Drag Racing for the Novice Fan
Enveloped in the smell of racing fuel and burned rubber, we made our way through the entrance gates for my first National Event in 1987. Racers were already lining up in the staging lanes to make their time trial passes and test out their equipment combinations.The quarter mile track at the Texas Motorplex was equipped with the latest in racing equipment and practically brand new at the time.
We were among the first thousand spectators to enter the gates and received souvenir T shirts to commemorate the event. Next, we headed over to the pit side of the track to check out the drivers and teams. I stepped out onto the asphalt in pit row and was nearly run over by a dragster. It was my first time to attend a drag racing event. I had a lot to learn.
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
The Texas Motorplex drag strip had it all with concrete racing lanes, electronic starting equipment and even modern bathroom facilities, not like the smaller tracks with only port-o-potties. After Racer X built his first race car, we spent the next fifteen-plus years at the racetrack nearly every Saturday during racing season. Our days were spent outdoors in the pits and in the staging lanes with other enthusiasts.
Late in the evenings after time trials were over, he would compete with other amateur racers hoping for prize money and trophies. This was the fuel that inspired him to build a second and even a third race car, buy an enclosed trailer and eventually a diesel pusher motor-home to pull the rig and equipment.
It was a hobby filled with friends, fun, food and good times.
At 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.
9 Seconds of Heart Thumping Noise
What is a Drag Race?
A drag race is a contest between two vehicles that begins from a standing start with two cars idling 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 to the next round, racing two cars at a time until only one car remains in the final round. The winner of the final round is 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 (No E), funny car, pro, super pro, top fuel dragsters and street class cars.
Stringent safety require drivers to wear approved helmets, use certified racing harnesses (five-point seat belts), have proper roll cages and in most 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
Buying a pit pass gives the fan access to the racer's side of the track where the real action happens. You can cruise down pit lane and check out the professional race car teams performing maintenance between rounds.
Collecting autographs from the racers is a favorite pastime of fans along with buying souvenirs and mementos. Wearing comfortable shoes is key. There's lots of walking, but it's a small price to pay. We've stood on the blistering asphalt of the staging lanes with hundreds of drivers waiting their turn for a run. Often, we would physically roll the race car forward when the line moved up, inching our way towards the starting box. This saved fuel and helped prolong the life of the battery.
Chevy Nova Burnout - 53 Seconds
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 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 isn't always who crosses the finish line first. There are rules to follow. If a driver crosses the center line or strikes any track equipment or touches the guardrail it means instant disqualification. They are eliminated. In bracket racing, the driver must not cross the finish line faster than his dialed-in posted speed (elapsed time) or he "breaks out". They lose that round.
North Texas Dragway
The thrill of speed, the heat, the late hours, noise, odors (some say aromas) and adrenaline rush are all part of the sport of drag racing which appeals to a variety of fans. Most who attend wish they were in the driver's seat. That is safely possible at sanctioned drag strips where drivers in regular cars can participate in street class events. With regulated technical inspections, professional guidelines and emergency safety squads on hand, this is your best place to discover the thrill of the sport for yourself.
© 2009 Peg Cole