got the information from them on how to run it in a racing engine is not known. What we do know is that Fran Hernandez ran nitro in his '32 Ford Coupe at the first drag race held in Goleta California. We also know that Vic Edelbrock Senior ran the stuff in his V8 60 powered midgets and beat the Offys. We further know that Edelbrock Equipment Company sold a kit, complete with instructions on how to modify Stromberg carburetors for use with Nitro and Alcohol.

Also known is the fact that early fuel burners bought their fuel from Tony Capanna at Wilcap Company. Long before there were hydrometers for measuring percentage, Tony sold it the fuel by volume according to what percentage you wanted. He started out by mixing one gallon of nitro to three gallons of alcohol for 25%----2 gallons of Nitro and 2 Alky for 50% and so on. He added dye to the finished mix so that he and the ultimate customer could tell in a glance what mix he was using. He added purple dye to straight nitro (100%) and thus the legend of the "Purple Fuel" started.

Racers like my friend, J R Bloom of Arizona, ran very fast with modified 97s on his straight eight Buick and he recorded and calculated every procedure he used to get the correct air/fuel ratio. The chart you see is a copy of his original that he did long hand including the calculations for percentages of 75 and 100 percent nitro. His Buick surprised a lot of racers not just by his performance but by the fact that he could start it with the starter, run a big load of nitro and not blow it sky high.

Word of how to run nitro and what percentages traveled mostly by word of mouth in those days, and lots of Stromberg 97s got modified. In 1953, the Bean Bandits dragster ran 138 mph with a 4 carb flathead, Art Chrisman upped that to 140 mph with a similar combination. Ollie Morris with his "White Owl" rear engine dragster also with a flathead upped the speed to 144.

As Chrysler hemi (and other overhead valve engines) moved to the front of the class in the mid to late '50s replacing the flathead, the Cook and Bedwell carbureted dragster ran 166mph followed closely by the Speed Sport roadster of Fisher, Greth and Maynard who upped the record to 169mph. The Speed Sport guys are credited with teaching Don Garlits how to run 100% through the 97s at an ATAA meet in Kansas and he subsequently used eight of them to run a new record speed of 176mph. Garlits went to the first U.S, Fuel and Gas Championship with carburetors and got blown away by the guys with blowers. He had one the following week WITH the eight carburetors on top of the blower.

Alas the carburetors had seen their day as shortly thereafter, Art Chrisman ran 180mph with a hemi, a blower and a new device for fuelers in the form of a Hilborn 2 hole fuel injector.

The combination of a hemi, a blower and a fuel injector supplying as much nitro as the hardware (and the tires) would stand, became the standard that remains to this day.

Lots of experimentation has taken place over the last 50 years with cam timing, blower size and speed, valve size, magneto output, complex fuel systems feeding the engine etc, but the combination of a hemi engine, a belt driven blower, a magneto and a fuel injector supplying as much nitro as the hardware (and the tires) would stand, became the standard that remains to this day.



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