If you’ve had the privilege of attending a professional drag race, then you have experienced the thrill of watching two 8000 Horsepower, Nitro Methane powered, ear-splitting, ground pounding, fire breathing monsters blistering down the track at over 300 miles per hour in a little over 4 seconds in a quarter-mile. In an attempt to reach the finish line first, the drivers of these cars are bent on overcoming Mother Nature’s effort to hold them back in the form of G-Forces. At the end of the run, when they deploy the parachutes to help stop these mechanically violent projectiles, they want to keep going – again the result of G-Forces.
Without going into the science of this phenomenon, the downward gravitational pull of the Earth at its surface is measured as 1-G (“G” for Gravitational pull). G-forces that are not produced by gravity such as acceleration forward or back are called “Proper Accelerations” (as per wikipedia.com).
Extreme proper accelerations are what racecar drivers, astronauts and fighter pilots are subjected to each time they are called upon to exercise their duties (source – Ohio State). In the case of a Top Fuel Dragster or Funny Car, the driver actually experiences both positive and negative forces. Due to acceleration, the positive forces from the front are working against the proper accelerations from the rear and causing pressure on the front of the driver. Astronauts receive about 3.5 positive Gs on liftoff while a Top Fuel dragster driver will experience approximately 5.3 on launch and on occasion higher than that in negative Gs on deceleration (source – NHRA).
Driver gains 680 pounds in 4 seconds due to G-forces.
This means that if the driver of an 8,000 horsepower Top Fuel Dragster with all his safety gear weighs 170 pounds, the forces pushing him back in his seat will increase his weight about five times or 850 pounds at the initial hit of the throttle when leaving the starting line. Upon deceleration due to the negative reaction of the parachute braking system, he will immediately experience an 850 pound push from the back, all in a little less than 4 seconds.
Just one example of many on how G-forces can affect a driver: legendary drag race champion Don Garlits after a long career of driving Top Fuel Dragsters, experienced brief sessions of wooziness at the end of runs. He eventually developed detached retinas in both eyes due to extreme and continuous negative G-forces upon deceleration (NHRA). This ended the active participation portion of his career. Based on this negative, it is understandable that racecar drivers consider the G-force an unwanted guest at the races.
NHRA.com – Wikipedia – KGBanswers.com – Ohio State