A Beginner's Guide to Drag Racing
Ed Baker compiled this from existing guides and his own thoughts
1. Contact your local track, and ask if they have a "street night", or
"test and tune". For complete beginners, it is best to avoid bracket
racing events, or any points race. On street night, almost everyone
running is just as new to this as you are! The track officials know
this, and are ready to help. It is also a much more relaxed atmosphere.
2. If possible, call a few buddies, and go to watch the first time.
Check out the "lay of the land". Ask the racers in the pits how
everything works. Remember, everyone there is a car nut just like
you, AND EVERYONE THERE WAS A "FIRST-TIMER" ONCE
THEMSELVES! Every time I go, I get asked questions by new guys!
Just make sure you pay the extra couple of bucks to get in on the
"pit side", as it won't do you much good to sit on the spectator side,
which is usually deserted on street nights.
3. When you decide you are ready to give it a try, go to the pit gate,
you will need to inform them that you intend to race. They will
charge you for car & driver, plus extra for any spectator friends you
brought. You will be given a tech card.
4. Go find a pit space. Only take up one space, as the night goes on,
it can get very busy. Unload any loose items in your car (I would
suggest you leave what you can at home). Fill out the tech card and
sign it. Usually, they also have a space on the BACK that you must
sign, so look there also. Ask some of the cars parked near you
whether they know if tech inspection is open, and where it is
located (usually at the back, or beginning of the staging lanes).
Its a good time to make new friends, and enjoy looking at all the
5. When tech inspection opens (usually 10-15 minutes after the gate
opens) go to the tech area. If you are taking your street car, and it
is not a death trap, you will pass tech. Some obvious things you need:
seatbelts, safe tires (no cord showing), radiator coolant overflow catch
canister (the factory one is fine), no blatant fluid leaks pouring out,
etc! Also, shorts and tank tops are not allowed! YOU MUST WEAR
LONG PANTS WHILE ON THE TRACK! All the officials look for
this, so don't try to sneak it by them. This is about it for a street car.
If your car runs faster than 11.99, then the entire game changes.
However, if you're running that well, I'll bet you've been to the track
at least a time or two....The tech inspector will write your car's number
on the window where it is visible by the timing tower. If staging lanes
are not open, then return to your pit.
6. The track announcer will come over the PA system, and say that
the staging lanes are open. Listen carefully, as some of the larger
tracks have many lanes, and they may
have cars of different speeds report to different lanes. On
street nights, they just say lanes are open, and everyone
just forms two lines. When they have a TON of cars, they split
up the lanes by estimated ET of the car. Take your best guess,
as this is not crucial. For your first run, I would suggest you get
in line with the 14 second cars if you honestly have NO IDEA,
as that is a good middle ground. The staging lanes go slowly,
then quickly, so STAY WITH YOUR CAR. DO NOT RUN
YOUR AIR CONDITIONER! The condensation on the system
will drip down onto the track. BELIEVE ME, they look for this,
and if they see something dripping, then will pull you off the
starting line. When they check the liquid on the ground, and see
it is plain water, they will chew your butt, and send you to the
back of the staging lane.
7. At the end of the staging lanes, there SHOULD be a track official.
Watch carefully, and when it is time, he will point at you, and then
point where he wants you to go. His job is to pair up cars to race,
then put them into correct lanes. The idea is to keep you from racing a
9 second alcohol Camaro. By the way, most tracks make a strong
effort to keep near stock street cars from running sub-10 second
race cars, and will usually hold a street car, and let the race car make
a solo run. Unfortunately, they don't always do this...If you find
yourself lined up next to a John Force replica funny car, feel free
(I advise beginners to do this!) to just sit there for a moment when
the light goes green. Let the race car roar away from the starting line,
then a moment later, you can go. Who cares that you got a lousy
"reaction time"? Your ET slip will be UNAFFECTED! The timers
don't start until you leave the starting line! This way, if the race car
breaks an axle on a 7,000 rpm launch, and veers into your lane, you
wont be there! I saw a sub-10 second car with an incorrectly set up
rear suspension vear so hard at launch that he almost took out the
starting line tree....
8. Just before you enter the water box, there should be another track
official. He will make sure that your seat belt is on, all windows are
rolled up, and will hold you until it is time for you to do your
burnout. Do not enter the water box until instructed. If it is near
sundown, turn on your parking lights. This is a required RULE at all
tracks. This is how the officials can see where you are on the track,
so they don't send another pair of cars while you are broken down at
the other end, ON THE TRACK!
9. Since this is for beginners, I will assume you are on street tires.
DO NOT DRIVE THROUGH THE WATER BOX! Your treaded
tires will just pick up water in the treads, and when you do your
burnout, it will sling water all over inside the wheel well. You will
then track the water all the way down the track, and water will be
dripping down onto your rear tires, making them VERY slick!
If you do this, you make the track dangerous for everyone, and
you may be asked to leave if you do it again. The water is for slicks,
not treaded tires. DRIVE AROUND THE WATER BOX, then get
your car centered in the lane. Back up slightly if needed. For street
tires, I 'personally' do not think that a burnout does much at all.
Street compounds are hard, and high performance tires are
specifically designed to not heat up. Heat causes high speed tire
failure, that is why you paid big bucks for "Z" speed rated tires. Now
your trying to heat them up??? If I run my street tires, I do a quick,
short burnout to clean the tires off.
10. Do not pull up to the tree! Every beginner does this. The staging
beams are actually about 15 feet or so BEFORE the tree! Hopefully,
you took my advice and watched the other cars run first, and looked
to get an idea where everyone else was pulling up to. If you can't
figure it out, don't worry, the starter knows it is "street night", and
will help you. When he realizes you cant find the staging beams,
watch him. He will walk up next to your car, and motion to you to
either pull up, or back. Again, don't get embarrassed, or upset.
