The term “pedalfest” is standard NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series jargon. It isn’t pretty, makes absolutely no sense outside of the confines of this sport and comes up as a spelling error on Microsoft Word. It also comes with a boatload of misconceptions. But let’s get to what’s most important: When racers at the highest level of drag racing pedal their cars … it’s a lot of fun.
We were treated to a handful of great races during the Virginia NHRA Nationals, one of which, embedded below, featured Don Schumacher Racing teammates Jack Beckman and Matt Hagan. Both racers smoked the tires at about 300 feet and things got wild from there. I caught up with the winning driver, who pilots the purple Infinite Hero Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, to break down how a pedalfest works – and how it doesn’t work.
“The crew chief’s have what’s basically a pedal mode in the car that takes a whole bunch of timing out of the car. That will also, as a result, bring down the horsepower. So, when you have a really hot track like we did in Richmond, where we’re already pulling back on power, you’re almost certainly going to put some cylinders out.”
The timing he refers to is the timing curve, which is essentially how fuel is burned at different points along the track. So, when timing is taken out of the car, less fuel is burned. Less fuel means less fire out of the pipes – that’s what leads to what you see next in the video – uneven cylinders for Beckman. Go to the 40-second mark of the video and you’ll see a wet pipe on the driver’s left-hand side; that leads to a whole lot of swerving around for the Infinite Hero racer (Hagan also has his hands full, to be clear).
“At that point I basically have my right calf as tense as it will go and I’m trying to feather the throttle to the best of my ability and I’m still not going into it as lightly as I want,” said Beckman. “You’ll hear people point to the throttle blades as they open, close and open again and say the driver was feathering the throttle and that’s just not true.
“It takes so much more pressure to open the throttle blades down track when the engine is at a higher-rpm than it does at the starting line (writer’s note: drivers have their foot on the floor at the starting line), and the throttle blades create a sort of seal on the injector. So, even though you’re trying to barely crack it open, once you pop the blades open they swing all the way open.”
Beckman pointed to his teammate Ron Capps and fellow competitor Robert Hight’s matchup in the second round (embedded below) as a pair of racers who did a very good job pedaling their Funny Cars. So much of the skill comes down to muscle memory, practice and, of course, a little good fortune. Different places on the track are more difficult to pedal than others and it’s easier to pedal when it’s overcast on a cool track than on a hot track with many bumps.
The high degree of difficulty is part and parcel of what makes pedaling a nitro car one of the most thrilling aspects of NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing. It might cause heart palpitations among crew chiefs and team owners, but it will keep the blood flowing for drag racing fans for years to come.