Drag Racing Basics

Ford Pinto Tube Chassis Race Car

1977 Ford Pinto, 468 cubic inch big block Chevy engine, runs in the low nine seconds in the quarter mile at 155 mph
1977 Ford Pinto, 468 cubic inch big block Chevy engine, runs in the low nine seconds in the quarter mile at 155 mph | Source

A Favorite Sport

Nothing compares to attending a Drag Race in person. Enveloped in the smell of racing fuel and burned rubber we made our way to the pits at my first National Event in 1987. As two of the first thousand spectators to enter the gates, we received T shirts to commemorate the event. Next, we headed to the pit side of the track to check out the drivers and teams preparing their cars for the race.

Called to the Staging Lanes by Class

Playing cards were used to choose the next competitor in the class to approach the starting line.
Playing cards were used to choose the next competitor in the class to approach the starting line. | Source

Favorite Drivers

Among the favorites was Big Daddy Don Garlits, one of the founding fathers of the sport, and Eddie Hill, the first racer to finish the quarter mile in under four seconds. Other drivers included Don (the Snake) Prudhomme, and Tom (The Mongoose) McEwen. The Snake and the Mongoose was a movie about their climb to fame and the pitfalls they faced in the sport. Further along in the pits we saw Ed "The Ace" McCulloch. Each of the professional drivers signed autographs for fans while their crews worked on their race cars between runs. The excitement of walking through the pits was palpable.

In the Staging Lanes

Next in line at the staging lanes.
Next in line at the staging lanes. | Source

This was the fuel which sparked a hobby that would encompass the next dozen years my hubby and I would spend together. The opening of the new Texas Motorplex with its concrete lanes and modern facilities inspired him to begin building his very first race car. From that point on, we would spend nearly every Saturday at the racetrack, much of it, waiting in line for our turn to make a test run and later in the evening, to compete with the other amateur racers.

Called to the Starting Line

Ready to approach the Christmas tree and perform a burn out
Ready to approach the Christmas tree and perform a burn out | Source

Drivers spend a lot of time waiting for their racing class to be called up to the starting line. With the volume of racers, sometimes it's hours before a car makes its way to the front of the line. Drag racers use this idle time to network with other drivers to exchange performance tips and share their admiration of the powerhouses behind these fast cars. Top fuel dragsters, funny cars, pro-stock series and bracket racers wait in the long lines to do their burnout and take off down the quarter mile track.

And speaking of burn outs, while you're at the track you'll want to grab one of those drag strip hot dogs, boiling since last September and your favorite beverage on your way to the stands. Get the sunscreen and earplugs ready because you're sure to need them.

Ford Pinto Burnout - 9 Seconds - LOUD!

What is a Drag Race?

A drag race is a contest between two vehicles that begins from a standing start with two cars sitting at a complete standstill. A drag racing event is a series of eliminations where after each round, one car wins and the other car is eliminated. The winner of each round of eliminations continues on to the next round, racing two cars at a time until only one car remains in the final round, the event winner.

One important distinction racers make when describing the sport is that Drag racing is not the same thing as Street Racing. When newscasters report unlawful and unsanctioned competitions on streets and roadways they tend to call it drag racing in error.

Drag racing is a sanctioned sport with specific criteria that must be followed for participation. Different cars have different requirements based on the category and class of car being raced like street eliminator, super gas or super comp, no-electronics or "No E", funny car, pro or super pro, top fuel dragsters and street cars.

Safety Equipment

RacerX's Custom Painted Simpson Helmet
RacerX's Custom Painted Simpson Helmet | Source

Safety Standards

Stringent safety standards are in place that requires drivers to wear helmets, use certified racing harnesses ( point seat belts), have proper roll cages and in many classes, wear fire suits to protect against injuries.

To ensure that technical requirements are met, cars must pass an official technical inspection before the race begins to ensures that cars meet the standards for safety.

1964 Chevy Nova Race Car

Back at the pits between rounds for a fuel check and adjustments. That's me.
Back at the pits between rounds for a fuel check and adjustments. That's me. | Source

Purchasing a pit pass allows a fan on the racer's side of the track where the real action happens. You can stroll down pit lane and check out the high-dollar teams while they perform maintenance and engine repair between rounds. Watch out for race cars headed toward the staging lanes. I nearly got run over at my first race when I stepped out in front of a driver on his way to get in line.

