UNDERSTANDING THE BASICS OF ¼ MILE RACING
Chances are, if you’re a car enthusiast, you’ve participated in at least one stoplight race (or more) in your lifetime. While it’s certainly frowned upon (don’t worry; we aren’t here to school you on the legalities and dangers), you have alternatives, which is to do it legally at your local drag strip. It's easy to forget how far drag racing has evolved in 60+ years since the car-crazy '50s got everything going. The early drag strips were funded largely by fraternal social groups, like the Elks or the Lions as a solution to rampant street racing and all the trouble that was often the result. The goal was to get the speed-obsessed kids off of the streets and into a better and safer venue where they could feed their compulsions without danger to the general public. It worked, and drag racing became hugely popular. Car clubs now had a place to settle their beefs and once the flag dropped, loudmouths were forced to put up or shut up. And not much has changed. For the minority of you out there who have never tried drag racing, nor know the rules involved, here’s a breakdown of how it works in our Drag Racing 101:
What Is Drag Racing?
A drag race is a competition between two vehicles racing side by side in a straight line for a distance of a quarter-mile (sometimes it’s an eighth-mile), held on a monitored drag strip/racetrack – and in most scenarios, whoever makes it to the finish line first wins. At a drag racing event, there are a series of individual matchups between two cars called eliminations; winners of these races continue on until there’s one winner left. A drag race is initiated by the Christmas Tree, an electronic lighting device that activates a timer by each vehicle, which is then stopped once that same vehicle crosses the finish line. The time it takes for the vehicle to go from start to finish is what’s known as an elapsed time, (or e.t.), which measures performance and determines handicaps during competition. At a NHRA sanctioned event, you’ll see two types of drag racing: heads-up and handicap. Heads-up racing is pretty straightforward: both cars leave from the starting line at the same time and the first to cross the finish is the winner. In Handicap racing, the goal is predict how many seconds it’ll take for you to get your car to the finish line, then try to run as close to that time as possible without going quicker (aka “breaking out”); the driver who comes closest is the winner. This style of drag racing allows cars of different speeds to race one another because the slower vehicle gets a head start. Sometimes the driver can choose his or her own handicap, which is also known as dialing-in or dialing-under.
The length of a drag racing track is, as you can probably guess, a quarter-mile, or 1,320 feet, with each lane measuring 30 feet wide. Here are the various components of the track:
·Burnout (aka “water”) Box: An area reserved for vehicles to enter that’s been sprayed down with water to help reduce friction as a driver initiates a burnout.
·Pre-Stage Beam: As each vehicle’s front wheel enters this area, it’ll break the “pre-stage” infrared beam, which triggers the Christmas Tree’s pre-staged lights, alerting drivers that they’re closing in on ‘”staging”.
·Staged Beam/Starting Line: This is another infrared beam in each lane that controls the starting and timing of the race, triggering an independent lane timer for elapsed time (E.T.) – and unless both drivers are fully staged, the race cannot be started. The staged beam will also trigger a red light if a false start takes place. The staged beam is located just six inches past the pre-staged beam.
·Interval Timers: There are five intervals along the track where time and speed are recorded, which include: 60-foot, 330-foot, 1/8th-mile, 1,000-foot and ¼-mile.
·Speed Traps and Elapsed-Time Clock Beams: The last of the infrared beams are your most important: the first is located 66 feet before the finish line and measures top speed; the second is located at the finish line and shuts off the elapsed time and top speed clocks, triggering the win light. The 66-foot speed trap records top speed.
Ooh, Pretty Lights – What Do They Mean?
As you creep up to the staged beams, or starting line, you’ll see these lights. From top to bottom, here’s what each represents: Full Tree: On this configuration, three amber lights will flash consecutively for five-tenths of a second apart, with a green starting light five-tenths later. A perfect reaction time on a Full Tree is .000. Pre-Stage: These yellow lights will alert you as you approach the starting line and staged position. Stage: Hope you’re ready to run by the time you see these because you’re sitting at the starting line when the stage lights go off. This occurs once the front wheels of your car breaks the same light beam used to start the timing equipment. Three-Amber, aka “Pro” Start: Here, all three amber lights will go off simultaneously before the green light goes off. Handicapped drivers will get a countdown of one amber light at a time before the green light comes on. The Pro system has a .4-second difference between amber and green lights; the handicap has a .5-second difference. Green: Once you see this light, GO! Green also indicates a fair start. Red: If you jump the gun before the green light drops, red lights will start flashing. Basically, you don’t want to see these. If you do, that more than likely means you’ve been disqualified, unless you happened to stage too deeply into the starting beams. If you’re racing, only one red light will come on, which means the first offender has been eliminated.
