Conventional drag racing is pretty much the furthest thing from a green sport, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the hell out of it. Yet even this tire-melting, gas-wasting sport is diving into the realm of alternative fuels for a variety of reasons.
Roush, a leading builder of aftermarket Mustangs, is developing two Mustangs for the drag strip powered not by gasoline, but clean-burning propane.
Roush is best known for its high powered Mustang, but they also dabble in propane fuels already. They have propane conversion kits for Ford F-150 pickup trucks and vans, and they are finally cross-breeding this technology with their racing pedigree. I’ll be honest, I’ve been waiting for this for a while now, but the article over at Muscle Mustangs and Fast Fords gives some insight into the challenges Roush faced with this build.
The two cars being worked over are a 2005 Roush Stage 3 Mustang built for Donnie Bowles, and a refreshed 2010 Mustang to be driven by Susan Roush-McClenaghan. Susan is actually founder Jack Roush’s daughter, who finished in third place in the NMRA Modular Muscle class, right behind Bowles. The Stage three Mustang was already an impressive car in its own right, featuring a supercharged ROUSHCharged 4.6 liter engine making 430 horsepower and 400 ft-lbs of torque on petrol and a reworked suspension.
Roush is tossing that engine aside in both cars though, replacing it with a modified version of the 5.4 liter aluminum motor found in the Ford GT. From the factory, the Ford GT used a supercharger to deliver 550 horsepower in factory trim. Under the scalpal of Roush, they ditched the supercharger, bumped compression to 12.5:1, fitted it with a more aggressive camshaft and ported cylinder heads. When all is said and done, the new propane engine will make 600 horsepower without the factory supercharger.
The extra compression is possible because propane has a higher octane rating than pump gas. Propane is rated at 106 octane, compared with the max of 93 available at most gas stations. Racing fuel is very expensive, sometimes costing $9 a gallon. Propane meanwhile can be had for around $1 a gallon, depending on different state and federal tax incentives and the time of season (I’ve found propane tends to be cheaper in the summer around here). Propane is also cleaner burning, putting out around 60% less carbon monoxide and about 20% less nitrogen oxides and greenhouse emissions. It also comes from right here in the USA, as America sits on top of large natural gas reserves.
Racing and alternative fuels may sound like odd bedfellows, but sometimes opposites attract. Whether it be electric, propane, or biofuels, I think even the racing world is growing a little bored with nitromethane. People like Jack Roush see the potential, and hopefully he will introduce them to the power of propane in a very fast fashion. Testing starts on Dowles car mid-November, while McClenaghan’s car should debut in February.