What is drag racing and a little on how to attend your first drag race.
Perhaps you’ve wondered why I use the term “quartermile” for my short synopsis at the beginning of my posts (above).
This term comes from drag racing, which is probably the quickest form of vehicular competition, hence why I use it for my short intros.
Drag racing is the original “go fast” sport.
The first drag race took place in 1900 between a Mercedes and a horse. The horse won.
Skip to the end for tips for your first track day if you don’t want to read everything, but I’d read it if I were you!
If your car is faster than 11.5 seconds in the quartermile
1. You probably shouldn’t start racing with that car!
2. You will need a roll cage (and a SNELL approved) race helmet or you will get kicked out…
Generally at slower speeds you don’t need a helmet up to a certain speed, that varies by track. It has to be SNELL approved also, ask ahead of race day.
The Flying Mile
If you are reading this you are probably a car person and you probably enjoy driving your car fast. Unfortunately, Uncle Sam frowns on you going much about 70 in most of the country and often over 55 mph is a no-no. Luckily there is an option for you Speedy Gonzalez. Drag Racing!
There is so much to say about drag racing so I’ll just start. Drag racing is a race between 2 vehicles (usually). It measures how quickly each vehicle can cover a set distance (usually a quarter of a mile (1320 feet). You have probably been exposed to drag racing from the Fast and Furious movies, or just about any other car tv movie or show when people ask “What will she do?” She being the car. It’s sort of like the bench press of the automotive world. It’s a great number to impress people, but using a few simple tricks you can make a car a lot faster for the quartermile but that will make it less potent in other forms of racing. Drag slicks and skinnies aren’t really the best for autocross or other racing that doesn’t involve going straight! That being said, I like drag racing for this sole reason, it’s the easiest performance benchmark to replicate. You can pay $40 (or $70 or more) to go to a local drag strip, race your car a few times and you know how quick it is. Then you can compare it to friends. This is much harder in autocross unless you are at the same track, and often those tracks get changed each week also. Same for times around a larger set race track. So, drag racing it is.
The ultimate goal of drag racing is getting the car to cover the distance in the shortest time possible, because faster is better right? Drag racing sure sounds easy you are thinking right? Well yes and no. In principle yes, but have you tried accelerating fast and in control? In all likelihood, no, you haven’t, and definitely not with 300 or more horsepower. Everyone wants to do burnouts in their high horse power car, which look cool, but that is actually the opposite of what you want to do when drag racing. Burning out = no traction. Which means not moving forward which means you lose the race. Now you’re a loser. Bummer.
At the end of a drag race you will get a time slip which will show you the time it took you to cover 60 feet, 330 feet, ⅛ mile, and a quartermile. It will also tell you your MPH at the ⅛ and quartermile points on the track which is important. I will help you decipher all these numbers to help you go quicker below.
But first! How does a drag race start? A smoking hot girl throws a hankie in the air right? Not so fast Dom (inic Toretto, Fast and Furious reference for you uninitiated).
Before you start the drag race you have to do a few things. First, you should usually do a burnout. This will clean the debris off your tires. It will also make them warm and sticky. This will help you accelerate and not spin your tires off the line. Then drag race starts with the “Christmas tree”. It’s a set of 7 lights. The top 2 tell you when you are at the starting line (when you are staged).
The top one will blink when you break a laser beam, and you will roll an inch or 2 forward and the second one will light up (from your tire breaking another beam). You are now ready to race! Once the other driver has also staged the 3 yellow lights (below the staging lights), will blink off in .5 second intervals (for normal racing, all at once for professionals). Then the green light will light up and you should start going now! Actually in all likelihood you or your car will not be as fast to react as you think, therefore the slower your car the sooner you should start engaging the clutch/removing your foot from the brake, and pushing the gas. If you leave from the line before the green light goes you will “break out” which means you have lost the race before you started, because you started too early. Not a big deal on your first day. On the other hand, the tree also measures your “reaction time” how close your car left the starting line in relation to the green light. Depending on what type of racing you are doing you might have to pay attention to this number. If you are just doing it to see what your car can do, that is fine, but if you are actually racing, the reaction time gets factored into your overall time. If you and the other car run the same time but his reaction time is .000 (perfect) and yours is .500 seconds you lose, even though your cars were equal. You can actually lose if you have a faster car even! If you run 14.00 with a .5 reaction time, and the other guy runs a 14.1 with a .000 R.T. you still lose.