General Tips 1. If you don't know, ask! Everyone at the track knows what it is like to be a first timer. After all, nobody was born there.
2. If you can find someone that has gone, go with them. If not, then go to watch your first time. Pay the extra $, and get on the pit side, you aren't going to learn much otherwise! When you are ready to try your luck, most tracks have "test & tune" nights, or "street nights" where it is open for anyone to make as many passes as they want. This is a great time for newbies to get out and try it without being under pressure.
Front Gate to Finish Line 1. At the pit gate, pay your entry fee, and get your "tech card". 2. Find a pit spot. The pits get full later, so don't hog up a ton of spaces. Remove any loose items in your car, and fill out your tech card. 3. When the announcer calls for tech inspection to be open, listen, and go where you are told. If you don't understand, ask someone. If you get there after tech has started, the attendant at the entrance can tell you where to go.
4. Usually, even a relatively highly modified late model car can pass tech easily. The tech inspector will write your cars number on your side and front windows where it will be visible to the tower. 5. When the announcer calls for staging lanes to be open, pull into your proper lanes. Smaller tracks only have two. Bigger tracks have different classes split to different lanes. Again, ask, or refer to any documentation that you were given when you paid your entry fee. 6. Once you are in the lanes, stay with your car.
7. When it's time for the cars in your staging lane to pull forward and be positioned to race, a track official at the front of the lanes will direct you. It is very, very important to pay attention! Watch the track officials at all times for proper direction.
8. After you have been paired up out of the staging lanes and pull up next to the timing tower, be ready to go. The track official at the water box will check to make sure your windows are rolled up, seatbelts are on, and if it is after dark, your parking lights are on. Even on a well lit track, it is hard to see you at the other end if you have turned off or not. It would be a bad thing if you broke at the big end of the track, and they sent a pair of Pro Gas Camaros because they thought the track was clear!
9. Go around the water box. Do a short burnout to get the dirt off of your tires and heat them up a bit. Hold the brake with your left foot, and goose it with your right for a couple of seconds. You don't want to get near the water. It will run in your tread, be thrown into your wheelwell, and drip on your tires and the track the whole run. This is very dangerous for the "Big Boys" running slicks behind you, and could get you removed from the track. Also, don't do your burnout in the water, as it tends to throw water all over everyone and everything within 50 yards of the starting line! The car in line behind you will be very annoyed.
10. Another thing that could get you removed is running your AC. Water condensation drips onto the track.
11. When you are told to, Pull your car toward the staging beams. They are not located next to the Christmas tree! Watch other racers to find where they are located. When you get close, the top set of lights (pre-stage) will come on. Now, slowly creep forward until the next set come on (staged).
12. Take your time! Nobody will rush you! The starter knows the regulars, and he will realize you are a new face. It is considered a courtesy to wait until your opponent has pre-staged before you stage.
13. Find the yellow light just above the green, and concentrate on it! Go when this last yellow comes on! If you wait till the green, you will get a terrible reaction time! .000 is a perfect reaction time.
14. If you feel things get out of hand (massive wheelspin or whatever), just back off for that run! There'll be others! Also, if it's your very first time down the track, you might not want to give it 100% the first time. The track is a lot slicker than most roads, so be aware and be careful.
15. Stay in your lane at all costs. As you get close to the finish line keep it on the floor! The first set of beams you see set up are to start the MPH timers. Find out exactly where the end of the eighth or quarter mile is!
