The first "dragsters" were little more than street cars with lightly warmed-over engines and bodies chopped down to reduce weight. Eventually, professional chassis builders constructed purpose-built cars, bending and welding together tubing and planting the engine in the traditional spot, just in front of the driver; the engines, and the fuels they burned, became more exotic, more powerful, and, naturally, more temperamental.
Like almost all racing cars, they have undergone tremendous evolution as racers upgraded, experimented, theorized, and tested their equipment.
Safety and innovation paved the way to rear-engine Top Fuel cars in the early 1970s, and once drag racing legend Don Garlits - himself a victim of the front-engine configuration when his transmission, which was nestled between his feet, exploded in 1970, severing half of his right foot - perfected the design, the sport never looked back. Today's Top Fuel dragsters are computer-designed wonders with sleek profiles and wind-tunnel-tested rear airfoils that exert 5,000 pounds of downforce on the rear tires with minimal aerodynamic drag.
As racers became smarter, the speed barriers fell: 260 mph toppled in 1984; 270 in 1986; 280 in 1987; 290 in 1989: and the magic 300 mph barrier fell before the wheels of former Funny Car champion Kenny Bernstein on March 20, 1992. Just seven years later, Tony Schumacher became the first to top 330 mph in February 1999 in Phoenix.