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The Rise and Fall of Nitro

The dawn of the new millennium in 2000 was a crazy time where new cultures were born and cultivated. This was an era of cargo shorts. This was the time of nu metal, when bands like Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit perfectly reflected the angst and fashion of the time. This was a mainstream blend of hard rock and hip-hop.

2001 saw the release of “The Fast and the Furious.” This grew into a movement that celebrated JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) automobiles and the subculture that surrounded it. The pink-green Toyota Supra, the central car of the film, became a cultural icon. This Supra was contrasted with Vin Diesel’s Dodge Charger, a vintage American piece hidden in a sea of modern, citizen-oriented Japanese imports. The many JDMs in the film were ornately decorated, espousing bright neon colors all over, even in the engine bay. Vin Diesel’s Charger provided a firm counterpoint to all the ruckus.

A central motif of “The Fast and the Furious” was its heavy use of nitrous oxide, also known as NO2, nitro, or “nos.” Early in the film, Paul Walker’s Brian is eager to stock up on tanks of “nos” in order to compete against Vin Dieselʼs Dom. During that very race, there is an impressive CGI sequence about how nitrous oxide interacts in the car engine to produce a speed boost. There are many references to “nos” throughout the filed, such as the cheesy-as-heck reference to Dom as having “nitrous oxide in his veins.” In succeeding media about racing cars during that era, nitrous oxide would be largely advertised. One popular example is its use in the Need for Speed video game franchise. While “nitro” and other speed boosts still feature heavily in racing games, the mention of “nitro” or its synonyms has largely faded away in the car world.

What then happened to this nitrous craze?

As with all our AcomTicles, a crash course on the physics and chemistry behind car stuff is offered. Nitrous oxide is a simple gas compound that is also used as an anesthetic. It has a drugging effect on humans and is also called “laughing gas” for its pleasure-heightening effect. In automobiles, nitrous oxide is used as a performance booster by breaking into extra oxygen for the engine to combust. Remember that a care engine works by taking an oxygen and fuel mixture and combusting it to create small explosions that propel your wheels. Just like a turbocharger and a supercharger, a nitro boost brings in extra oxygen for your engine to use.

Having a nitro kit in your car is a relatively inexpensive way to make your car ten times funner and give it perhaps more “cred” in the car clubs—a very contestable opinion as we will see later. Unlike turbos and superchargers, nitro gives your car an instant boost regardless of which speed you are in.

Whatʼs the problem then? The first issue is obvious—that too much nitro could be too much for the engine. The car must be tuned in a way that the fuel mix will compensate for the extra oxygen, which could bring temperatures way overboard. The same goes for turbochargers and superchargers, but of course, the thought of having extra tanks of combustible gas could still bring chills down the spines of less experienced drivers. Second, a stigma against the use of nitro—that it is cheating—looms over the practice. The third and perhaps most stringent reason is the legality behind the subculture. Drag racing is largely illegal and every year, laws against street racing are enforced harder. In several US states, is illegal to buy or sell nitrous oxide as a recreational drug. In other countries, the use of nitro kits in cars is downright illegal.

While there are still many nitro kits freely on sale, and while many cars still use them, nitro kits have declined in popularity since the previous decade. Later Fast and Furious films rarely even mention it. Such is the evolution of the times.