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by Tony Sakkis

Want to go fast?

Really fast. Like a gozillion miles per hour?

If you're a drag racer, you know that for a few thousand bucks you can bolt on numerous gizmos that enhance power. You can change the carb, change the cam, enlarge the manifold, re-bore, re-stroke and just generally upgrade the mass of metal parts, plumbing, and wires beneath the hood of your ride.

Most of which need serious engineering knowledge and understanding.

But you, not knowing a retarded ignition from a retarded technical inspector, don't know how to do all this stuff, and worse, you don't have the deep pockets to make the changes.

And a voice comes to you in your sleep. The voice says: nitrous oxide.

Nitrous oxide is the poor mans nitromethane. Just as nitromethane takes a fairly run-of-the-mill alcohol engine and turns it into a 5,000 horsepower bomb, nitrous takes a run of the mill gas engine and makes it into a rocket.

The key to power is not in the fuel but in the air. The reason nitromethane is so powerful is not because it is such a spectacular fuel, but because it is such a phenomenal source of oxygen. It creates its own oxygen. So what Top Fuel teams are able to do is pack a whole bunch of fuel into the combustion chambers knowing there is already a way to burn it. Since the fuel itself needs less real air, more of it can be used. In addition, the car is supercharged, adding that much extra performance.

As you know nitrous' primary source is as a mild anesthetic in the dentist's office. The nitrogen allows the patient to get more oxygen, which in turn makes him or her lightheaded. The patient, that is, not the dentist.

The nitrogen molecules, two of them, are added to an oxygen molecule. The key here is not the nitrogen, but the oxygen, as we already mentioned. The nitrogen allows both a buffer as well as a way to blend the fuel. The fuel is suddenly able to run at something near four parts of the nitrous mix to one part fuel, as opposed to the normal thirteen to one. Unlike nitromethane, nitrous itself is not a fuel. It will not run without gasoline.

So the canisters are made to spray the nitrous mix into a special diaphragm into which additional fuel is also sprayed. At the same time, the standard charge is coming in through the intake and is mixing with the "fortified" charge.

Understand that the nitrous makes the car run leaner since more oxygen does exactly that, lean the engine out. And so the combustion is hotter and tends to run lean. It is also obviously more violent. The other symptoms of using nitrous is that it tends to put holes in the pistons. If you've already set the car to run lean so it will perform better anyway, you're now about to push it to the limit. Any problems and you're going to be melting stuff. So just like nitromethane, an engine couldn't stand to run this all day long. Typically what drivers do in race conditions is get the car under way, then at say 100 feet or so they hit the nitrous button for a couple of seconds and there they go.

But for pure power -- power, which, by the way, is street legal -- there are few things that can give you the power the nitrous system can. In normal circumstances you should be able to increase power by 50-60 percent. It actually isn't difficult to get the power to 90 to 100% of what you already have. Got 300? Want 600? This is how. Now go back to sleep.