The Mopar Parts Funny Car is a Murf McKinney-built structure that is 125 inches longs and weighs 2,350 pounds with Skuza in the hot seat. The engine is a 496-cid Keith Black block with Brad Anderson heads. A Crane cam, hard parts from Clevite, Brooks, and Venolia, and a lot of nitromethane pushed down into the bores through an SSI blower, goes into the engine. The mixture is sparked by two super-voltage MSD magnetos and comes out of the Hedman Husler Hedder exhaust system in long flames.
Raw nitro is a mono-propellant (oxygen is in the molecular structure) and is pumped into the motor in vast quantities, with the unburned portions still combusting as it comes through the headers. This fuel volume helps keep the motor cooler by washing down the ports and piston tops; it also creates a dangerous possibility called hydraulicing, where compression buildup from a broken rocker arm or a valvespring can cause the fuel crammed in a cylinder to explode like a huge pipe bomb. These forces are enough to break billet crankshafts, split cylinder blocks in half, and turn supercharger housings into shrapnel. NHRA rules and safety advances by the racers themselves have made this a much rarer occurrence than previously.
In his press kit, Skuza said what he loves most about racing are the hundreds of little victories he experiences by merely running a decent time. Just like a person who enjoys the process of restoring a car or custom-building a vehicle for the street, there is a lot more to nitro racing than simply the result. Getting the car down a tricky racing surface is a victory for both the driver and the crew; nobody wants to beat themselves. When you can do it as Skuza did earlier this year-the fastest time since the nitro rules changedthat run is even more special. As for winning races, Skuza is philosophical.
"We are here to win races for our sponsors and our fans and ourselves," said Skuza. "However, you don't just land in the final; each run in both qualifying and eliminations is part of the race. We want to be fast, but we want to be consistent and satisfied that we did our best. I have a great crew; all of these guys are very, very good at this. If this wasn't fun, nobody out here would work this hard, but in a lot of ways, this isnt a job; it's just what we do."
And the appeal of staying in there? "When people say I'm crazy for choosing my line of work," continued Skuza, "I tell them I'm chemically dependent; I'm dependent on nitromethane. I became hooked when I was a little boy, and it has guided me through my entire life."
LANCE LARSEN: The Scientist
Lance Larsen grew up in the Los Angeles region when it was the hot bed of drag racing. Like Skuza, he was hooked on nitro after his first race (Lions Drag Strip in Long Beach in 1965) but was old enough to begin working immediately. He became a journeyman mechanic, running with the well-remembered Coca-Cola Cavalcade of Stars in the early '70s. After a stint in business, he returned to the dragstrip in 1981 and tuned Jeb Allen's Top Fuel machine to an NHRA World title. Larsen's first encounter with Skuza occurred while Skuza was still on his learning curve; Larsen heard the engine running and offered some advice. Nobody listened, and moments later all eight rods exited the block right on the starting line. The Skuzas realized Larsen would be a real asset, a deal was struck, and now Larsen is in his seventh year with them. As crew chief, Larsen manages the team and the parts. He coordinates the help, makes the calls on the tune-up, and basically manages the day-to-day team effort. He has been around long enough to know there are few absolutes in drag racing, but knowledge and analysis go a long way when making the right decisions.
"You get yourself in trouble if you think any of this is ground in stone," said Larsen. "I don't use just the barometer or the temperature reading and things like that to make a single guess. For instance, if it is wet or humid, even if the air is below sea level, that will require a different change than racing at 2,000 feet in dry weather, even if the numbers match. You just kind of have to learn this stuff; I';ve got 35 years out here, and I have people I can talk to if I get lost. Luckily, that hasn't happened in a while."