Are Electric Cars the Future of Drag Racing?

electric drag racingJust about anyone who has been behind the wheel of an electric car has undoubtedly noticed two things: silence and torque. Electric motors will definitely not roar in a zero-to-sixty time trial, but they will still impress. Tesla’s relatively new model “S” has clearly established that a battery powered vehicle can compete in the luxury performance class in terms of acceleration. With the largest battery pack (310 kw) that Tesla offers, the “S” will hit 60 mph from a standing start in 3.9 seconds. Not bad, but hardly dragster-level performance.


Still, given that the evolution of electric-powered vehicles spans over a century, the in-roads that EV is making into racing is impressive indeed. And, the history of electric drag racing extends back further than many may realize. In 1953, the National Hot Rod Association established a rule requiring an internal combustion engine in a dragster. However, following lobbying by officers of the National Electric Drag Racing Association (NEDRA), the rule was modified in 1999 to allow electrics. In 2012, NEDRA was recognized as an NHRA Alternative Sanction Organization.


In just a few short years, electric drag racing has emerged as a legitimate form of racing competition. NEDRA has established classes and sanctioned events. For example, in the quarter-mile, DR/A3 class, Dennis Berube of Phoenix established the current NEDRA world record in his “Current Eliminator.” In 2007, his electric dragster was timed at 7.956 seconds as it hit 159.85 mph.


However, current limitations do exist in electric drag racing that cause it to underperform in relation to traditional drag racing. Although the size and weight of the lithium-ion battery packs have been reduced, the weight-to-torque ratio is still not fully competitive.


And how does this compare to the fastest top fuel dragsters, for example? Well, it doesn’t. The fastest TF/D dragsters approach speeds of 330 mph as they cover the quarter-mile in less than 3.8 seconds. These dragsters are powered by a mix of methanol and nitromethane.


Electric motors may generate torque, and lots of it, but they are far from generating the explosive thrust that internal combustion dragsters are capable of. Can batteries get light enough and powerful enough in electric dragster to compete with the traditional internal combustion versions? Not in the foreseeable future.