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Drag racer survives fiery explosion at 300 mph

Justin Hyde
February 10, 2014

Modern Funny Car dragsters can hit speeds of greater than 300 mph in just 1,000 feet, thanks to massive supercharged engines burning nitromethane to generate some 7,000 hp. When everything goes right, it's quite a spectacle — and when it all goes wrong, there's nothing quite as frightening, as driver Ron Capps demonstrated Friday.

During his first run at the Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., Capps' car exploded 200 feet from the finish line, sending a ball of fire and shock wave around the car that tore the cabin loose, leaving Capps coasting to a stop in open air. Capps, a 20-year NHRA veteran, walked away from the incident and drove again the next day; he told The Los Angeles Times he was surprised to wake up Saturday to a phone full of messages and texts: "I thought maybe something bad had happened."

Such explosions have become common in NHRA's top classes — Capps had a similar crash last August — that make the driver's survival less a matter of chance. The force of Capps' explosion shattered the body, but the nose stayed put, held down by tethers that prevent it from flying up and catching 300-mph air. The drivers wear flame-retardant suits and ride in a safety cell shielded by titanium plates from engine debris.

And notice how Capps' parachutes deployed just after the engine blew, part of a newer system in the cars that senses engine failures and shuts off fuel if the driver can't. Thanks to those aids, Capps will have the rest of the season to chase his first Funny Car championship.