New technology changes the game for drag racers

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New technology changes the game for race car drivers.

Fans gathered in Sonoma on Friday night to see the world's fastest cars face off in the NHRA drag races. The technology under the cars' hoods make them just about fly down the track.

The cars go fast, really fast. "These are pretty sophisticated machines, you know? They're the fastest accelerating race car on planet Earth," driver Richie Crampton said.

Topping out at well over 300 miles per hour, there's a reason the dragsters are called Top Fuel.

"It's attributed to the nitro-methane fuel that we use, which is basically a rocket fuel," Crampton said.

All that's needed is a tiny spark and a whole lot of oxygen.

"When I hit the throttle in the race car, it opens up these butterflies here, which allows the air to go into the supercharger," Crampton said.

He said that superchargers are one of the biggest advances in race car technology, and so is the way that they're set up.

For every race, an engine is built to match the weather.

Crampton worked seven years in the pits before making the move to the driver's seat.

"When you put your helmet on, you just gotta forget about all that stuff and just do a good job as a driver," he said.

No amount of technological know-how in the world can quite prepare a person for what it's like to sit in the car when the brake comes off.

"You let the brake go, hit the gas and at that point you're holding on," defending champion Shawn Langdon said.

"It's a thrill every time you go down the track. Nothing happens the same way every single time," Langdon said.

That's why cars are monitored so closely. "Oil pressure, engine, RPMs. We have over 50 channels that we actually monitor," he said.

In the 3.7 seconds it takes to cross the finish line, those on-board computers take thousands of measurements.

Within 40 minutes the crew has taken the car apart and made adjustments for the next race.

Langdon's favorite technology, however, is the now-mandatory molded seats and layered suits that keep drivers safe.

"When you're dealing with 10,000 horse power, anything can happen at any given time," he said.
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