Drag racing goes green as US electric cars shine

Sep 06, 2009 by Michelle Stockman
A photo illustration of a drag race at a motor speeedway in Texas. Far from the fury of traditional race-tracks, spectators have been getting a glimpse of the future as they watched electric cars rev up, and silently bomb off around the Mason-Dixon Dragway.

Far from the fury of traditional race-tracks, spectators got a glimpse of the future as they watched electric cars rev up, and silently bomb off around the Mason-Dixon Dragway.

Reaching speeds of more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) an hour, the cars, motorcycles and tricycles provided an eye-opener for bemused crowds at the Maryland track, more used to the dust, dirt and smells of gas-fueled dragsters.

"Seeing them run for the first time today definitely scared me because their times are kinda close to some of my times," said drag racer Travis Beall. "Every year they are getting faster and faster."

Such meets are helping electric cars shed their old-fashioned, stuffy image as the preferred vehicle for those who don't mind moving at a snail's pace.

At one recent weekend meet about 20 enthusiasts tried out their electric vehicles, them furiously, but silently, around the quarter-mile asphalt track.

Over in a grassy field, tech geeks and speed freaks alike checked out the electric vehicles, from sports cars to three-wheelers that more resembled UFOs than serious machines.

"People laugh at electric cars and say they are golf carts, but they're not," said Jo Reyes, 43, from Maryland, a former Ferrari mechanic who now builds electric vehicles.

"We've come a long way. Look at these Teslas here, they will spank Ferraris."

The National Electric Drag Racing Association sponsors contests like these across the United States, and according to non-profit organization Plug-in-America which promotes , there are roughly 5,350 highway-capable vehicles on the road.

These electric drag racers hope to gain more fans by showcasing the latest models, like the Tesla Roadster, a 109,000-dollar sports car which can go over 100 miles per hour. A dark red model won the all-electric competition here, clocking it at 103.9 miles per hour.

race under three categories. "Production EVs," cars originally manufactured with electric power systems; "Conversion EVs," internal combustion engine cars converted to electric; and electric motorcycles.

Dressed in a black helmet decorated with dreadlocks made out of electric cord, Jeff Disinger pushed his purple flame-painted electric motorcycle to 88.9 miles an hour, winning second place in the competition.

The 45-year-old tattoo artist from New York used to drag race gasoline-powered motorcycles, but hopes his switch to electric will help him stand out on the racing circuit and win sponsors.

"I've dragged raced a lot of normally aspirated engines and just thought this would be a different avenue. Nobody else had been doing it and I'm trying to be the first to make it look good," he said.

Most electric vehicle owners drive them for their low fuel costs. Joseph Lado, 47, is a program specialist at the National Science Foundation from Virginia. His bright yellow 1985 Pontiac Fiero was converted to an electric system 16 years ago.

The car now costs 12 dollars a month to charge. But Lado said the real advantage is the quiet ride.

"The car is completely silent. I could hear the wind blowing and the birds chirping in the trees," he said. "You know you're not using any energy at that point and you shouldn't be."

But there are drawbacks. On the open road, electric car drivers can't just pull over to a gas station for an electricity refill.

Driving distance is limited to a few hundred miles. And racers here had to use a diesel generator to charge their cars for the track.

Specialized lithium ion batteries to power a car engine can cost up to 30,000 dollars.

"The battery technology is a challenge right now," said Chip Gribben, president of the national association.

"As soon as we can get more production of batteries the price will go lower and then more people will be able to afford them."

(c) 2009 AFP

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User comments : 5

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earls
5 / 5 (4) Sep 06, 2009
GO WHITE ZOMBIE GO

http://www.youtub...XdM9f13k
otto1923
3.5 / 5 (2) Sep 06, 2009
No more screaming nitromethane at Raceway Park? I assume there will still be smokey burnouts, but I don't know... Maybe if they had electric arcing between cars, the smell of ozone -? How about ion drives, hissing MHD derivatives, the occasional fan french-fried or irradiated?
Bob_Wallace
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 06, 2009
The Tesla in this race completed the quarter mile course in 12.957 seconds.

The current electric drag racing record is 7.824s for a quarter mile.

"Top Fuel" dragsters, specially built machines running on exotic fuels have finished the quarter mile at 4.45 seconds. They are the fastest accelerating machines in the world, faster than a catapult-launched jet fighter.

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eTec has entered into an agreement with Nissan to install 12,750 charging points in five states so that by the time the Nissan LEAF goes into full production there will be what Nissan calls "lots" of charging stations available. Four hundred have been installed so far.

The LEAF will have a 100 mile range and is expected to be in the low $20k range after the $7,500 federal EV rebate.

The upcoming Tesla S should have a 300 mile range, but will be priced between $50k and - $60k.
otto1923
1 / 5 (2) Sep 06, 2009
Lithium burns when exposed to air doesn't it? That might sell tickets. iPhones explode don't they? Spectacular charging accidents in the pits? Aw crap-
gmurphy
not rated yet Sep 06, 2009
earls, I just saw that youtube link, wow!