Drag Racing 101

By Michael Albee

treeSo you want to get started in drag-racing or bracket racing! Taking into consideration all of the various forms of auto racing available today, drag racing is perhaps the easiest and most cost effective motor sport to enter.
Most people who “get into” drag racing, do it because of the excitement, because it looks like fun or because they simply want to see how fast their vehicle is.

Tony and I facing off in the Finals at Earlville!Unfortunately most people just go out and find a deserted street, a piece of highway or a county road to do it! This can be dangerous and sometimes even fatal.

We would like to offer another possible alternative!!! TAKE IT TO THE TRACK. It’s a great way to go fast in a much safer environment than street racing, and when you get done, you’ll know exactly what your vehicle is capable of.

mike_tonyMost drag strips across the country have dedicated days that are called “Test-n-Tune” days. Some even offer full day or evening events for novice racers called “Street Car” or “Tuner” events. For those tracks that don’t, they usually have “Trophy” classes that run in conjunction with their regular eliminator categories. They are designed to give the novice racer a chance to gain the needed experience and to give them the opportunity to get the thrills of drag-racing competition.

Before you take your car to the track, We suggest that you take the time to get acquainted with the racing process by visiting the track once or twice. This will allow you to acquaint yourself with the tracks layout, find out where the tech area is located, and observe the procedures for entering the staging lanes and so on. Spending this time will insure that you will be able to run your vehicle safely.

As a spectator, get a pit pass and spend time watching everything from how the vehicles are inspected to how they are stage at the starting line. Also, watch how they perform a burnout. Note which vehicles do or don’t use this procedure. Also spend some time walking through the pit area. Watch what people do to prepare their vehicles for a run.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Everyone out there was a novice at one time and most of us are more than willing to share our experiences.

Brandon “Mr. Holeshot” Ellis cutting a great light!Next, get the latest safety information and track rules. Check with the track you are planning to run at. They will have rule books or handouts detailing the requirements for Test-n-Tune Days and for each of their classes. Most tracks post this information on their websites too!

Remember, your vehicle doesn’t have to be some mega-buck chrome-moly tube-framed track-killer to make drag racing enjoyable. All you really need is a safe and dependable vehicle.

When you are ready to take your vehicle to the track, you need to do a few simple things to make sure your vehicle is safe to run.

brandon_holeshotWhen you take a look at your vehicle, check all of your fluid levels, tires and tire pressures, brakes, the drive-train and the cooling system. Most tracks require basic safety equipment including seat belts, good tires, a working hand/parking brake and 4 wheel service brakes. If your vehicle passes your state safety inspection it will usually pass a track’s safety requirements.

There are other ways to learn the about the basics of drag-racing. You can check out your local library, they usually have a section containing all sorts of books, magazines or videos. The National Hot Rod Assn (NHRA) also has a booklet designed for first time racers. The booklet is titled the “Basics of Bracket Racing,” and can be found at most NHRA tracks.

Like anything else, if you have an bad day at the track you just have to forget about it, evaluate your performance, and determine how to improve next time. It’s not just you, we have all had a bad day. Don’t get discouraged when thing go wrong. Relax, walk away and approach it calmly. This will help you enjoy future excursions to the drag-strip even more.

Remember, Street Racing is very dangerous and can cost you a lot more than just the money to pay a ticket, the lose of your drivers license or the lose of your vehicle. It can also take your life or the life of a friend or an innocent by-stander. If you really want to race someone, PLEASE TAKE IT TO THE TRACK!

Dragstrip Etiquette

Here are a few simple rules of Etiquette that you need to observe to make sure that you, and everyone around you has a safe and fun time at the track.

  • Make sure your entry numbers and dial-in (when applicable) are visible from the tower. Most Tech inspectors will put the entry number on the car for you, but if they don’t, make sure it is clearly marked and large enough to see from the tower. (3″-4″ Tall)
  • When you get ready to race make sure you get in the right staging lane. This will keep you from running in the wrong class. (racing a junior dragster with your T-Bird). If you aren’t sure ASK.
  • Once you are in the staging lanes, stay with your car.
  • When it’s time for the cars in your staging lanes to race, the official at the front of the lanes will direct you. It is very, important to pay attention and watch the track officials at all times for directions.
  • After you have been paired up and you pull up to the timing tower, watch the official at the water box. He/she will check to make sure your windows are rolled up, seatbelts are on, and if it is after dark, that your parking lights are on.
  • Don’t enter the burnout area until you are instructed to do so by a track official. Entering the burnout area before you are instructed to, can get you removed or even banned from the track.
  • Don’t start your burnout until directed to by the official. He/she usually gives you some sort of hand signal to let you know you can begin. Make sure your vehicle is on the pad, facing straight ahead and that your front wheels are pointed straight ahead.
  • Don’t do burnouts in the water box if you are running street tires. Instead, drive around the water box. Water will tend to get into the tire treads and then it will leave water tracks all the way to the starting line. Water at the starting line will make it slippery and you will just spin the tires when you take off. (This also makes the drivers behind you very angry, especially if they are running slicks).
  • Don’t do a Top Fuel-style burnout (spinning the tires through the starting line and down the track) This can also get you removed or banned from the track.
  • As a general rule, the first car into the staging beams should light only the pre-stage lights (The Top Bulbs). When the second car is pre-staged, then either vehicle can move forward into the staging lights. Lighting both staging lights before your opponent pre-stages is just bad manors and is considered pushy and rude.
  • When the light turns green, stay in your lane at all costs.
  • At the completion of your run if you are in the right lane, and the track turn off’s are on the left side of the track, the car in the left lane has the right of way. If the turn off’s are on the right side, you have the right of way. Don’t EVER turn in front of another car! If you do, you could be turning in front of a car that is still under power. How would you like getting hit by someone running 125 miles per hour? (Nothing More to say ……..)
  • At the end of your run exit as quickly as you can safely. Proceed up the return road, and stop at the timing shack and pick up your time slip. Wait until you get back to your pit stall to read it. There are a lot of people walking around. Drive carefully and go slow!

