Master Mechanics: Tree Time

Most modern engines last more than 100,000 miles before requiring a rebuild. The service life of the 7000-hp, 496-cubic-inch Hemi V-8 that powers Ron Capps's Napa Dodge Charger Funny Car is 1320 feet, or exactly 4.218 seconds on the first qualifying run for the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals. Everything from gaskets, pistons, and bearings to the cylinder heads and the clutch needs to be serviced or replaced. Oh, and Capps is running again in about two and a half hours.

Fortunately, he has come prepared with two trailers full of spare parts -- including nine engine blocks -- tools, and, most important, a team of ten mechanics. Within the hour, they will strip the Hemi to a bare block and exactingly reassemble it, pausing only to consult with a bank of computers that have dissected every millisecond of the last run. On race day, they'll do all this in less than half an hour.

Impressive as this feat is, most of the tools employed differ little from what you'll find in a well-equipped home garage -- sockets and wrenches, cans of brake cleaner. The key is the organization of the workspace and the crew's training.

Team owner Don Schumacher was a driver back in the 1960s, before engines were disassembled between runs. "I was tired of things trying to burn me," says Schumacher. Now, standing with lit cigar in hand amid his seven race cars (three Top Fuelers and four Funny Cars), each parked in its own pit with its own crew, he says, "They can fix anything."

1. Ron Capps's Napa Funny Car returns to the pits after a successful first qualifying run. The crew aims to rebuild the engine and tune the car to go faster.
2. The crew swarms the car in a well-rehearsed symphony of impact wrenches, clanging metal, and aerosol spray.
3. Capps carefully packs his parachute. He also supplies his thoughts on the last run but admits that the crew relies on computers to "see what really happened...It's almost like they feel sorry for me and listen," he says with a laugh.
4. Assistant crew chief Terry Snyder disassembles and inspects the supercharger. Sure enough, a chunk was blown out of one of the rotor seals during the run.
5. Mechanic Mark Warnick replaces the aluminum main-bearing caps; there are five per engine.
6. Mechanic Dan Murphy used to work on U-Haul trucks. Now he's responsible for servicing the Napa car's pistons.
7. Capps fires up the fresh engine to check for problems (adoring fans watch without gas masks). The crew continues to make adjustments, including clutch weights and nitromethane percentage, as the car rolls up to the starting line.
8. Flames shoot out the exhaust pipes as Capps pulls off a run of 4.135 seconds at 301.94 mph, qualifying third. He then goes back to the pits, and the team repeats the whole process.

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