Ask our Experts, we're here to help!
Early on in his motorsport career, Steve Huff largely split his time between his road racing aspirations in open wheel single-seaters and the blistering velocities of motorcycle drag racing. Over time he began to shift more of his focus toward the latter, and he would go on to set eighth and quarter-mile national records in Top Fuel before moving into dry lakebed racing at Bonneville and El Mirage. “To this day I’m still the only person to have gone over 200 miles per hour on a bike with an 80 cubic-inch pushrod engine,” he notes. “And I’m still not done there – I’ll be going back soon.”
Back in 2016, Huff was in the process of building 180-inch wheelbase turbocharged dragsters for NHRA competition when he happened to catch an interview with racing icon Don Garlits that piqued his interest. “It was about his mission to be the first to hit 200 mph in the quarter mile in an electric vehicle,” he recalls. “He was the first to hit 200 mph in the quarter mile in a Top Fuel car back in 1964, and of course I’ve always been a huge fan of his. I’m not really an electric car guy – I love internal combustion engines – but ICE tech has fundamentally stayed the same for more than a century. I was inspired by that interview with Don, but what really stuck out to me was that he said he didn’t think 200 mph was possible with the technology that was currently available at that time. That’s when I decided to design and build a car to break that barrier, and we named it Current Technology.”
Now in its third iteration, Huff’s dragster utilizes 800V architecture and channels 2000 amps of power through four Phi-Power motors.
Huff studied the specs of Garlits’ EV dragster and chose to take a fundamentally different approach with his own build, opting for an AC power system rather than the DC setup that Garlits and others were using at the time. “I saw the problems that DC motors were having, and I wanted a car that would be relevant for a long time. But I also knew it was going to be a difficult task because nobody had tried to do something like this with an AC drivetrain before.”
With backing from friend and business partner Larry Carroll and EV engineering insight from Derek Barger of performance battery manufacturer High Tech Systems, Huff set to work building a dragster that could give Garlits a run for his money.
“A DC motor will provide massive amounts of power for a very short amount of time, and it’s relatively inexpensive compared to an AC drive system,” he explains. “An AC drive system is more complex – we essentially had to double the weight in order to make comparable power, and by doubling the weight, we had to make even more power on top of that to compensate for the extra pounds. And because it involves inverters, newer motor tech, and more motors, the costs quickly start to add up with AC drive systems. But the advantage is that AC systems are much more tunable, more consistent from a performance standpoint, and our setup should be basically maintenance-free for more than a decade. There’s a reason why all of the OEMs are going the AC route now.”
The first iteration of the Current Technology dragster made its debut at the SEMA show in 2017, and suddenly the competition between Huff and Garlits was on. “But it didn’t go 200,” Huff tells us. “It would only do about 180 mph. While that was a record at the time, it wasn’t 200.”
Huff says that AEM’s VCU300 control unit was a game changer for his race program. “With the VCU, we were able to properly manage and control four motors and take our battery to its limit. And that’s when we hit 200 mph.”
Huff and his crew went back to the drawing board and debuted “Version 2.0” not long after, but even with new personnel on board and a new combination, the team struggled to reach their goal. “That one wouldn’t do 200 either,” he says. “I was developing clutches, transmissions and making various mechanical changes to try to figure it out. It became a battle with Don – he’d run 182 and we would run 183. Then he’d run 186. Then I made the version of the dragster that you see today.”
He says that the team couldn’t properly manage the data they were logging and make precise adjustments to electrical system early on in the project, but the debut of AEM’s VCU300 EV controller proved to be a game changer. “Trying to figure out how to control four motors, properly collect the necessary data, and then tune based on that information was a major challenge before that, so it was a turning point for us. We worked closely with them during the development of it and I remember saying to Kirk Miller, ‘Can we do this, and this, and this?’ And the answer was yes to every question I asked. It was my dream computer.” With all the pieces of the puzzle put together, the team headed to Tucson Dragway and on May 7th, 2020, they broke that 200 mph barrier in the quarter-mile with a 201.37 mph pass.
The dragster’s purpose-built lithium polymer battery provides 1.6 million watts of power. That’s enough juice to power 2400 homes for twenty seconds.
Garlits in turn redesigned his Swamp Rat 38 dragster in order to respond, but Huff suddenly found himself with another challenge to deal with. “After we went 201.37, I was diagnosed with stage four metastatic cancer, and it stopped me in my tracks. We had some big decisions that had to be made very quickly.”
He soon began treatment, but that didn’t mean that his competitive career was over. “Things were put on hold for a while, but at the end of last year’s racing season I was feeling good enough to take the car out to the track a few times. I knew Don wasn’t going to let us rest on our laurels.”
Outfitted with a new brake system and a revised drive system tune, Huff brought the newly-dubbed Faster Than Cancer EV dragster to Orlando Speed World Dragway and reset the world record on March 15th with a 202.52 mph pass. “We knew there was a bit left in it last time,” he admits.
After breaking the 200 mph barrier in 2020, Huff and his team made a few tweaks to the car and brought it to Orlando Speed World Dragway earlier this year, where they raised the bar for four-wheeled EV trap speeds in quarter mile with a 202.52 mph pass. With the 200 mph record now set and re-set, Huff has set his sights on being the first racer to put an EV dragster in the 6s.
But he’s also quick to point out that while he remains the only driver to have surpassed 200 mph in the quarter mile with an EV dragster, Garlits still has the quicker car when it comes to ETs. “We’re running in the 7.40s, and he’s in the 7.30s now.”
He’s got some plans in the works to change that, though. “Without a clutch in it, our car runs a 1.35 second 60-foot time. For a 200 mph drag car, that’s dreadfully slow. But we’ve developed a new clutch system for the car, and we’ll be testing it in the coming weeks. We are the first team to utilize a clutch in an EV dragster like this, and that allows us to compensate for all of the low-end power that a DC motor would make. AC motors don’t have that – it’s a common misconception that it’s instantaneous full torque. If this clutch does what we’re expecting it to do, it should allow us to be the first in the 6s.”
“There’s a tremendous amount of interest, especially from young people,” Huff says. “It’s funny – there’s two types of people that come up to our car. The first is old knuckle-draggers like me, and they want to know how much horsepower it makes. And then there’s the people who’re younger than, say, 30. They want to know how many kilowatts it is.”
Huff adds that the team spent a lot of time waiting for the industry to catch up with them, but that’s largely over with now. “We were waiting for the sanctioning bodies to open their doors to electric vehicle racing, waiting for the OEMs to launch their electric vehicles, and waiting for the aftermarket industry to start offering supporting parts for these vehicles. We’re there now, and big things are happening.”
You can catch Huff match racing with Garlits at various tracks across the country when the pair set out on their "AC-versus-DC" tour later this year.