NHRA is intent on policing laid-back headers in its Mello Yello Funny Car category. These radically angled exhaust headers have been known to cause blistering on body panel sponsor-acknowledging wraps and have been argued as being responsible for some wheel stands in the category.
The wheel stands include, most notably, Cruz Pedregon’s long wheelie at Las Vegas last year, and a couple of instances during the 2017 Western Swing when Tim Wilkerson’s car performed a wheelie and came down hard, injuring the chassis and forcing Wilkerson’s tubs to go for repair.
NHRA felt this was a safety issue that it needed to address. Initially, they spoke of limiting the minimum angle of the headers to 32 degrees, but settled on 40 degrees to start the 2018 Mello Yello season. There was very little pushback on this, although there could have been. Many crew chiefs and tuners were working with angles approaching 50-58 degrees as the season came to a close, and those burns on bodywork art became an integral part of any photographer’s Funny Car picture.
Most crew chiefs don’t think the change to 40 degrees will be a big deal. “We’ll still be fast without those,” said Wilkerson. “They’re just a propulsion device; there’s so much stress on the headers, you’ve got to get them in just the right spot,” he noted before the change was announced. Wilkerson, like many innovators in the sport, starting running laid-back headers in the middle of the last decade.
They went as far as 55-58 degrees, with uber-tuner Jimmy Prock using the technology to help Robert Hight to his second career Funny Car championship in 2017, driving John Force Racing’s Chevrolet Camaro SS-bodied flopper. But even Prock, together with Ron Capps’ tuner Rahn Tobler, aren’t terribly upset about the technology’s demise and the new edict. They, too, predict Funny Car lap times and speeds on the 1,000-foot dragstrips won’t change appreciably during the 24-race 2018 campaign.
Tobler doesn’t believe this one facet will make a big difference in how the cars react, as the 40-degree headers will aid front downforce, something the Funny Car always needs, despite its propensity toward front-end weight. The radical headers caused some lift – thus the wheelies and occasional mini-flights in the class.
Funny Car speeds have advanced by about 10mph over the past two seasons, with Hight coming close to 340mph at Sonoma this July when, in the second round of qualifying on the cool, northern California track, he drove his Prock-tuned Camaro SS to a speed of 339.87mph (3.807sec).
That time and speed haven’t been duplicated since, but NHRA still decided, according to Glen Gray, vice president of technical operations, that Funny Car should have a 7900-rpm rev limiter for the 2018 season. Calling this issuance a “proactive measure,” Gray put the rev limit in to ensure speeds don’t continue to rise in the class.
Both Tobler and Capps knew this edict was coming and aren’t arguing with it, particularly at “shorter” tracks like Pomona, Englishtown and Reading, where the shut-down area is minimal, adding to the dangers with any kind of catastrophic parts failure. In matching the rev limit of Top Fuel dragsters, NHRA acknowledges it doesn’t know what else it can do to slow the full-bodied cars – and perhaps allow the Top Fuel dragsters to regain superiority, something they’ve lost to floppers’ laid-back headers and a higher RPM limit?
As they return from their post-season vacations and get back to finding ways to find speed in NHRA Funny Car drag racing before testing at Phoenix the week before NHRA’s 2018 season opener in Pomona, the crew chiefs are just getting back to work. They know they’ll find a way to recapture the speed they want in this nitro-based class; they’re just not talking about how they’re going to do it.