When you consider the forces and stresses acting on a Top Fuel dragster, it’s frankly impressive that they don’t explode more often. But that they snap in half tells us something interesting about their design.
There’s a saying in engineering circles that anyone can build a bridge that doesn’t collapse, but it takes an engineer to build a bridge that just barely doesn’t collapse. And that’s kind of at the heart of what’s going on here.
Top Fuel teams are invested in making their cars as light as possible without breaking in order to hit 300 mph in less than 4 seconds. With an engine that can produce as much as 10,000 hp, the spaceframe still has to be incredibly strong.
But the reason they snap sometimes has as much to do with strength as it does with weight distribution. In order to keep a dragster from just doing a backflip on launch, you need the front end not to go flying up.
That’s why you see wings at the front and also why they’re so long. To keep it all glued to the ground at the start of the race, teams put the gas tanks way up in the front of the car and use the length like you would a wrench to help the weight of the tank gain as much of a mechanical advantage as possible.
Add the weight of the tank to pressure being generated by the wing to any flaw or damage in the chassis and all that power, and the results can get catastrophic quickly.