16. If you are in the left lane, and the track turn off's are on the right, then the other car has the right of way. Do not turn in front of another car! At one race track, a guy in a street car was racing a 6 second car. The 6 second car had trouble on the line, and the street car got to the finish line first, but the 6 second car was now on the way. The street car went for the first turn off, and turned in front of the other car that hit him running around 110 miles per hour. That story should get anyone's attention.
17. Proceed up the return road, and stop to get your ET slip. Now is not the time to read it, wait till your in your pit. There are a lot of people (kids) walking around, so go slow!
Bracket Racing In most professional forms of drag racing, the first one to the finish line wins. However, in bracket racing, that isn't always how it works out. Usually, cars are separated into four "brackets": Super Pro (7.50 to 10.99 seconds), Pro (11.00 to 11.99 seconds), Sportsman (12.00 to 13.99 seconds), and Street (14.00+ seconds). Since each of these categories contains a wide range of E.T.'s, you are handicapped based on a time that you predict you will run. This is called your "dial in". The person who runs closest to their dial-in without going faster wins the race. If you go faster than your dial-in, you "break out" and automatically lose the race. For example, if your car runs a consistent 15.10 and the car you are racing dials in at 14.20, you would get a .90 second head start. If you both got to the finish line at exactly your dial-in, the race is a tie. In practice, this never happens due to differences in reaction times and vehicle performance.
The staging lights also measure how long it takes you to leave your staged position. This is called your reaction time. On test-n-tune nights, it isn't a big deal, but in bracket racing it is very important. You must be consistent in your launch (via reaction time) and your car must be consistent in the eighth (via dial-in). Your reaction time is usually expressed as a number indicating how long you leave after the last amber light comes on. A perfect reaction time would be (.000), which is exactly when the green light comes on. If you get under (-.002), you "red light" and lose the race. If you take longer (.015), you will take longer to get to the finish line, which can lose the race.
There are also different ways to "stage" in bracket racing. All strips use the standard "Stage" and "PreStage" lights on top of the "Christmas tree" lights. These lights are tied to two light beams that go across the track, one immediately after the other. When your wheel breaks the first beam, you are "pre-staged". This lets you know that you are getting close to the starting line. As soon as you inch forward to the second beam, you light the "stage" lights. As soon as both lights are lit on both sides of the track, the starter will begin the race. The key to winning the race is a low reaction time and a consistent performance by your car. Every millisecond difference from your dial-in and a perfect .000 reaction time hurts you. If you run faster than your dial-in, you automatically lose, so if you feel you are running too fast (as often happens as the night gets cooler), you might want to slow down just as you are approaching the finish line so that you don't go over your dial-in. You might also want to do this if you are fairly sure that your opponent has broke out. Eliminate variables between runs. Keep your car in the same configuration, do you burnout and stage the same way, shift at the same points, and do everything else as consistently as possible to win a bracket race. Compensate for changing track conditions using your dial-in (you can change it after each race). Also remember that slower cars are often more consistent, so you don't need to try to eek every last HP out of the car for a bracket race. Have fun!
Dragstrip Etiquette 1. Don't start your burnout until directed by an official. He'll usually give you some sort of hand signal. Also make sure you are all the way on the track and facing directly forwards. 2. Don't do burnouts in the water with treaded street tires. Water gets into the treads and tracks all the way to the starting line. This makes the drivers with slicks very angry. It won't help you're 1/8 mile times either. 3. Don't do a John Force-style burnout (i.e. spinning the tires through and past the starting line, forcing you to back up) unless you don't have any front brakes and/or you are John Force. 4. If you are bracket racing, don't lock up your brakes at the end of the track in an attempt to not "break out". Locking 'em up at this speed could be very dangerous. This isn't an issue for test-n-tune nights, but be sure you leave plenty of room to brake at the end of the track without doing a massive ABS stop. 5. Some tracks employ a courtesy rule. This means that the first car into the staging beams should light only the pre-stage light. When the second car is is pre-staged, then either of you can move up slightly into the staging lights. 6. Make sure your numbers and dial-in (if applicable) are visible from the tower. 7. Make sure you get in the right staging lane, and make sure that you don't attempt to run in a class where your car would not be appropriate. Ask if you are unsure.
