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Drag Racing for the Novice Fan

Updated on April 5, 2017
PegCole17 profile image

Peg serves as crew chief for RacerX competing in Super Gas and Super Pro Bracket competition at the Texas Motorplex and other Texas tracks.

Doing a burnout heats up the slicks (racing tires) for better traction.
Doing a burnout heats up the slicks (racing tires) for better traction. | Source

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.

Staging Lanes

Playing cards were drawn to select the next competitor to approach the starting line.
Playing cards were drawn to select the next competitor 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

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

1977 Ford Pinto, 468 cubic inch big block Chevy engine, runs the quarter mile at 155 mph
1977 Ford Pinto, 468 cubic inch big block Chevy engine, runs the quarter mile at 155 mph | 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.

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.

Safety Equipment

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

Safety Standards

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

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.

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

Eliminations

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

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, 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

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    • PapaJohn2U profile image

      John 7 years ago from New Jersey

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

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 7 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      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
      Author

      Peg Cole 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      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 6 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
      Author

      Peg Cole 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      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 6 years ago from India

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

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      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
      Author

      Peg Cole 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      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

      Sheila Brown 5 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
      Author

      Peg Cole 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      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

      Sheila Brown 5 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
      Author

      Peg Cole 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      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 from Texas

      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
      Author

      Peg Cole 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      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.

    • profile image

      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
      Author

      Peg Cole 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      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

      Patricia Scott 2 years 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
      Author

      Peg Cole 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      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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