Sentry Oldsmobile Cutlass Funny Car, 1988

Bruce Larson’s Championship Top Fuel Dragster

Bruce Larson's Funny Car, 1988

Gift of Bruce Larson
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This vehicle represents the pinnacle of Bruce Larson’s drag racing career. Larson, an accomplished race car owner and driver, won six National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) competitions with this car in 1989, taking the NHRA World Championship in the funny car category. Larson, driving this vehicle, was the fastest funny car driver that year at the Winternationals in Pomona, California, the Spring Nationals in Columbus, Ohio (setting a world record in his class for the quarter mile at 276 miles an hour), the Mile High Nationals in Denver, the Seafair Nationals in Kent, Washington, the Fall Nationals in Phoenix, and the NHRA Finals in Pomona. The Datcon Sentry Instrument Company was one of Larson’s sponsors.

Bruce Larson posing with his Funny Car outside the museum with the Washington Monument in the background

A funny car is a type of top fuel dragster with a body roughly mimicking a passenger car. Francisco Hernandez, head of racing activities at Ford Motor Company’s Lincoln-Mercury Division, is credited with coining the term “funny car” because of the odd appearance of this type of race car compared with other dragsters. Top fuel refers to a class of vehicles that burn nitromethane mixed with alcohol, while other classes of dragsters are restricted to burning gasoline. Top fuel is the most powerful and fastest class in drag racing. Fuel flow, clutch, and throttle operation are regulated by a computer in the upper classes of drag racing, optimizing them for horsepower and speed.

A funny car typically is covered with a lightweight, fiberglass body patterned after a production car. In this case, the car resembles an Oldsmobile Cutlass sedan, but there are virtually no Oldsmobile parts on the vehicle. Doors and headlights are painted onto the fiberglass body, which weighs only 200 pounds and is wedge-shaped to reduce air resistance.

The Funny Car posed in front of the museum exhibition A Material World during donor event

The Larson funny car is powered by a “Hemi” V-8 engine based on a design introduced by Chrysler in 1951 but custom-made of aluminum by the Keith Black Company and carrying a Roots-type supercharger. Its design has a hemispherical-shaped combustion chamber in the cylinder head, optimizing thermodynamic efficiency. The engine produced 4,000 horsepower for short periods. Kase Racing of Oil City, Pennsylvania, built the chassis for Larson’s car with a tubular frame constructed of a high-strength chromium-molybdenum steel alloy.

Larson and his crew, consisting of Joe Amato, Tim Richards, and former sprint car mechanic Maynard Yingst, performed the final “set-up” of this vehicle at Larson’s shop in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Set-up involves tuning the engine and adjusting the suspension, weight, and balance of the chassis to optimize performance for a specific race track and weather conditions, taking into consideration air temperature, relative humidity, and the pavement’s surface.