Drag Racing - Building My First Race Car
Car enthusiasts know that with amateur drag racing it takes skill and persistence to win the battle of speed. Winning is a lot more than who crosses the finish line first. It's about the driver's reaction time once the light goes green as well as the elapsed time it takes the car to travel between the starting line and the finish line. One of the most important things is not getting a red light for crossing the electronic sensors at the starting line before the light turns green, also known as red lighting. That is cause for an automatic loss. So is going too fast. Yes, it is possible to lose the race when a racer breaks out, meaning he goes faster than his projected ET or elapsed time estimate.
RacerX, also known as Jim Cole, is a participant in the Sportsman Class of Drag Racing at the Texas Motorplex. He finished building his first race car in the early nineties working on the weekends in a small garage at his residence in the suburbs. Many amateur drag racers hold down full-time jobs during the week to support their weekend racing hobby. This is the case for Jim, a regular guy who works the daily grind at as a computer technician Monday through Friday. But when the weekend comes, you’ll most often find him at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis, at Red Line Raceway near Paris Texas or at the North Texas Dragway in North Dallas.
Chevy Nova Race Car
To these enthusiasts who spend their off season time rebuilding their engines, every penny counts. Unlike the professional classes, many lack the sponsorship funding to support this money-hungry hobby, which makes it necessary to conserve and reuse as many parts as possible. RacerX is a real pro at attending swap meets to find equipment and especially at rebuilding carburetors.
For a typical engine rebuild, the costs can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the extent of repair and replacement items needed. As the enthusiasm for the sport grows, so does the amount of equipment required to be safe and successful.
When purchased, this Chevy Nova was an ugly shade of brown. It had a roll cage built inside but it needed some major work to get it suitable to pass tech inspection at the track.
The Burn Out
One of the best parts of drag racing is doing the burn out. What is a burn out? Most young drivers find that out when they get behind the wheel of a car for the first time. You press the accelerator too hard and the tires spin. All too soon drivers realize this can be fun.
But in terms of the sport of drag racing, the driver pulls the race car up to the starting line before a run, waits for a signal from the starter and after setting their line lock, proceeds to rev the engine until the rear tires begin to spin. Once the engine reaches the proper RPM (revolutions per minute) and a good bit of white smoke starts pouring out behind the car from the burning rubber of the spinning tires, the driver lets up on the throttle.
The purpose of a burnout is to clean the tires and heat them up which will assist in or enable better traction for launch. Unfortunately the burnout can be quite abusive to the tread of a tire and will cause premature wear. At a cost of nearly four hundred dollars per tire, this can substantially add to the racer’s operating cost.
After the build out of the first race car was finished in the late eighties, a Chevy Nova, equipped with a small block motor, it was necessary to purchase a flat bed trailer to transport it to the Texas Motorplex, a brand new track at the time. Towing a race car to the track is the preferred method as opposed to driving a streetcar to the track, then, changing out the rear tires, putting on slicks once the racer is at the track. In the event that the engine has mechanical problems, it would not only eliminate the driver from the competition, it might eliminate their ride home as well.
The first flat bed trailer RacerX purchased was a Featherlite model and was pulled behind his 1979 Chevy el Camino. Once at the track, he would back the Chevy Nova off the trailer, then use the flatbed trailer as a place to set up our lawn chairs and coolers. On several birthdays, we celebrated the occasion by sharing a home made cake served from the back end of the trailer surrounded by other race car enthusiasts.
Those were good times where we learned new things each week from the more experienced drivers. We tried to find a pit next to the successful guys who were willing to jump in and help out the new drivers. These were the generous ones who shared extra parts when a racer broke down.
During the learning curve, we experimented with different sized jets in the carburetor to change the flow of fuel to try to improve performance. Working on improving the driver's reaction time at the starting line was part of the learning process for a new racer. These were times remembered fondly of having great fun while basking in the joy and thrills of the hobby.
RacerX doing a burnout at North Texas Raceway
And next was the Chevy powered Ford Pinto race car
© 2011 Jim Cole