Very few racers can lay claim to having beat “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, but Steve Huff is one of them, and with his recent astounding record of being the first to break the 200-mph mark with an electric vehicle, he’s also indelibly inked his name in the history books.
Based out of Seatac, Washington, Huff already had a slew of impressive accomplishments to his name as his company, Steve Huff Motorsports, consists of four successful teams across varying forms of motorsports such as land speed, his e-Spec racecars dragster, hydroplane, and super hooligan.
Huff, who also spent nearly a decade racing Top Fuel Harley motorcycles, first decided to chase the goal of breaking the 200-mph barrier in an electric vehicle after hearing an interview with Garlits.
“It was around Thanksgiving a few years ago and I had Good Morning, America on and he was talking about his quest for 200 in the quarter mile and my ears perked up,” laughed Huff, who has set a record in every class with every vehicle he’s owned since ’97. “I thought, ‘I can do that! What’s the problem?’ and got to work.”
While Garlits was building and testing his own dragster, Huff was hustling. As he pieced together the parts for the project, he realized that the controller he needed wasn’t available.
“AEM stepped up to enter the electric vehicle market with their VCU300 CAN-bus programmable electric vehicle control unit [like an ECU on an internal combustion engine] and we were able to move forward,” noted Huff, who predicts the Tesla drivetrain will be the LS swap of the future. Huff had already set the AC-powered record last season with his electric dragster when he went 7.95 at 180 mph with a single dual-stack motor and two Rinehart 250 controllers. “I told AEM what I needed for this, and we got going.”
When it was all said and done, Huff had upgraded his e-Spec Racecars custom chassis 240” wheel base, NHRA-certified 6.50-second electric dragster with an impressive dual-motor setup capable of 200+ mph speeds.
“Every other significant attempt had been done with direct current (DC) motors, but we knew we would need alternating current (AC) to get the job done,” added Huff, whose dragster was appropriately christened “Current Technology 2.0.”
Two custom-wound Phi-Power axial flux dual-stack motors designed by a retired MIT professor were installed along with a 1.6-million-watt battery from Derek Barger at High Tech Systems.
“He’s like the Alan Johnson of batteries,” laughed Huff, who paired everything with the new AEM controllers. The 800-volt, lithium polymer battery, which weighs 413 pounds, has a discharge rate of 89:1 and is capable of providing around 2,000 continuous amps for a short period of time. “We haven’t found the threshold of it yet, but all our data shows it isn’t unhappy and we can request up to 2,600 amps if needed.”
Huff was ready to validate his mission back in April, but the Coronavirus shutdowns made it a challenge for him to find a place to do so as many of the tracks that could accommodate his speeds were closed.
Eventually, he found refuge at Tucson Dragway in Arizona and began the 3,800-mile round trip epic journey in mid-May.
“It was so eerie driving down the coast and then back up through Las Vegas… the Strip was completely shut down and empty, they even closed the Grand Canyon!” said Huff, astounded by the apocalyptic conditions.
While Huff was busy witnessing history in progress, he was also busy writing some of it himself. When he and his team–including partners Larry Carrell (an old school oil man from Montana) and Barger–arrived in the Southwest, they were careful to operate within compliance of local and state regulations to be responsible and to mitigate risk during the pandemic.
On Wednesday, May 13, 2020, Huff provided proof of concept after three years of trial and error when he clicked off the incredible, record-setting 7.520 at 201.07mph blast with his electric dragster.
Making the accomplishment even more impressive are the facts that Huff did it with no traction control, and without a clutch.
“My contribution to electric vehicle racing was that I was the first to utilize a clutch. With these setups, you have instant torque but you have more if you can store energy in a flywheel and launch it like that–that’s how you get the 60-foot times down,” explained the mastermind.
For this particular record, though, Huff actually removed the clutch and went with a direct-drive setup instead.
“It drives the rear axle with the same sprockets as my old Top Fuel Harley,” he shared. “Direct drive is embarrassingly slow in the first half of the track, but I had to get this done and I was confident we could do the 200 without the clutch.”
Packing the equivalent of approximately 2,400 horsepower and 2,000 foot-pounds of torque, Huff’s dragster weighs in at 2,010-pounds with him in the driver’s seat and is completely silent.
“This thing is QUIET and it’s really eerie,” he said jovially. “To hear the tires instead of the engine is quite unique, especially at 200 mph, but it makes my job as a driver easier because my mind has one less input.”
The numbers get even more impressive considering the fact Huff estimates it only uses about $2.80 worth of electricity for the day. He’s crunched the numbers on the cost per pass, too, and while his Top Fuel Harley ran him about $1,800 per run, his “Current Technology 2.0” dragster comes in at around $30-$40 per pass.
While Huff’s feat marked him as the first man to break the 200mph barrier in an electric-powered, four-wheeled vehicle, he isn’t done. Now, he’s on a mission to be the first to break into the 6-second zone. He gets a thrill from finding barriers that exist in various forms of racing and obliterating them, as well as solving problems and surpassing limitations.
“We’re in the process of building the clutch we need to make the 6-second run happen, and we will go from a 1.35-second 60-foot down to a 1.1-second 60-foot time,” affirmed Huff, who predicts he’ll do the deed within the next 30-60 days. He has set a target date of June 13 for his goal, and he’ll go all out at the longest continually running NHRA drag strip in the country, Lewistown Raceway in Lewistown, Montana.
Huff hopes to be able to inspire future generations of would-be hot rodders who may not have an interest in traditional horsepower to instead focus on electric power.
“We’re losing small engine classes, shop classes, welding classes… when our minds aren’t being challenged, we see an increase in delinquent behavior. So, maybe electric vehicle racing can give them a different way to find the dopamine they’re seeking,” he stated eloquently. “I want to help give students and young people a new platform to showcase their skills. Hard work and dedication, the core fundamentals of what people look for in employees, a lot of that is learned through racing.”
Keeping the sentiment of encouraging learning alive, Huff maintains an “open source” philosophy about his build as nothing is hidden under cover. It’s been a fun journey for him so far, and it’s definitely nowhere near being over. “I was inspired by Garlits, and hopefully this inspires someone else.”