Collecting autographs from the racers is a favorite pastime of fans along with buying souvenirs and mementos. Wearing comfortable shoes is essential with all the walking in the pits. It's a small price to pay to get up close and personal with drivers and their crews.

We've walked many miles on steaming asphalt and waited in line with hundreds of other cars packed into the staging lanes waiting their turn for a run. In the early years, we would physically push the race car forward each time the line moved up, inching our way towards the starting box. This kept our fuel costs down and helped prolong the life of the battery.

What a thrill it was to finally get to the front of the line and do that burn out.

Chevy Nova Burnout - 53 Seconds

The Christmas Tree

Two main performances are measured in a round of elimination: speed and elapsed time. Although speed is important, the results are determined by a number of other things such as reaction time. How quickly a car leaves the starting line can be the determining factor in a win or loss. Equally important, if a car leaves the starting line too soon they "foul" or red light resulting in a loss. Unless the other driver also fouls.

The race is started using an electronic device known as the Christmas tree, a pole with a series of colored lights. The first yellow l.e.d.lights come on when the drivers have pre-staged, meaning their front tires have crossed the first photocell. When the car rolls forward to rest on the starting line the next yellow staging lights come on. Once both cars have properly staged the starter activates the tree and the green light follows. Green alerts the driver to launch.

The winner of the race depends on a number of things besides crossing the finish line first. Drivers must not cross the center line, strike any track equipment or touch the guardrail. If you do, you lose. No one wants to be a runner up in this sport. That's why it's called eliminations.

North Texas Dragway

Racing at the North Texas Dragway on the eighth mile track
Racing at the North Texas Dragway on the eighth mile track | Source

The Thrill of Speed

Despite the heat, noise and odors that are part of the sport, Drag Racing appeals to a huge variety of fans, most of whom wish they could be in the driver's seat. Check out your local area for drag strips where they hold street class events and regular street cars can participate.

With regulated tech inspections, professional guidelines and emergency safety squads on hand, this is your best place to discover the thrill of speed for yourself.

© 2009 Peg Cole

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Comments 20 comments

PapaJohn2U profile image

PapaJohn2U 6 years ago from New Jersey

Great Article! I especially enjoyed the pics and the insightful comments.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Drag racing can be a lot of fun! Thanks for stopping by to read and comment PapaJohn2U.

dstarek profile image

dstarek 6 years ago

I love drag racing! I was first introduced in the 80s by my then boyfriend (now my husband). He did a little bit of bracket racing in his 1972 Pontiac Firebird. There's nothing like the sounds and smells of dragster and of course a little bit of nitro in the eyes when walking through the pits! Such an adrenaline rush! Great article...felt like I was there!

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hey dstarek! How nice to meet another drag racing fan here on the Hub. We've probably shared the same fumes on occasion. So nice of you to stop by, read and comment. Thank you! Loved those 70s muscle cars, especially the Firebird. We started out racing a 64 Chevy Nova, in street class before racing the Chevy Powered Ford Pinto. Now he's graduated to a fancy 64 Corvette roadster. I'll post a picture of it. Sometimes I long for the old days when we "roughed it" at the track. Good times!

vietnamvet68 profile image

vietnamvet68 5 years ago from New York State

Great hub, brings back a lot of memories of going to the National at Indianapolic Raceway park. Drag racing is my favorite sport. I used to race myself back in the early 70's. Super hub thanks for posting.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Welcome vietnamvet68. It's so good to meet another fellow drag racer here on HubPages. And lucky you, to go to the Nationals at Indianapolis. My first drag race experience was at a National Event held at the Texas Motorplex. I still have the T-shirt from 1987! Thanks for your nice comment and hope you'll stop in again.

Trsmd profile image

Trsmd 5 years ago from India

got an opportunity to view this page from the forums. nice page..

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Trsmd - Thank you for stopping in and for the nice recommendation on the forum. Cheers. PS I love the Valentine's Dog avatar.

