Methanol in Racing

Methanol as racing fuel

Beginning in 1965, the use of pure Methanol was widespread in the USAC Indy car competition, which at the time included the Indianapolis 500.

A seven-car crash on the second lap of the 1964 Indianapolis 500 resulted in the USAC‘s decision to encourage, and later mandate, the use of Methanol. Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald died in the crash when their gasoline-fueled cars exploded. The Gasoline-triggered fire created a dangerous cloud of thick black smoke, which completely blocked the view of the track for oncoming cars. Johnny Rutherford, one of the other drivers involved, drove a Methanol-fueled car, which also leaked following the crash. While this car burned from the impact of the first fireball, it formed a much lesser inferno than the Gasoline cars, and burned invisibly. That testimony, and pressure from Indianapolis Star writer George Moore, led to the switch to alcohol fuel in 1965.

Methanol was used by the CART circuit during its entire campaign (1979–2007). It is also used by many short track organizations, especially midget, sprint cars and speedway bikes. Pure Methanol was used by the IRL from 1996-2006.

Methanol fuel is also used extensively in drag racing, primarily in the Top Alcohol category, while between 10% and 20% Methanol may be used in Top Fuel classes in addition to Nitromethane.

Formula One racing continues to use gasoline as its fuel, but in pre-war Grand Prix racing Methanol was often used in the fuel.

Methanol is also used in Monster Truck racing.

At its inception, the IRL used Methanol racing fuel, which had been the de facto standard in American open-wheel racing since the 1964 Indianapolis 500 Eddie Sachs-Dave MacDonald crash. Methanol had long provided a safer alternative to gasoline. It had a higher flash point, was easily extinguishable with water, and burned invisibly. With the IRL’s introduction of night races in 1997, the burning of Methanol fuel was visible for the first time, seen with a light blue haze. From then on, as a safety feature, additional coloring elements were placed in the fuel so that Methanol would burn visibly.