Drag racing is a competition between two cars starting from a standstill to determine which car can accelerate faster to a certain point. Drag racing began in the 1930s when participants raced across desert strips to see who was the fastest. Over the next few years, the sport became more organized, and in 1951, the National Hot Rod Association was formed. 54 years later, the NHRA is now motorsport’s largest sanctioning body, with more than 80,000 members.
Drag Racing Introductions
Most people probably started by drag racing on the street. Sitting at a stoplight when your neighbor or friend stops, you are both itching for the light to finally turn green so you can both hit the accelerator and see who lights up next. There’s no doubt it’s thrilling, anticipating the green light, just waiting for the right moment to send the tires screaming for traction to get the edge of the car just a few yards to your side.
With improvements in automotive technology and manufacturing, faster and more powerful cars are entering the market every year. Low-end cars include the $20,000 Dodge Neon SRT-4, with a 230-horsepower turbo that can go from 0-60 MPH in 5.5 seconds and the 1/4 mile in 13.9 seconds. High-end cars like the $189,000 Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG, with its 604 horsepower V12 twin-turbocharged engine, can do 0-60 in under 4 seconds and the 1/4 mile in 11.6 seconds. These cars are made to be fun and exciting, but it’s important to be careful with them on the city streets racing.
Most people who buy a high-performance vehicle want to take it out and see what it can do, especially against other cars. While it’s tempting to do this on the city streets, it’s also very dangerous. Not only does drag racing carry heavy penalties on public roads, it also endangers many others on the street. Many lives have been lost due to drag racing competitions on the city streets.
There are hundreds of places to test your car’s performance in a safe and regulated environment, such as your local drag strip. Drag racing facilities are specially equipped to test how fast you can get your car from 0 to 1320 feet, better known as the 1/4 mile. Most tracks operate in a similar fashion and have special nights for normal street cars to “test and tune” or drag race every 1/4 mile for a nominal fee of $10-$20. The track will have paramedics and other safety personnel ready to respond to any accidents that occur.
I’m Rubber, You’re Glue: Prepping for a Drag Race
Each car that will race will have a technical inspection to ensure it is safe to enter the 1/4-mile race. After the car passes inspection, it’s time to get in line and get ready to race. Two cars are signaled by track personnel to drive to the staging area, a portion of the track used to line up the two cars evenly at the start line. The Christmas tree is an arrangement of lights used to line up both cars and signal the start of the race.
At the top of the Christmas tree are the Pre-Stage lamps. As the drivers slowly pull towards the starting line, they will activate the Pre-Stage lamps. These lights indicate that the cars are very close to the starting line. As the drivers continue to drive slowly forward, the 2nd set of lights, the stage lights, will illuminate. When both the pre-stage and stage lights for both cars are on, the cars are lined up and ready to go. At this point, the track crew activates the Christmas tree to start the race.
Upon activation, the Christmas tree will begin to flash a series of lights. Starting below the stage lights, there are 3 amber lights, followed by a green light, and finally a red light. Each light flashes half a second apart; amber-amber-amber-green. Once the green lights are on, both cars should fly over the 400m drag strip to the finish. If either car leaves the starting line too soon, the red light will flash and that car will automatically lose the race.
After crossing the finish line, there is a long stretch of road to let the cars slow down. There are usually a few exits from the track along the way where the cars can turn around and go back to the time slip booth to pick up a printed ticket detailing their race. The time slip usually shows how long in seconds it took to get to different points along the track; 60 ‘, 330′, 1000′, and 1320’. It will also include data on how fast the car was traveling in MPH at the halfway point (1/8 mile) and finish line (1/4 mile), and of course, who won the race.
Racing on the drag strip is a great way to safely and legally test your car’s capabilities while improving your driving skills. It is also a great place to meet other people with similar interests. So the next time you’re at a traffic light and the car next to you starts a drag race by running its engine, tell them to get it off the street and onto the strip!
Brooks Weisblat is a drag racing and sports car enthusiast and owner of DragTimes.com, an online 1/4-mile fast car drag racing database for automobiles and motorcycles.