For a top fuel dragster to make one run down the strip, it costs the owner between $10,000 and $15,000
By Linda Scherer
Top fuel dragsters, the fastest accelerating vehicles in the world, go so fast it requires two parachutes to help bring the machine to a stop.
It also requires an entire crew of mechanics to keep the vehicle running. Troy Fasching, 1992 Holy Trinity graduate and Winsted native, is an assistant crew chief on a top fuel dragster owned by KB Racing’s Las Vegas businessman Ken Black and managed by Kalitta Motor Sports in Ypsilanti, Mich.
The vehicles can go from zero to 300 miles per hour in 4.5 seconds. An eight Hemi engine runs on nitro methane that produces about 8,000 horsepower.
At full throttle, top fuel dragsters are known for the deafening noise they generate as well as pounding vibration that can be felt all through a person’s entire body.
“People will never understand how powerful these cars are or how big the sport is. You need to experience it firsthand to appreciate exactly what it is,” Fasching said.
“Our car’s personal best is 4.5 seconds at 329 miles per hour. It’s pretty fast,” he added.
Although Fasching has never driven any of the cars he has worked on, if he had the opportunity, he wouldn’t mind driving one. However, he would only drive it once.
His biggest concern is getting hooked on the racing and not being able to afford the expense of owning and running a top fuel dragster.
“The owners are just doing this as a hobby,” Fasching said. “Most of the owners are wealthy businessmen. For example, Connie Kalitta, owner of Kalitta Motor Sports, also owns his own airline.”
According to Fasching, Kalitta owns his own air freight service. He has nineteen 747 airplanes that he flies all over the world.
Fasching estimates that it costs the owner between $10,000 and $15,000 for a dragster to make just one run down the strip. Races consist of four qualifying runs, and the top 16 cars that qualify, race in an elimination bracket on Sunday. In one weekend, it is possible for the dragster to race eight runs.
It is easy to add up the costs and realize that he is not exaggerating about the expense of keeping the car running.
The special fuel used costs $25 a gallon, and the car uses about 13 gallons a run. The tires cost about $650 apiece, according to Fasching, and a lot of times, are only used once.
After each run, the car is torn down and the engine has to be rebuilt. All of the rods and pistons are replaced and the cylinder heads have to be serviced.
“The engine running on nitro methane is very volatile, and parts don’t last very long,” Fasching said. “A lot of parts that you take out, like pistons and rods, we pretty much throw away every run. You are talking $200 apiece and you run eight a run, a total of about $1,600. There is also a disc in the clutch that costs $120 for the part and five of them are used in a run. Many times, they cannot be reused.”
This year, a car crash was estimated to cost an additional $125,000. The team had to build a new car from the basic chassis (two additional chassis and eight engines for each car are brought to each race.).
“The accident was in Las Vegas, where we were testing. A tire came apart. It broke off the car and it was really pretty violent,” Fasching said.
The 27-year-old driver, Hillary Will, was not injured in the accident. The team of eight mechanics had the car up and running the very next day.
“The team all has a specific job. We spend so much time around these cars, everybody knows what they are to do,” Fasching said.
The crew chief is head of the team and works directly with the owner. Fasching is the assistant crew chief. He is responsible for the super charger and the ignition system on the car.
He is also responsible for the day-to-day operations of everything that goes on with the team, whether at the races, at the shop, or traveling.
Under Troy are six team members. Two mechanics take care of the clutch, two take care of the cylinder heads, one mechanic is responsible for the engines, and one is responsible for the rods and pistons and the tires.
The KB Racing top fuel dragster Fasching works on takes part in all of the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) POWERade drag races throughout the year.
The season begins in the middle of January and they race until the first or second week in November. This year there are 23 races.
There is additional testing in Phoenix or Las Vegas getting ready for the next season. That adds about three additional weeks to the schedule.
There are a few weeks off in the winter, but the team is busy building new cars and getting new parts to get ready for the upcoming year so it is a full-time job, year around.
The home base for the car is in Ypsilanti, Mich. When they are not traveling around the country racing, the maintenance work necessary to keep the car ready to race is done at Ypsilanti.
This is Fasching’s fifth season working for Kalitta Motor Sports. The distance and time away from Fasching’s family living in Howard Lake is the hardest part for him and also for his wife, Veronica, and their 3-year-old son, Wyatt.
“We went through a spell this summer when I was gone for six weeks in a row. I usually spend only about 60 days a year at home,” Fasching said.
He has traveled to 43 of the 50 states, allowing someone else to pay for him to see the country.
“Part of that is enjoyable, but over time, you go to the same places every year,” Fasching said.
He took a few years off from racing when he first got married. He didn’t think that he would miss the racing, but he did.
“It was hard for me to find something that I really enjoyed doing around here. The big thing is you get used to a certain way of life. As far as money goes, you can make really good money. I just couldn’t work here and make the kind of money I make doing this,” he said.
Although Fasching explains that the money is good, he also adds that the hours put in on the car make the hourly income small.
“On a normal race weekend, we work every day, usually from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. at night or it could even be longer, it just depends. If you make runs and break a lot of parts, things have to be repaired,” he said.
Whatever money the car brings in through winning, is distributed to all of the employees at a percentage called a bonus fund.
For a crew member, that bonus fund gets pretty big when the team is winning races. It also makes it more worthwhile working the longer hours and doing all of the traveling.
Troy Fasching grew up around race tracks
Racing is something that Fasching has been around most of his life. His father, Gene Fasching of Winsted, raced pro-stock cars while Troy was growing up. He would bring Troy and his brothers, Ted and Terry, along with him to many of his races. Sometimes Troy’s sister, Yvette, would come, too.
“Back then there weren’t as many races and he didn’t do it full time. He just did it as a hobby,” Troy said. “We traveled with him when we were in school. In the springtime, he would take us to races in Florida and Georgia. We went to his races in the summertime, too.”
Gene quit racing in the late ‘80s when his kids decided that they wanted to go to college.
The experience Troy received from his father’s racing gave him the perfect background in car mechanics and the interest and knowledge of racing he needed to start working on race cars the very first summer he graduated from high school.
Until 2002, Troy, Gene, and Ted all worked together as a team maintaining racing vehicles for other owners.
Then Gene and Ted decided to get out of the actual racing and mechanics to concentrate on their business, Triple T. Race Products in Howard Lake.
“They make the exhuast headers that most of the teams use because they make the best product,” Troy said.
For Troy, it is back to the races. His last race for this year is Sunday, Nov. 4.
This has not been one of the best race years that Troy has had, mostly because they have not been winning.
His next trip is to Virginia. Then they have two full weeks off before they head to Las Vegas. During that time, he will be back in Michigan for at least a week working, but he is looking forward to the four or five days he will get off. Then it is on to Las Vegas and California, and then the season is over.
“The hardest part is the sacrifice the family has to make. A lot of people that do this job don’t have families because it is just too hard. I do it because I love it,” Troy said. “But if you do this job for a paycheck, then you are in the wrong sport.”