DIY Backlinks profile image

DIY Backlinks 5 years ago

Good article. I took my kids and wife to a drag strip not far from our house thinking they would love it but that was not the case. All 3 of my boys hated it, it was too loud, there was bugs and it stunk when they did burn outs. My daughter was the only one that liked it, go figure lol.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hi DIY, Yes - It takes a certain type of person to really love the sport. Your boys are right- It's hot, loud and smelly. But full of thrills too. The sport has really opened up to women with many driving now. Cool!

sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 4 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

Hi PegCole! I just came across your hub on drag racing. My husband also drag races, he has a rear engine dragster, does about 8.30 seconds in the quarter mile. We have been drag racing for about 26 years now. We have a lot of fun and meet a lot of very nice people. Nice to meet another drag racer here. I have voted this up and interesting, I actually thought I was already following you, but apparently was not. I have fixed that! Have a safe racing season this year! Thank you for SHARING!

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 4 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Sgbrown, Thanks for your visit and nice comments. Glad to meet a fellow racer's team mate out here on HubPages. We have not raced this season due to hubby's injured back but now that he had corrective surgery (last Thursday Jan. 2012) he's hoping to jump back into the race after a bit of recovery.

He was honored this year to be nominated as Crew Chief the Year for Div 4 for his help with an upcoming driver who took the Div 4 Super Street Championship using one of Jim's carburetors. Too cool!

Thanks again and I'll be over to check you out too. Nice of you to stop in.

sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 4 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

Hello again! We were not able to race year before last as my husband had knee surgery and gall bladder. ( Might as well get it all done in one year!) We were back at it this past year and will be again soon. Have a great year racing! :)

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 4 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

That is encouraging news. So glad your husband has been able to return to the sport. We're hopeful that next year will also be Jim's comeback. Happy racing to you both and thanks again for dropping by.

Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 2 years ago

Boy, does this bring back memories. My ex, raced at U.S. 30 Drag Strip in Indiana. My present hubby is not interested in drag racing. My Brother Darrell (ownes his own garage) is working on a racer at the present and will probably race, one of these days at Texas Motor Speedway.

What a trip down memory lane, thanks.

Voted up across the board and shared.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello Shyron, Thanks for the opportunity to come back here and watch these burnouts again. I can almost smell the racing fuel...

J likes to race at the Texas Motor Speedway, too. I wish your brother all the best in his hobby and you too! Nice of you to drop in today.

Kieran Gracie 2 years ago

A great big hearty Yes from the UK - drag racing is a wonderful spectacle. The sound, the smells, the noise, the drama - it all makes for a memorable day out. I was lucky enough once to be hosted by a motor racing nut at the Orange County drag strip (sorry, can't remember its proper name) so we were able to stand just behind the racers as they 'warmed up' their wheels before the start. It was quite an experience! Thank you for an awesome Hub, voted accordingly.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello Kieran Gracie. My hubby is very familiar with Orange County as he is from California originally. If I'm not mistaken, it's called the Orange County International Raceway in Irvine. According to Wikipedia, it was in "operation from August 5, 1967 until its closure on Oct. 30th, 1983", and was where many NHRA sanctioned drag racing events were held. I'm glad you had a chance to go into the pits and get close to the action.

Thank you so much for the visit. It gave me an opportunity to review these pictures once again and relive some memories.

pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 19 months ago from sunny Florida

O yes..love it. When I met my now ex he raced his 750 Honda and I was there for all of the excitement and thrill of it all.

When we traveled over seas he bought a yellow Shelby Mustang which he raced each weekend. And he won, a LOT.

I have always wanted to race but never have done so...maybe one day I will get a car and give it a try.

thanks for sharing this with us.

Angels are on the way to you this evening ps

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 19 months ago from Dallas, Texas Author

Hello Pstraubie, it really is a fun sport. We raced at the Motorplex and North Texas Dragway for many years and have so many great memories of those days.

Wow, a Shelby mustang. Cool! I raced the truck one night on street eliminator night. It was a lot of fun even though the truck was pretty slow.

Thanks for stopping in and for your comment.

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