Ford Cobra Jet

Ford electrified the dragstrip last year with its battery-powered Mustang Cobra Jet.

Talk drag racing and you’ll likely to think of flame-spitting funny cars and supercharged muscle cars flying down the quarter-mile. But, if the NHRA has its way, the sport will soon see an “expansion of electric vehicle racing.”

Battery technology is expected to revolutionize the automotive market during the next 10 to 15 years, so it should be no surprise it’s starting to transform the world of motorsports, as well. There are already a number of electric race series, including Formula A. Several manufacturers have developed high-performance drag racers like the Ford Mustang Cobra Jet. While they might not make the ground tremble like a classic funny car, electric dragsters soon could become a common sight.

“It’s certainly no secret that electric vehicles are becoming more and more popular with consumers, and the technology associated with them continues to move forward at a rapid pace. At NHRA, we are eager to keep pace with the latest developments in EV technology,” said Ned Walliser, the National Hot Rod Association’s vice president-competition.

“Big Daddy” sets a record

Swamp Rat 38

“Big Daddy” Don Garlits set a record of over 189 mph in his Swamp Rat 38 battery dragster in 2019.

It’s not like battery-powered racers haven’t shown up at the drag strip before. There are a growing number of drivers rolling up to the “Christmas tree,” the light pole used to start a race, in something battery powered. And they’ve had some of the most famous NHRA drivers behind the wheel.

“Big Daddy” Don Garlits, one of the most famous drag racers ever, set a record run of 7.235 seconds, passing through the quarter-mile traps in at 189.04 mph in his Swamp Rat 38 on July 20, 2019. Last year, Steve Huff not only took the crown away but managed to become the first to charge through the 200 mph barrier at the Tucson Dragway. His Current Technology 2.0 managed to hit 201.07 mph in the quarter-mile, with an elapsed time of 7.52 seconds on May 14, 2020.

Huff’s racer used two customized motors making 2,400 horsepower, drawing power from specially built 800-volt lithium-polymer batteries.

Automakers join the (drag) race

Chevrolet eCOPO

Chevrolet also weighed in with its all-electric e-COPO Camaro in 2019.

While those record setters were produced by private teams, automakers have been moving into motorsports more aggressively each year. Formula E now features teams sponsored by some of the world’s most prestigious manufacturers. And some are pushing out onto the dragstrip, as well.

The 2019 Winternationals at the Lucas Oil dragstrip in Indianapolis got what NHRA at the time described as “a glimpse of drag racing’s future. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the original COPO Camaro project, Chevrolet rolled out the one-off e-COPO. The modified muscle car replaced its V-8 with a twin-motor drivetrain punching out 760 hp and 651 lb.-ft. of torque and drawing power from an 800-volt battery pack.

Ford tried to one up its longtime rival with the debut last April of the 1,400-hp Mustang Cobra Jet.

“Ford has always used motorsport to demonstrate innovation,” Dave Pericak, Global director, Ford Icons, said at the debut of the Cobra Jet. “Electric powertrains give us a completely new kind of performance and the all-electric Cobra Jet 1400 is one example of pushing new technology to the absolute limit. We’re excited to showcase what’s possible in an exciting year when we also have the all-electric Mustang Mach-E joining the Mustang family.”

NHRA wants to be “a leader, not a follower”

The NHRA is setting up a series of meetings to discuss electric drag racing opportunities, reaching out to automakers, race car companies and others. The first is set to take place at the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway, March 12-14.

The NHRA has ‘no intentions of abandoning” the sort of petrol- and alcohol-powered drag racers that have built up its loyal fan base, Walliser said, adding, “When it comes to drag racing electric vehicles, we want NHRA to be the leader, not a follower.”

It will need to move fast considering that electrified vehicles – in all their various forms – are showing up in numerous traditional race series, like Formula One, and on legendary track like Le Mans. NASCAR will debut hybrid power in 2022. And the list of dedicated, all-electric race series is growing. Formula E launches a companion series, Extreme E, this year.

“I think (all auto racing series) will have to go electric or they will have no relevance,” Formula E organizer Alejandro Agag said during an interview with TheDetroitBureau.com.

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