Racing is electrifying.
Would you go to a silent drag race?
OK, an electric drag race wouldn’t be silent, exactly, but the whir of a motor certainly can’t compare to the thunder of a nitro-burning Top Fuel car.
In case you missed the news, an electric Volkswagen won this year’s running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, words I’m guessing no Unser or other Peak veteran expected to ever see in print. The Volkswagen I.D. R purpose-built Peak car not only won the race overall, it became the first in the event’s 100-plus-year history to summit the 12.42-mile, 156-turn course in under 8 minutes: 7:57.148. That handily beat the 2013 overall record of 8:13.878 and the previous electric-car record of 8:57.118 set in 2016.
Elapsed times on the PPIHC have decreased dramatically since the road was paved, in sections, between 2002 and 2012. But the course surface, while important, was less of a factor for the VW entry than its motive power. Or, more accurately, the effect the race’s setting has on motive power. The start line for the Hill Climb is at 9,390 feet in elevation, and the checkered flag waves at 14,115 feet, challenging conditions for any powerplant dependent on oxygen as part of its fuel equation. An electric motor has no such dependency, making it an ideal power source for thin-air competition.
The electric motor’s instantaneous torque delivery also helped the VW squirt out of the corners and hairpins quicker, shaving precious seconds off the run’s time.
To some, its abundance of torque makes electricity a natural fit for drag racing. If delivered in sufficient quantity and hooked to the pavement well enough, electric-motor torque could cause us to rethink 60-foot times just as people are rethinking what it takes to win Pikes Peak.
One proponent of electric drag racing is Bob Tasca III, NHRA Funny Car racer and scion of the Big Bopper, Bob Tasca Sr., a legend in Ford performance. “You’re going to see it, and I’m all for it,” Tasca said about electric drag racing in an interview with Autoweek. “With the new electric technology in a drag car, it would be badass. It would be unbelievable.” An electric motor’s “instant torque” would “apply unbelievably well to drag racing because we need torque, we need to move the car now. It’s definitely going to affect the NHRA. I don’t think it’s going to replace a nitro Funny Car anytime soon, but it would be fantastic.”
For its part, the NHRA is open to the idea. In the same Autoweek story, NHRA President Glen Cromwell said, “We’ve been talking to our partners at Ford, Chevy, Toyota, Dodge Mopar. Electric drag racing is a part of our marketing deck. Wally Parks’ mission was to provide a place to race. If the demand from the consumer is there, we’ll provide a class. We’re in the car business. The NHRA will evolve.” Cromwell wouldn’t set a time frame for the adoption of electric racing, but did say, “We are watching it very closely. It’s an important part of our future.”
Aside from electric racing’s foothold at Pikes Peak, the growth of the FIA’S Formula E series for electric open-wheel race cars is “beyond expectations,” said the series’ CEO, in another Autoweek interview. So there’s no denying that electric racing is here, and likely here to stay.
It’s heartening for us oldtimers that these “current” developments are taking place alongside race cars with more traditional—i.e. liquid-fuelpowered—engines. Formula 1 is still the cutting edge of wheeled motorsport, and Pikes Peak
racers have not abandoned internal combustion technology quite yet. As Tasca III said, an e-dragster won’t be replacing nitromethane anytime soon. If drag racing follows the track of the other electric series, it would likely be developed next to the more conventional cars.
So, do you have any interest in watching electric cars drag race? What if, as is happening on the Peak, they become quicker than their nitro-fueled counterparts? Maybe it depends on why you go to the drags in the first place. Is it to watch the ever-evolving quest for getting to the finish line first? Or does it involve other factors, too? Is it as much about the smells and sounds and vibrations that have characterized this sport as it is the quickest e.t.?