Now that you know about starting, lets break down my time slip below and try to understand what all the numbers mean starting with the 60’ time which is one of the most important numbers in drag racing. This tells you how good your car is sticking to the ground and how much traction you are getting. If your 60’ time is high that means you are spinning your tires, which means you are going slow. See my time slip below.
This is my 2007 Mustang GT vs a 1998 Toyota Tacoma pickup (not a performance vehicle in most peoples mind!) Our Mph was the same at the end of the track (100Mph) but his 60’ times are better and his over all time is lower by .821 seconds! That’s huge in drag racing. Why is he faster? He sticks to the track and uses his power while I was taking off, spinning tires, sometimes getting “wheel hop” etc. Who wants to take their mustang to the track and get smoked by a Toyota Taco? No one! How do we fix this? It (should be) easy. Basically you want to take off slowly enough, roll on the throttle to prevent wheel spin. You can also let air out of your tires to get better traction. Finally if you can, install drag slicks on your car. There are tons of other, more involved suspension mods you can do if you get fast enough, but that’s not the aim of this article.
Next we will compare the times of 2 cars that I raced separately and copy pasted their times together for a comparison of what the sticking to the track will do for you.
You will notice on the right is our friend the fast Taco vs some burnout car that I didn’t bother to document. You see again the Taco had the faster overall quartermile time 13.567 seconds vs. 13.757 for the burnout. But wait! The taco has a slower MPH at both the 1/8th and quarter miles. How is that? If you look at the 60’ times you will see. The Burnout had a time of 2.174 seconds vs. the Speed Taco at 1.892 seconds. This is showing that the Taco was accelerating very good and converting all his power into forward momentum vs the Burnout was spinning tires or had a bad start. So that brings us to the MPH. How was Burnout going faster at the end and still lost? The Burnout definitely had a bad start, spinning tires etc, which put it way behind. You see at the 330’ marker the Speed Taco had a lead of .337 seconds. This was cut down to .19 seconds at the end of the race. Therefor the Burnout had more horsepower and was accelerating faster once it finally got hooked up (probably 2nd or 3rd gear) whereas the Taco was always hooked but not quite as much power. So while power is good being able to transfer that power to the ground is also extremely important for your times and your ego! Don’t get smoked in your new bazillion HP car by some guy who knows how to race! Do burnouts, don’t be a burnout!
A few quick tips for your first track day.
1. You will need to go through tech inspection before they will let you drag race. Make sure all loose stuff is out of your car! Maps, shoes, kleenex, empty pop cans, etc. You don’t want that stuff flying around your car when you take off.
2. They will check some simple things like if your battery is tied down. Make sure it’s secured by something, at least the stock battery tie down!
3. Start accelerating when the 3rd yellow light is on. If you wait til it’s green you are already behind.
4. Do a burnout, if you have an AWD car this probably doesn’t apply.
5. Take off slowly. Don’t try to launch your car at 5000 rpm the first time. Ease onto the throttle, see how your car sticks. If you stick good, then try a little more gas next time.
6. If you do eventually start spinning on take off let some air out of your tires. Maybe to about 10 PSI. This completely depends on what type of tire you have, how far from home you are, etc. Don’t let all the air out of your tires and then be mad at me when you can’t get home! But even down to 15 psi you can drive a little bit safely. Air your tires up again ASAP!
7. Talk with other racers! They will give you tons of help. They are generally a super helpful bunch, but maybe don’t ask the guy with a top fuel dragster to help you drive your stock 2000 Honda Civic… He’s probably pretty busy and has a lot of money tied up in his car and he’s probably pretty serious. Maybe ask the guy who’s just a few seconds faster.
8. If you want to start modding your car once you have the technique down, but don’t have any money, removing weight also makes your car faster. Remove the spare tire, passenger seat, rear seat (those are the 3 easiest things to remove. A general rule of thumb is every 100 lbs removed from your car = .1 second faster in the quartermile. Don’t forget you need to reinstall these things sometime…
9. Have FUN!
Now that you know all about drag racing how do you start? It’s pretty simple to drag race. You can literally drag race any vehicle. I’ve seen Dodge Caravans, pickup trucks, Buick Century’s as well as the normal car’s you’d expect like muscle cars, import tuners and purpose built drag cars. A normal one day of drag racing test and tune will cost you between $25 and $75 dollars to run as many runs as you can get in, base on how many people are there. So get to the track! What are you waiting for?!?!?!?
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Here’s a great (non-traditional) drag race staged by Motortrend magazine between a ton of cars!
Motortrend Greatest Drag race 2. This is my favorite of the 3 “worlds greatest drag race” videos.