The quarter-mile mix is actually quite simple. Take one aftermarket Hemi block, add a variety of bulletproof hardware, such as a billet crank and heads, a huge 14-71 supercharger, twin magnetos and plugs, and the strongest fasteners known to man. Now place the engine at the front of a driveline that doesn't use a transmission and a high 3.20:1 rear-gear ratio at the end of a perfect driveshaft. Put this combo into a short-wheelbase chrome-moly chassis with the driver seat right behind that big blower. Add one custom-built carbon-fiber Team Mopar Parts Dodge R/T body to cover it, stick one Mr. Dean Skuza in the hot seat, and fill the fuel tank with the legal 90 percent nitromethane/ 10 percent methanol mixture. Result: 4.80 seconds at 300-plus mph.
For many of us with day-to-day jobs, nothing would seem more exciting than becoming a full-time race car driver. After all, it seems like a fairly easy life; travel the racing circuit, hang out with guys like John Force, sign a few autographs, and wheel the car down the quarter for a couple of miles each weekend. No problem, right? As you might imagine, there is a lot more to it than that. We hooked up with Team Skuza at the NHRA MAC Tools Gatornationals in March to get an inside glimpse of what it takes to go nitro-Funny Car racing in the year 2001.
DEAN SKUZA: The Pilot
"I saw my first Funny Cars when I was 10 or 11 years old. My dad was holding my hand when they warmed it up, and I spilled my Coke because I was reaching for my eyes and my ears. Nobody told me this was going to hurt..." stated Dean Skuza to author Cole Coonce in the Sept. '98 issue of Drag Racing Monthly.
Truth be told, Skuza is one of the few top drivers today who has actually worked his way to the top, starting with a small-block bracket car to a supercharged altered, then to a fuel Funny Car that he once referred to as "my iron mistress." Supported in part by his father, Don, Dean made his never-forgotten childhood dream to go nitro racing a reality and eventually assembled a Funny Car program on a slim budget in his parents' garage 10 years ago.
Now with a five-year sponsorship program from Mopar Performance Parts, a well-oiled crew that is capable of running with the best teams on the planet (in February, Skuza recorded the quickest e.t. in history after the 90 percent nitromethane rule was instated by NHRA), and a hunger for victory, the Brecksville, Ohio, native has the financial and personnel resources to dethrone even a John Force.
"We were very happy when the Mopar Parts deal came together," said the 35-year-old driver and team owner. "We've had a good relationship with them for several seasons, and when they found out our previous sponsor would be leaving us at the end of 2000, they stepped up to become our major sponsor. We need money to do this, and getting it from Mopar Performance Parts couldn't be a better deal for our team."
Skuza's career began when he made his first lap down a dragstrip at age 15. Once he "graduated" to blown big-blocks, he took his first championship, winning the Midwest-based Supercharged Outlaws season-long crown in a big-block-powered Fiat in 1989. After looking at what was needed to go Federal Mogul-style alcohol racing, he decided to build a nitro Funny Car, since the costs were similar until the fuel gets into the motor. That led to a part-time effort in 1992 and 1993. By 1994 he was running the entire tour. His father, Don, supported that effort out-of-pocket; Don owns Quality Synthetic Rubber, a company that supplies Detroit and others with quality OEM parts. He agreed to help Dean get started in racing as a profession, but Dean's job was obtaining sponsorship, which he quickly acquired from Mopar Performance Parts, along with such companies as Cornwell Tools and others.
In the ensuing years, Skuza has finished in the Winston Top 10 points every year but one, including a Fifth in 1999, all under the tuning guidance of Lance Larsen. A 4.997 at Dallas in 1997 gave Skuza the 12th spot in the exclusive Castrol Four-Second Club. He has won two titles in 12 final-round appearances and has the best win/loss record to Force of anybody currently in the Funny Car category.
"I don't remember being scared when I first got in the car and made a run," says Skuza. "I don't know if that was good or bad. Frankly, I was more worried about the motor and everything; since I had built this thing myself, I was more concerned about that. Once you get used to what the car is going to do, it's violent off the starting line; you're thinking more about the mechanical things, how things sound, and your reaction time. I never think about who I'm racing against; any one of these guys can get around you, and any one of them can have a problem. My focus is on getting this car to the other end of the track as quickly as I can; who I'm racing doesn't affect that."