Definitions of Commonly used Drag Racing Terms:

  • Tech Inspection — Upon entering the pit area you will need to have a track official inspect your car. They will check tires, steering, brakes or anything that might pose a safety hazard. After your car is inspected you will be give a number on your window. You are now ready to have some fun.
  • Staging Lanes — This is the area were competitors take their vehicles so they can be matched up for the upcoming round of competition.
  • Staging Director — The person who directs the flow of traffic from the staging lanes to the race lanes.
  • Water Box — a.k.a. “Bleach Box” or “Burn-out Box”. This referrers to the area of track located just in front of the staging area where cars can spin the tires in water to heat up the tires. Warmed tires will get better traction.
  • Staging — There are two sets of staging lights on the starting tree. When staging, you move your vehicle up to the first (pre-stage) light beam. When you are pre-staged the first light at the top of the starting tree will light. After you and your opponent have pre-staged, you then move your vehicle ahead another 8 inches. This runs you through the second light beam at the starting line which lights the second Staging light and you are now staged.
  • Deep Staging — Deep Staging is done by pulling forward about 2 more inches or until the Pre-Stage light goes off. By doing this it puts your vehicle closer to the finish line which may give you a lower ET but it also results in a lower trap speed. The main reason for deep staging is to get a lower reaction time.
  • Starting Line — The point of the starting area were both sets of pre-staging lights are lit for your line.
  • Starting Tree — a.k.a. “The Tree” or “Christmas Tree” is the starting device located between the two racing lanes at the starting line. It has two sets of staging lights, three sets of yellow starting lights, a green “Start” light and red “False Start” light.
  • Full Tree — The method used to start cars at the starting line. After the second set of staging lights are lit, the yellow lights on the tree come on one at a time, then the green light. A perfect reaction time when using full tree is .500 second.
  • Pro Tree — All yellow lights are lit at once then the green light comes on. A perfect reaction time when using a Pro Tree is .400 second.
  • Reaction Time — Reaction Time is the amount of time between when the last yellow light on the tree comes on, and your front tires break the starting line light beam. (.500 seconds is a perfect reaction time because that is the time between each of the lights on the tree). Deep staging will lower your reaction time because your vehicle is closer to the starting line beam. Reaction time is very important in bracket racing. It can sometimes be the difference between winning and losing a round.
  • Interval Times — Interval times are a break down of a competitors elapsed time. The track is broken into sections and as the vehicle progresses down the track it trips a series of light beams and the time to that point is recorded. This is primarily for the racers’ benefit. Elapsed time is recorded at 60, 330, 660, and 1000 feet. It also records eighth-mile speed at the light beam located 66 feet before the 660-foot mark.
  • Trap Speed — Trap speed is the average speed of your vehicle through the last 66 feet of track.
  • E.T. — This abbreviation refers to Elapsed Time. Elapsed Time is the amount of time it takes a vehicle to travel between the light beam at the starting line and the light beams at the end of the track.
  • Dial-in — Dial-in is also called an “index”. Your ” Dial-in” time is the absolute best (fastest) time you think your car can run. This is based on your qualifying runs. This “Dial-in” is used during bracket racing, which allows cars of very different performance to compete against each other.
  • Hole Shot — The advantage achieved at the starting-line by the quicker reacting driver.
  • Handicap — When one car is faster than the other, the slower gets a head start. The amount of the head start depends on previous elapsed time or the dial- in.
  • Index — Elapsed time assigned by NHRA or IHRA to allow various classes to race together with an equitable handicap starting system.
  • Break-out — Break-out is a term used when you run faster than you “Dial-in”. To take full advantage of your dial-in, you want to run as close to your dial-in as possible without going under. If you run a faster time than the dial-in number on your car (painted on the glass before the race), you lose.
  • Red-Lighting — If you start to early (before your green light comes on you lose. You can also Red-Light if you run under your “Dial-in”.
  • Bye Run — A lone run given to a randomly chosen car, because of an unequal number of cars in the round.
  • Round — A round is completed when all cars in a bracket (class) have made a run.
  • Eliminations — When cars are raced two at a time, The resulting finish determines one winner and one loser. The loser is “eliminated”. The winner continues to race in a tournament-style competition until only one car is left in that class.
  • Top Eliminator — The last car left in a class at the end of Eliminations.
  • Bracket Racing — Bracket Racing is when two vehicles of unequal speed face off at the tree. When bracket racing, the green light comes on for the slower car First. Races often come down to the 1/100s of seconds of reaction time which are gained or lost, depending on how good your reaction times are. (.500 is perfect). (.400 on a pro-tree).
  • Heads-Up — Heads-ups racing is what we all grew up with. This is when two vehicles line up and both vehicles leave at the same time. The first vehicle to cover the distance is the winner.
  • Shutdown Area — Area located after finish line for racing cars to slowdown.
  • Return Road — Road which leads from shutdown area back to the pits or staging lanes.
  • Time Slip — A printed record of your run, given to you as you return to the pit area after you run. Usually it is given to you on the return road.

(Getting the Most Out of Your Stock Vehicle at the Track)

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