The starter has to do that probably 20-30 times a night. SLOWLY
pull forward until you see the very top, small yellow light come on.
You are now "PRE-STAGED". It is considered a racers courtesy
to wait for the other car to pre-stage, before staging. Then gently roll
forward a few more inches, and the other small yellow light right
under the top one will come on. You are now "STAGED". Do not
roll forward too far, or the "PRE-STAGED" light will go out, and
you may be required to pull back, to relight that light. That is called
"deep staging", and is usually not allowed on street nights. There
-should- be a blue light turned on, on the tree, which notifies all
racers that "deep staging" is not allowed. If you do accidentally pull
forward too far, and deep stage, DO NOT PULL BACK UNTIL
INSTRUCTED TO DO SO BY THE STARTER. He may just
start the tree anyway, and you would be sitting there in reverse!
Now, watch that very bottom, large yellow light!
11. The starter will activate the tree, and the yellow lights will come
on, one at a time .5 seconds apart. When the last yellow light comes
on, GO! By the time you react, then your car reacts, the green light
will be on. Trust me. If you red light, it is no big deal. Afterward,
check your reaction time, and adjust. 0.500 is a perfect light on a
standard tree (The pros use a tree where all the yellows come on at
once, then green. A perfect light on a pro tree is .400).
12. If you only take one piece of advice from me, please let it be
this: DON'T TRY TO SET A NATIONAL RECORD ON YOUR
FIRST RUN! If this is your first time at the track, PLEASE make at
least one pass where you are only running at 80%. This will give you
a chance to see what the track feels like, what your car feels like,
where the finish line is exactly, where the turn off is exactly. Your
senses may get overwhelmed when trying something like this the first
time. A mistake you would have caught easily any other time can
cause you to wreck your car. I've seen excellent drivers wreck great
cars from a simple mistake that would have never caught them
otherwise. It can happen to you, too. This is the most fun you can have
with your clothes on, but it is serious stuff too. Treat it that way. Stay
in your lane at all costs.
13. Make sure you know exactly where the finish line is! Most new
racers brake WAY too early...the speed trap beams are located 66'
BEFORE the finish line beams. Make sure you are not mistaking the
speed trap for the finish line!
14. Hopefully, you took my advice, and made your first pass at 80%,
so you don't have to worry about figuring out this next section while
running flat out....Most tracks have plenty of run out area. Some tracks don't, however. Be safe the first time. When running the quarter mile, you will be running 100 mph at the finish line, or faster. If you slam on the brakes at those speeds, it is VERY easy to upset the chassis of the
car and lose control, so be careful to not brake too hard.
15. READ THIS SECTION CAREFULLY!!! Before you run, know
where the turn off roads are located. Most tracks have 2 turn offs,
with one of them located at the very end of the run out area. If the
turn offs go to the left side of the track, then THE CAR IN THE
LEFT LANE HAS THE RIGHT OF WAY! If the turn offs go to
the right side of the track, then THE CAR IN THE RIGHT LANE
HAS THE RIGHT OF WAY! NEVER, EVER TURN IN FRONT
OF ANOTHER CAR, CROSSING ITS LANE!!!! If I am
running a REAL slow car, I will drive all the way to the last turn off,
as my only other option would be to sit in my lane and wait for them
to finally arrive. I don't like sitting in the middle of my lane on a race
track. Several years ago, a street car was running a low 10 second
car. The fast car had problems at the starting line, and the street car
won. However, the quick car was now on the way. The street car
turned in front of the 10 second car which had just cleared the
traps at 128mph. A STUPID MISTAKE THAT CAN GET YOU
AND SOMEONE ELSE KILLED! I also had a kid in a Honda
actually miss the first turn off, make a U Turn on the track, and
come back to it. I flagged him down on the return road, and let him
know that there was another turn off at the end of the track. The
officials were also waiting for him at the end of the return road....
16. After you turn off, look for the timing shack, where you can pick
up your timeslips. Bigger tracks also have scales close by where you
can weigh your car if you wish. When they hand you your time slip,
DO NOT READ IT YET! Wait until you are back to your pit to do
that. At this point now, you need to get out of the way! Continue back up
the return road (most have speed limits of 10 mph in the pits). If you
want the seasoned people to look down on you, then go roaring
around in the pit area. That is also a sure fire way to get asked to leave.
17. CONGRATULATIONS! You just made your first pass down a
drag strip! I assure you that you will be hooked after just one time!
There is nothing like it...
THINGS TO PACK FOR A DAY AT THE RACES:
1. Pen to fill out tech card
2. 1/4 tank of gas
3. think about your clothes! It can get pretty cold later at night, or
really hot as the day goes on!
5. Helmet (required if your car runs 13.99 or quicker)
6. Fold up chairs
7. Ice chest for drinks and cooling down intake (GLASS IS NOT ALLOWED!)
8. Cellular phone
9. Bug repellant
10. Orange cones to mark your pit
11. Camera or Camcorder!
12. Long pants are required! If it is hot, consider taking sweat pants
you can take off and on.
See the checklist for more essentials.
I can only add that you wear a helmet no matter what your ET is. It may not even be required for you, but I don't trust the guy in the other lane with my life. Also, walk around & get a feel for where everything is. Watch & learn how its done. Look at where the pre-stage & stage beams are in relation to the tree. Don't worry at all about your R/T. The only way to get better is practice, you're just there to learn how to get from point a to point b. Also, once your staged, the other guy does not exist. I usually pre-stage & wait for him to pre-stage (called courtesy staging), but once he's in, its just me & the tree. Let her rip & have fun!!!!!!!!!