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Drag Racing 101


My Car Launch

Drag Racing is in my blood and I love it so I figured I'd put a little something together for the first timer!

Racing at the track is not an easy thing to do.  It's nothing like driving your car on the street or even "street racing".  There are so many things to remember it can be very nerve racking and you might even feel like you're on center stage!  Follow along and you'll have everything you need for your first time!

We'll first start off with a checklist of things you'll need or want to do before even leaving for the track.

  • The car.  Make sure it's safe to drive and everything is as it's supposed to be.  Double and triple check everything especially under the hood for stray tools or parts or whatever you may have left under there in the scramble to get things done.  Check the lugnuts and make sure you have enough gas to get to the track then race.  I like to have between 1/4 and 1/2 a tank when I arrive at the track.  This will ensure I have plenty to race and plenty to get to the station on the way home.
    • INTERIOR  - Also make sure there aren't any stray tools or possible flying objects loosely lying around inside the car.  Launching is very violent and you don't need objects flying around while you're trying to drive/shift.
    • Tire pressure.  No matter what tires you run make sure they are aired up and ready for the drive.
  • Helmet (not all tracks even require a helmet but why NOT wear one)
  • Seatbelt or 5-point harness - if you have a roll bar or cage you will be required to have a 5-point harness.
  • Shoes that allow you to properly drive the car.  IE banging gears w/o hitting the brake pedal.  You don't want clunky, bulky or ill-fitting shoes getting in the way of driving...even if you're driving an automatic.
  • Remove drivers' side floor mat.  Even if it fits perfectly you might want to remove it just to be safe!  I once had mine wedge the gas pedal to the floor somehow!  Can you say scary?
  • Tire pressure gauge.
  • Racing Numbers.  It's nice to have the numbers on the car before getting to the track - just one less thing to have to fiddle around with when you get there.  Plus the shoe polish crap they use at the track is a pita.
  • Pen/Pencil.  For filling out the tech form of course.
  • Camera/mount.  I always get the camera mounted in the car before I leave.  This way I can just push the button to start recording when it's time.


Here are a few things you can do once you arrive at the track.  If it's your first time I'd recommend parking your car so you can observe some racing for a bit first.  It IS a lot different when you're up there so you'll want to get a feel for where to stage and where the end of the track is. I've seen people stage with their rear tires before...and a lot of people tell me they didn't know where the end of the track was! lol.  Once your confident head to the staging lanes.  Track officials should tell you which lanes when you give them your tech info.

  • Radio and AC off.  Make sure to turn them off before you park in the staging lanes (or wherever you park when you get there) so you don't get distracted you'll want to be able to hear the engine at all times.
  • ICE - I always arrive early and pull right into the staging lanes.  Then I head over to the snack area and get a bag of ice for the intake...not necessary of course but I always like to cool things off!
  • Tire pressure.  After I get the ice situated I adjust the rear tire pressure if I'm running slicks - I'll let some air out for better traction.  For regular street tires it's best to leave them at normal operating pressure or maybe a few lbs. low - lowering them a lot is actually NOT good for traction as the tires begin to "cup" thus allowing less tread on the road.  Slicks on the other hand can benefit from lower tire pressure as they are designed for this.  A good starting point for slicks is 15-17 psi.  We typically run our cars at 12psi but have gone as low as 10psi.  Just remember, the lower you go the more unstable the car can get at the top end of the track - that's why I recommended 15-17 as a starting point for the first timer on  slicks.  I'd never go lower than 10 either.  It definitely gets squirrely up top with even 15 so be careful and make sure to keep the car going straight and to not jerk the wheel between shifts.
  • Relax.  As mentioned, I always arrive early so I can finish preparing the car then have time to relax.  I've done it a million times but I always get nervous.  I usually sit in the car and go through the gears and I make a pass in my head.  Hey it's what I do!  Find the thing that works for you and stick to it.


When it's time to start racing you'll want to make sure you're at your car so you can get situated and ready to you don't want to hold the line up!

  • Helmet on and buckled
  • Seatbelt or harness on
  • Windows up
  • If it's dark out just use your parking lights


At this point you'll wait until it's your turn.  The first thing you'll encounter once officially on the track is the burnout box.  This is of course the area where you'll be doing your burnout.  If you observed beforehand you'll know exactly where it is.  You'll want to watch the track official for what to do (pull forward, stop, do burnout etc.)  If you're running slicks you want to give the rear tires a short quick spin in the water - The track official will most likely wave you forward and give a small hand signal to do this.  If you're not running slicks you'll just want to drive through the water as slow as you can - if you are able to go around it - GO AROUND IT!  Make sure to NOT stop in the water though - slicks or not.  I can't stand when I see people do their burnout IN the water box! DUH!  If you're unsure roll your window down and ask the track official if you're out of the water.  He most likely brings you forward enough though.

