Inside the World of Electric Car Drag Racing

Read on to learn a bit about the growing presence of electric vehicles in drag racing.
Written by Alex Reale
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Feb 13, 2022
A car in a drag race
Born in the dry lakes of Southern California in the 1930s, the sport of drag racing has evolved into a modern-day phenomenon. 
The National Hot Rod Association, founded by drag racing enthusiast and automotive writer Wally Parks in
1951
, turned a speakeasy into an above board operation, shepherding illegal street racing into the land of the sanctioned. The NHRA has since hosted hundreds and hundreds of races across the U.S., and anyone idly clicking through primetime channels may stumble across a
drag race
The NHRA is au courant, too—in 2021 it announced that an
EV class
would be added to the NHRA Summit Racing Series in 2022. But this isn’t its first
electric vehicle
rodeo. 
Read on to learn a bit about the growing presence of electric vehicles in drag racing.

What is drag racing?

Drag racing is potentially the simplest type of car racing: you just have to get from here to there the fastest, and here to there is a straight line of usually a quarter mile. 
Cars line up next to each other, and when they get the green light, gun it for the finish line. In the early days of the sport, notes the
NHRA
, cars maxed out at 140 mph in nine seconds. About 75 years later, those two numbers are wildly different: cars can now go over 330 mph in fewer than 3.7 seconds. 
The pastime of some Southern California hot rod enthusiasts has ballooned into an industry, where racers compete for millions of dollars. Participants spend thousands of hours working on their cars, hoping to gain an edge in a thousand foot race. 
The categories for drag racing are plentiful: you could modify a classic, or show up with a motorcycle, or bring along your so-called “funny car,” a fiberglass imitation of a street car with an engine that sits in front of the driver. Many of these vehicles are outfitted with parachutes and other safety features to mitigate the lunatic speed and power of a drag race.

EVs not new to the drag racing game

Though the EV category has only now been officially added to the program, it turns out that the world of drag racing has always welcomed entrants of all fuel persuasions. One of the most famous characters in the American drag race scene is Don Garlits, a driver whose talents and longevity in the sport earned him the nickname “Big Daddy.” 
According to the
NHRA
, Garlits built and raced over 40 vehicles, most of which were named “Swamp Rat,” with an accompanying number to differentiate them. 
After trying out 36 (or so—there appear to be some anomalies in the numbering system) Swamp Rats, we finally got all-electric 37 and 38. Garlits wound up setting an EV record in Swamp Rat 38 in 2019, posting 189 mph in 7.235 seconds in his custom vehicle. 
This record was bested a year later by driver Steve Huff, who was the first to clear 200 mph in an electric vehicle.
Driving
notes that this is small potatoes compared to the standard drag racers—the current record is 338.17 mph over a quarter mile—but it opens the door to new possibilities in EV.

What does the future hold for EVs in drag racing?

Now that the NHRA has officially welcomed EV as a class, we’re bound to see an explosion of creativity from drag race enthusiasts. And this will dovetail with other auto racing bodies’ leanings:
Motor Authority
notes that Formula 1 racing has been on the hybrid powertrain for some time, and both IndyCar and NASCAR are flirting with hybrid as well. It’s a great time to be an electric vehicle.
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