Basics of Drag Racing

In simplest terms, a drag race is a side-by-side acceleration contest between two cars on a straight 1/4-mile or 1/8-mile race track.  In most cases (in non-handicapped racing), the first car to cross the finish line is declared the winner.

Drivers compete in heads-up and handicap (also referred to as bracket) races.  In bracket racing, drivers dial-in (predict) how long it'll take them to travel the 1/4 mile.  If a driver reaches the finish line at or below his dial-in time without a foul start (red light) before his opponent, he is declared the winner.  For example, if a driver dials-in a 9.87, does not red-light on the start, reaches the finish line before his opponent, and does not exceed a 9.87 elapsed time, he wins the race.  If he runs a 9.85, for example, he "broke-out" and has lost the race assuming that his opponent did not red-light or break out.  In handicap racing, the car with the slower dial will get a head start so that the playing field is leveled to driver skill rather than just which car is faster.  If the car with a 9.87 dial is racing against a car with a 10.87 dial, then the latter car will leave one second before the former vehicle.  Another type of handicap racing is index classes.  The handicap is predetermined and the drivers try to achieve elapsed times as close to the "index" as possible without breaking out.  For example, in a 9.50 index class cars must run as close to but not quicker than 9.50 seconds.

In heads-up racing, both cars leave at the same time and the first to cross the finish line is the winner.  There is no dial-in time or breakout in heads-up racing.  Foul starts (red light) apply although it is uncommon to red light on a pro tree.  Heads-up racing is very exciting for both, fans and drivers.

A race track facility is comprised of several areas:

The pits - An area where race cars are loaded, unloaded, prepared for racing, and fixed.

Technical Inspection - Track officials inspect all vehicles that plan to race.  Main focus is on safety.

Staging lanes - Drivers move their vehicles from the pits to the staging lanes once the cars are ready for racing and have passed technical inspection.

The dragstrip - Where the actual race takes place.  The dragstrip itself has several distinct parts.  Burnout area is where drivers perform a burnout prior to the race.  Drivers roll through a water box and spin the tires to clean them off and get them hot and sticky.  Starting line is where both cars line up to begin the contest.  A Christmas tree indicates the start of a race.  Along the center line are interval timers that measure elapsed time at 60', 330', 1/8 mile, 1000', and 1/4 mile.  Traps is the last 66' before the finish line.  An average speed is calculated for each car traveling through the traps and that is the speed displayed on the boards at the end of the race.  Finish line delineates the end of the 1/4 mile.  Shut down area is the distance between the finish line and the sand trap.  The sand trap is where cars that failed to stop in the shut down area will come to a halt.

A Christmas tree indicates the start of a race.  It has several lights each having a particular meaning:

The top set of double amber bulbs is “Pre-Stage” indicator.  They are lit when a staging vehicle breaks the first stage beam.

The second set of double amber bulbs is “Stage” indicator.  They are lit when a staging vehicle breaks the second stage beam which is 7 inches ahead of the pre-stage beam.

Three single amber lights.  They are lit shortly after both race cars are staged and the starter flips a switch that triggers them to light up in a sequence from top to bottom.  On a “Sportsman”, or full, tree (which is most common in amateur racing), the bulbs are lit in .5 second increments.  On a “Pro” tree all three amber bulbs light simultaneously followed by the green light .4 second later.

Green light signifies the start of a race.

Red light signifies a foul start.  It means that the vehicle left the “Stage” beam before the green light was lit.


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Glossary of Terms