Average Salary for a Top Fuel Engine Builder

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The back of two dragster-style cars lining up on a race track.
The back of two dragster-style cars lining up on a race track. (Image: Robert Young/iStock/Getty Images)

"Top fuel" refers to the nitro methane mix that powers dragster-style racing engines. These fastest accelerating vehicles in the world are capable of up to 330 miles per hour, covering a quarter-mile in 4.4 seconds.

High Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, engine assemblers in the spectators sports industry earned an average annual salary of $74,630 per year in 2013. This equates to an average hourly rate of $35.96. This rate was double that of the national average for engine and machine assemblers across all industries -- $37,300 per year or $17.93 per hour,

Industrywide Salary Comparison

Engine builders in the spectator sports industry earn more on average than engine builders in any other industry. Engine assemblers employed by the motor vehicle manufacturing industry in 2013 earned $41,570 per year. Similarly, engine builders in the aerospace industry earned an average annual salary of $46,950.

Sanctioning Bodies

There are two main organizational bodies that sanction drag racing and top fuel engines in the United States. These are the National Hot Rod Association, or NHRA, and the International Hot Rod Association, or IHRA. Top fuel engine builders abide by the safety and engine specification rules established by one or both of these organizations. Both the NHRA and IRHA published annual lists of approved replacement parts and engine classifications for their many classes, or racing categories.

Relevant Background and Skills

While there is no strict educational or professional path for aspiring top fuel engine builders, most are master mechanics with three to five years of professional racing experience or high-performance engine assembly experience. Many professional top fuel engine builders learn on the job under the supervision of experienced engine mechanics in a volunteer, internship or junior-level position, while working their way up through the ranks. In addition to expert mechanical savvy, aspiring top fuel mechanics and engine builders must be competent team players who are capable of following exacting instructions.

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