Drag Racing 101
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Drag racing is using a vehicle (car, truck, tractor, snowmobile) to get down a 1320 foot dragstrip, the "quarter-mile", in the fastest time possible. Whereas Formula and Indy car racing can be compared to a 5 kilometer foot race in the Olympics, drag-racing is more like the 100 meter.
Drag racing has a huge viewer base in the United States and is considered the largest spectator sport in the world as a result. Anyone can drag race, which is the beauty of the sport. When I began, I raced a stock Mustang, and of course since the need-for-speed grows on you, I ended up making the Mustang a non-stock car.
In almost every drag event, there is a class for stock cars, cars like the one you drove to work today. Drag racing is no harder on your car than every-day driving, especially on a stock car. It’s about the same as accelerating on the on ramp to Deerfoot Trail and keeping your foot down until you reach ¼ mile .
We are blessed with two good drag strips in Alberta: Race City in Calgary and Labatt Raceway (formerly Capital City Raceway) in Edmonton. The tracks are ¼ mile long, with a ¼ or ½ mile slow-down area beyond that. At the beginning of the strip, where the cars "take off" or "launch", is a timing light system called a Christmas Tree, or "tree" for short. Before anyone can race, their vehicle must be "tech’ed", an inspection process to make sure the car has the proper equipment to race safely in it’s particular class. The most popular classes are Sportsman, the stock class running ETs (elapsed times) of 14 seconds or slower in the quarter mile, followed by Pro, running between 12 and 14 seconds, and Super-Pro, from 10 to 12 seconds. For comparison purposes, a production Corvette with a 427 cubic inch motor will run the quarter in about 13.8 seconds, at Race City. A stock Mustang will do it in about 15 seconds. (Northern Raider, the rag-top did the 1/4 mile in 12.3 seconds, and Thunder Road, the '82 is expected to do the 1/4 in 10.0 seconds.) After tech, the cars are allowed 3 or 4 time-trials to test out their cars.
No, it’s not a bunch of guys dressed up as women having a foot race!
Two cars line up in the "staging lanes" and advance according to instructions from race officials. Just before they "stage" at the "tree", if the cars have slicks (wide tires with no tread on them, used for high traction), they are allowed to do a "burn-out" in the "water box". This small depression in the pavement has water sprayed into it that the drivers place their back tires into. By locking the front brakes (various techniques - I use a "line-lock"), and spinning the back tires, the tires get cleaned and very hot and gummy. Gummy means traction. Remember that the next time you eat Gummy Bears with your false teeth… At the tree, both cars approach slowly until the top set of lights, the "pre-stage" lights, go on. Then the cars continue to inch forward until the next set, the "staged" lights, light up. This is like "get set, get ready" in the track and field world. The starter determines if the cars are okay to race, then presses a button to start the countdown.
Three large orange lights go on from top to bottom, 0.5 seconds apart, then the green comes on. In order to get a good "reaction time", the car must leave on the last yellow, not the green, because it takes the car, with high inertia, time to start moving. If the car leaves too early, sensors detect this and turn on the red light. A "red light" means you lose the race, if you are in the elimination rounds. It’s like a "false start" in swimming or track, but here you get no second chance. The cars are NOT allowed to back up on the track. The first car to the other end of the track usually wins. I say "usually" because it depends on what type of racing is taking place.
In "Heads Up" racing, where the tree lights don’t count down but just flash once, the winner is indeed the first one at the end of the track. In Bracket Racing, the car that most closely runs his "dial-in" (predicted ET) without red-lighting is the winner. The faster car could reach the end of the track first without red-lighting but STILL lose the race. In "brackets", you cannot run faster than the value you predicted, or you lose. In this type of racing, a slow car can race a fast car and still have a chance at beating it, because of the time-handicap system. This is where the slow car launches first by a time determined by the difference in dial-ins between his car and the opponent. For example if one car predicts a 14.00 second ET, and the other predicts a 12.5 ET, the slower car gets to leave 1.5 seconds ahead of the fast car. If they both run their dial-ins, they will get to the end of the track at the same time. Then, the "reaction time" determines the winner: the fastest off the tree from the time the green light went on wins. A faster run than the dial-in means the car "breaks out" and will lose
Cars that run in the Pro-Mod Class (IHRA rules) have ETs of 8 to 10 seconds and speeds of 150 mph or faster in the quarter mile. This is why they have parachutes and long bars at the back ("wheelie bars"): so they don’t stand up on their bumpers and flip-over. The fastest cars in drag-racing are the Top Fuel dragsters, that use nitromethane for fuel. Their "gas mileage" is something like 5 gallons per mile, and their engines generate up to 8000 horsepower. The G-forces are greater than that experienced by the Space Shuttle crew. The current NHRA record is 4.86 seconds at 320 miles per hour.
Just what you need to pick up the groceries with…