In the following video you can see him wave me forward into the water - it's hard to see the hand motion to spin them in the water but he does it.  Then he'll bring me forward out of the water and then he stops me...he'll then give me thumbs up when it's time to start my burnout:



Slicks or Drag Radials:

  • You'll want to make sure you get the tires hot and sticky.  It's usually good for stick shift cars to start their burnouts in second gears - this allows them to get going fast.  You'll want to keep them spinning until you see a nice cloud of smoke...again the track official will most likely be giving you signals to keep going or to pull forward.  Once you're satisfied you'll want to roll out of the burnout nice and easy.  Don't abruptly let off the gas or the tires will grab and you could break something.  Watch the video above again to see how I roll out of the burnout.


 Regular Street tires:

  • If you're running regular street tires there really isn't a need for a crazy burnout.  You'll just want to give them a nice cleaning off...too much spinning will actually make them oily.


The Christmas Tree - Pre-stage/Stage:

This is a drag racing Christmas tree.  You’ll notice it has several sets of lights: Pre-Stage, Stage, three yellow lights, a green light, and a red light. Get in the habit of only looking at the lights on your side of the tree so you don't get distracted.

After your burnout you'll want to creep forward until you light the pre-stage bulbs.  At this point you are pre-staged.  Staging etiquette typically says you shouldn't "stage" until the other person is pre-staged...HOWEVER, if you're just at a test & tune session and there is no real competition just do whatever you want.  I personally like to get staged and ready as soon as possible so I have time to breathe and get the revs up.  No one is there to rush you but when both cars are staged the tree operator will start the lights so the last person to stage doesn't really have that much time.

Depending on what sort of racing you are doing, and how your car is setup will determine how you'll need to stage.  If you're simply there to have fun and to see what your car will run - you'll want to stage shallow for the best possible ET.  Staging shallow means the leading edge of your front tire has just ever so slightly broken the beam of light that marks the starting line.  If you were to continue rolling forward until the “Pre-Staged” bulbs goes out, you are now “deep staged”.  The distance your tire rolls between the time it first breaks the Staged beam, and when the back side comes out of the light is called your “rollout”...being shallow staged means you can actually get a head start before your time starts.  You'll have the entire distance from when your tire first breaks the beam until the back side comes out of the beam to start moving before your time actually starts.  It sounds trivial and useless but shallow staging can be worth 2 tenths at the end of the track depending on the tire size!  I ALWAYS try to shallow stage.  Just the same for bracket racers, deep staging helps with their reaction time which is probably the most important part of bracket'll notice "DEEP" written on the window of some cars...this indicates to the tree operator that they will be deep staging.  The picture below shows how the pre-stage and stage beams are situated.  They are about 12" apart!

Notice the Buick below.  This car is "Pre-Staged".  NOW, put your mouse over the image and it will change to the same car being "Staged".  You get a feeling for how far forward the car had to go to actually get staged.  Similarly, try deep staging one time to get a feel for how far the car rolls forward before being in deep...this distance is your rollout!


Once you're staged you'll want to get ready.  You'll see the yellow bulbs light one at a time then the green!  Obviously green means go!  Remember, when you're at a test and tune and racing for fun, it doesn't matter what your reaction time is...or if you red-light for that matter.  You're time starts when you start!  HOWEVER, I typically leave when I see the last yellow bulb light!  It goes by fast so be ready.  If you wait to see green it will be a horrible reaction time!  BUT again reaction time doesn't mean a thing when it comes to your ET - but it's nice to be able to cut a good light!  Depending on how fast you actually react, how well your car is setup and how you are staged determines your reaction time.  All things you'll need to play with if you decide to bracket race or competitively race on a regular basis.

Additionally, don't worry about taking a long time to get ready and staged.  As mentioned, I typically like to get staged as fast as I can, so I have a few extra seconds to get ready.  If it's just a test and tune night you'll be fine if you take a bit longer...don't let anyone rush you.  Relax and breathe to calm your nerves and stage when you're ready.  Also, if you're not ready when the light turns green, take a few extra seconds to get ready!  Don't forget the time starts when YOU start, not when the light turns green so if you leave late, don't worry your ET won't suffer.

Once you launch you'll want to focus on driving and getting to the end of the track safely.  If you're not sure where the end of the track is - stay into the gas a little longer until you're clearly past the timing'll have plenty of time to stop at the end of the track so no worries.  Sometimes you'll even be able to see your time as you cross the line so you'll know exactly where you are...but other times the board is right at the finish line so it's tough to tell when you're there.  As mentioned, I always stay into it a bit longer just to make sure I got it all!

The shutdown area is plenty long so, in most cases you'll be able to simply let off the gas and coast to the end.  If you have an 11 sec car or faster, then you'll probably need to get on the brakes a bit...again nothing to worry about there is plenty of shutdown room.  At the end of the track you'll see a return road and that's what you'll want to take to get back to the staging/parking area.  Don't forget to stop at the booth to get your time slip though!

Final Thoughts:

The track is a beast for sure so be prepared to not do as well as you thought you'd do.  If you do well, then chalk one up it's a great feeling.  BUT, if you do crappy, DON'T let the track get the best of you - stay focused, stay safe and most importantly have fun.  There's always another day.

Rating 5.0 (3 votes)