Fayetteville Motor Sports Park

Top 10 Drag Racing Cars That Failed

Racing has always been driven by innovation. All American were inspired by the European "The Big One" and hot rodding became a cultural phenomenon that led to the creation of the NHRA drag racing scene of the '50s and '60s. As there were not many rules back then, racing enthusiasts had an opportunity to experiment with some truly radical designs. Some worked and some failed, but each failure and lesson learned helped improve drag car design in the long run. Below you will find the list of 10 cars that didn't work. Although we can't but praise the ingenuity, courage and unconventional thinking of those who created them still we will point to mistakes they made.

The Vulcan Shuttle

Rocket Car - The Vulcan Shuttle

For years racers from all over the world have been trying to harness the uncontrollable power of a rocket engine. The main problem is that the period of time during which thrust is being created is directly proportional to the amount of solid fuel in the tank. The driver cannot control the throttle. After the fuse is lit the driver just hangs on for however long it decides to burn. This is the reason why many drivers were killed when they tried to drive a rocket car. The Vulcan Shuttle, a rocket motor placed in a Volkswagen, was designed around 1980. It featured a 10-feet long engine that was completely out of control, and finally killed its driver, Rodney Poole, when he was testing it at an airport.

The Sidewinder

Don Garlits nicknamed as Big Daddy has had a range of innovations in drag racing. The Sidewinder Top Fuel Dragster, or just Swamp Rat 27, created in the mid-'80s was to become one of them, but it failed to succeed. Garlits wanted to mount the engine sideways, so a team of mechanics developed a special gearbox, but the car kept breaking down.

The Funny Vega

This is the greatest FUBAR by Gary Gabelich who set the World's Land Speed Record at over 600 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats. A rear-engine, all-wheel-drive, Vega Funny Car was a top secret in drag racing. A Chrysler-powered, four-wheel-drive, monocoque, Vega panel truck had the formed-aluminum monocoque construction to ensure the lightest weight and maximum driver safety. With a wheelbase of 130 inches and just 41 inches high, the Vega panel has gone into the history of drag racing as one of the longest, lowest Funny Cars ever designed. Gary presented the Vega in Southern California, but he had a bad crash in it.

Garlits' Mangler

Nicknamed as Garlits' "Foot Chopper", this car exploded and Don Garlits lost half of his foot. This famous vehicle had a transmission in it called the Garlits-Drive, a two-speed planetary transmission. Unfortunately the transmission did not get enough oil, so the drum oversped and caused the transmission to blow up.

The Vacuum Cleaner

Pete Robinson car - Tinker Toy

Pete Robinson is famous for his series of "Tinker Toy" dragsters that are considered some of the most innovative cars in the history of drag racing. One of them was his vacuum cleaner. Pete believed that it would be easier for lightweight cars to accelerate high speed and perform better on the track. So he created the car with a vacuum device that hardly weighed 25 pounds. Private testing revealed some sorting out problems but the machine worked. Unfortunately NHRA banned using vacuum devices on race cars.

TV Tommy Ivo's 4-Engine Car

This exhibition car was initially meant to be competitive. It was originally constructed as a dragster, without the station wagon body that it has today. However the car weighed too much to compete in Top Fuel.


Garlits  In the 70s

In the 70s the whole world was crazy about turbine engines, and drag racing was not an exception. In the early '80s Don Garlits managed to build a turbine-powered dragster. However the jet car failed to meet the designer's expectations and just didn't work. The public didn't like it as well.

Jocko's Fantasy

Jocko Johnson built probably one of the most scientific cars that hit a drag strip of that time. In 1959 this creation of drag racing genius was the quickest car in the world running in the 180 mph zone. But then technology progressed and Fuel cars began to develop much higher speeds. Don Garlits fitted a Fuel-burning Chrysler Hemi under that aero body and drove a short-wheelbase dragster for a year to learn how to control the thing. But all his efforts were in vain and it just didn't work. Now it is exhibited in his Ocala, Florida Drag Racing Museum.

Little Red Wagon

Bill Golden's Little Red Wagon Dodge

Now Bill Golden's Little Red Wagon Dodge truck is a famous exhibition car but it was initially built to compete in B/FX. Despite the fact that it was a complete failure as a race car it made a brilliant career in the showmanship ranks. Some years ago its sale price was $500,000 at an auction at the Petersen Museum, not to mention numerous model kits of the truck built.

The Turbonique Sizzler Chevelle

This car is a real Z16 Chevelle with one of the Turbonique Rocket Axles inside. When driving on the track the Chevelle's rocket axle provided the power smoking the tires all the way down. The idea was simple: a rocket engine gets ignited when the button is pressed. The exhaust (thrust) from the rocket engine spins the large turbine wheel, attached to planetary gear that spins the axles and drives the car. But the problem with the car was that the gear and turbine wheels didn't hold up and sometimes a turbine wheel would break and even melt. Finally when the turbine wheel melted again it locked the mechanism and the car rolled 12 times. Luckily the driver survived.