Drag Racing Basics
Ford Pinto Tube Chassis Race Car
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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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