Tricks And Tips Some of these tips are best used by people who have been to the track a couple time and know what they are doing. If it's your first time, just take a look around and see what the other people are doing. I guarantee you'll see some of the stuff below. After you're comfortable with the track, and know the etiquette rules, feel free to try some of the following suggestions to be a faster racer. In an automatic, you usually don't gain anything by shifting the automatic by hand. Let the computer do it for you. You may want to put it in "D" instead of "OD", but it probably won't make a difference. If you want to shift quicker/faster/better, get a chip.
You may want to preload the drivetrain a little bit to remove some of the shock from the system and also get a bit of a quicker launch. This is done by "brake-torquing" the system: keeping your left foot firmly on the brake, depress the accelerator until your revs increase slightly. You don't want to do this too long, as your torque converter will overheat, nor to too high an RPM, as the engine will eventually overpower the brakes and move the car forward. Also, launching at too high an RPM may just send the tires up, and that kills your ET. Remember that all of that built up energy gets transfered to the tires: pick an RPM where you won't bog and where you won't obliterate the tires.
Heat is your enemy: the hotter your engine is, the slower you will be. Try not to idle the car any more that you have to. Keep the hood open until you are ready to run.
Weight is your second enemy. Remove all unnecessary items from the car, and make sure that you're fuel tank has around a 1/4 tank or so (less and you'll miss as the fuel sloshes, more and you'll be slower than you have to be). In addition, some people remove the spare tire and jack at the track. If you want to get really wild, you can start taking off interior pieced, the front sway bar, washer fluid, floor mats, etc. Every little bit helps!
If you're looking for a quick ET (and don't care so much about winning the race), barely inch the car into the staging beams. Your time doesn't start until the wheels no longer block the beam. By staging this way, you get an extra couple of inches to accelerate before your time is recorded. Similarly, if you are interested in getting to the finish line first, go forward more. Beware that some dragstrips are very strict about backing up if you go past the staging lights.
If you are bracket racing, remember that consistency is the key, even if you are consistently slow. Make a mental note of everything about the car: launch RPM, lane choice, temperature, length of burnout, etc. You want all of these to remain constant for each run. Even if you are not bracket racing, mentally keeping track of all of these variables will help you get to a better time.
Half of the battle at the drag strip is winning the launch. If you can get a good, solid launch without spinning the tires, you've almost won the race.
What Is The Difference Between A Bracket Class And An Index Class?
A bracket class utilizes .500 full tree and you will dial your car according to your test passes. a index class is a either .400 or .500 pro tree and depending on the class you are given a dial in to run. classes are usually 10.50 / 11.50 / 12.50 / 13.50. Index and bracket classes are the same in general you cant go faster than the dial the objective is to run as close to the dial in as possible without going under. if the both racers go under the dial who ever goes under the most loses unless there was a redlight (foul) start. hope this helps good luck and be safe!
The goal of both classes is to run as close to a time as possible without going faster than that time. The difference is that you get to choose your own time (dial-in) after a couple time runs in a bracket class versus a predetermined time (index) that everyone must run in an index class. The other difference is that you can change your time between runs in a bracket class. If your bike gets faster as the air gets cooler, then you will be able to change your dial-in time to compensate for running faster (or slower) as weather and track conditions change. In an index class, regardless of your bike running faster or slower, the index time remains the same. The important thing to remember about both classes is that if you go faster than your time (breakout), you will lose unless the other racer breaks out by more. Even if it’s one thousandth (.001) of a second too fast.
In both bracket (ET) and Index classes, the goal is to run as close as possible to the predicted ET (without running too fast). The difference is that in a Bracket (ET) class you predict what you are trying to run before the run. In an index class the ET is already predetermined.
Bracket or Elapsed Time (ET) classes are also known as handicap racing; two cars of varying performance can race on a potentially even basis. The anticipated elapsed times for each car are compared, and the slower car receives a head start equal to the difference of the two. With this system, virtually any two vehicles can be paired in a competitive drag race. The best way to think about Index Racing is as a heads up bracket race, everyone in the class has the same dial-in. Its key to cut a good light and run as close to the index as possible but taking caution not to run faster than the index as you will break-out.