Drag Racing Tips

Tip #1

Getting Staged:

A good place to start is with the basics. The following is a combination of old articles and things learned the hard way. This time we'll talk about getting staged. Again, we don't claim to be experts and we welcome any input based on your personal experience. As with all aspects of racing there are a basic set rules that, if followed, will keep you from looking like a chump.

Rule #1:

Pick your spot: Be sure to pick a spot in the pits that you’re sure no one else is using and is not blocking someone else. I've seen people nearly get into fights over this one. Related to this issue is the number one way to piss somebody off (And it happens all the time). When you are in the staging lanes stay with your car!   The abuse you will get from your fellow racers when you block the lanes is brutal!  It will ruin your day.

Rule #2:

When your pulling up to the lights, resist the urge to burnout in the water box unless you really need to. Nothing looks goofier than a 17 second car tying to power brake a burnout on street tires.  Unless you are running below 14 seconds or are using slicks, its usually a waste of time. Oh, and pay attention to the starter. Don't pull up until he signals you.  Street tired cars GO AROUND the water box and back up, slick cars can drive through the box SLOWLY.  Both should be on the edge of the water and not in it, otherwise you will throw water up in the fenderwell and it will drip down on the tires at the starting line.

Rule #3:

Here's a good one. Pay attention to where the staging beams are. I don't know how many times I've seen someone go to nearly the 60' mark before they realize they've passed the beams. The folks in the stands will be rolling in the aisles! On some tracks if you roll past the staged light you're disqualified. Many tracks employ a courtesy rule that requires that the first car entering the pre-stage light wait until the second car is pre-staged. Once the second car is pre-staged the first one stages and is followed by the second. This helps to minimize starting line games. I prefer to pre-stage first in order to allow myself a few more seconds to get ready.

A personal note:

Get in the habit of performing a ritual each time you prepare to stage.  Go through each of the steps necessary to properly stage the car (this varies for every car) in the same order every time. This helps ensure that nothing is missed.


o        Windows up

o        Shifter in Low

o        Cooling fan on

o        Transmission cooler fan on

o        Fuel Pump on

o        Check Temp

o        Check Oil Pressure

o        Verify low oil pressure switch is engaged

This gets you up to the lights and staged. (Staging is a whole article in itself and that's the next tip).


Tip #2


What are all those little yellow lights on top for anyway?

Staging could best be defined as locating your car in the proper location on the track and initiating the countdown process which culminates in either a green or red light... and the red light really sucks!

What the cool lights mean:

Staging Beams  - Two little beams of light just off the ground which shine across the track, these beams trigger the pre-stage and stage lights on the christmas tree when broken by your front tires.  Look for either traffic cones, boxes or the remnants of a white line when pulling forward.  Some tracks are easy, some seem to make a game on keeping the starting line almost hid. 

Pre-Stage Light - The pre-stage light is illuminated when your front tire interferes with the first of the two beams.  The pre-stage beam is the top white light. This is the start of the staging process.

Stage Light - 18 inches down the track from the pre-stage light is the beam that triggers the stage light. This light is turned on when your front tires break the second beam. When this light comes on your car is basically staged and ready to go... But wait, there's more! It's never that simple. I'll explain in a minute when we discuss a couple of types of staging.

Amber lights - These are the middle three lights that "count down" once the starter flips the switch. On a sportsman tree ,which is the one you will probably be using, they are spaced .500 of a second apart . The two types of tree's are "sportsman" and "pro" trees. The lights on sportsman tree count down individually, while on the pro tree all three ambers flash on together, followed by the green light .400 seconds later. This is why a .500 reaction time is perfect on the sportsman tree and .400 is perfect on the pro tree.

Green light - the go light. If you wait for this light you've already lost the race. The key here for most cars is to leave as soon as the last amber lights up. It usually takes about a half second for you to react and your car to respond to that action. If you leave on the green your reaction time will be at least a full second. The green light is triggered .500 of a second after the last yellow. A common misconception here is that the clock starts when the green light flashes on.  It ain't so.  You can sit on the starting line for an hour after the green light comes on, the clock won't start, but you're reaction time will really bite!  It (the clock) doesn't start until you move past the beams.

Red light - This light stinks! Anytime you see it, your time run is over. It means you rolled out of the lights before the green came on.  That's it, you’ve lost.

There are two ways (at least) to stage, Shallow staging and deep staging.

Shallow staging is accomplished when, after breaking the pre-stage beam, you creep forward until your front tire just breaks the stage beam. The instant the stage light comes on you stop and hold your car there. This accomplishes a couple of things. First, it increases your MPH by giving your car an additional foot or more of track before you start the timing clocks. Believe it or not this makes a measurable difference. Secondly, if you're having a problem red lighting, it'll give you a little additional time before starting the timer. This effectively increases your reaction time.  It also might save you if the car accidentally creeps forward a bit when you come up on the converter. The other end of this spectrum is deep staging.

Deep staging is risky business and not all tracks allow you to do it. Basically it involves rolling forward, after you've lit both lights, until you roll out of the pre-stage light beam and the pre-stage (top white) light turns off. The risk here is going too far and red lighting, or decreasing you're reaction time to the point a red light is inevitable.  Either way you lose. Best leave this one till you've got a lot of runs under your belt.  During time trials is a good time to practice this art form.  There is a direct correlation between your position in the stage lights, your reaction time, and your ET - they are all related.  If you deep stage and reduce your reaction time by say .20 second, you need to adjust your dial in by adding .20 second on it.  The car is going to run the same from the time you start moving until the finish line, so both times add together for your total time.  Adjust one and you need to adjust the other.

Ok, you've followed the rules, you look really cool and ya' got your vehicle staged... But, there’s something else very important, and that will be the next topic.

Next up - Dialing in


Tip #3

Dialing In

Shoe polish isn’t always for your shoes!

Dialing-in defined: Selecting your estimated elapsed time based on previous performance and other constantly changing external factors. These factors include but are not limited to the following:


           ·         Temperature

           ·         Humidity

           ·         Wind

           ·         Cloud Cover

           ·         Light

Track Conditions

           ·         Track Elevation

           ·         Traction

           ·         Lane Choice

Your Vehicle

           ·         Change in power level

           ·         Suspension Changes

           ·         Gear Changes

We could go on forever, but the bottom line is that you should keep the shoe polish handy, because due to constantly changing factors you Dial-In will be changing nearly every round! Even psychological factors come into play. Some days you'll be smooth and consistent and your dial in will change very little. Other days you'll be all over the place with your ET's forcing you to dial in conservatively to avoid breaking out (Breaking out means that your ET is less than your dial-in).

Compensating for these elements requires you to understand how they affect you and your car. For example as the air cools toward the end of the day your engine will make more power requiring you dial in little faster. Also, as daylight decreases, you're eye's response time to the Christmas tree will decrease, forcing you to adjust your time. I guarantee you'll see a lot more people red-lighting and breaking out after dark.

On to the mechanics of this subject!

Unlike class racing, in Bracket racing there is a huge discrepancy between the performance levels of any two cars. It is not unusual to have a large disparity in ET's between the left and right lane. Many tracks try to minimize this by breaking the bracket racers into classes (e.g. 12.00 - 12.99 and 13.00 to 13.99). Even so, your 12.95 racer might be up against a 12.02 vehicle.  In order to make a close race out of it, each racer selects a "Dial-In" time. Dial-in's are the cornerstone of Bracket racing.  Even if you cut a perfect light (See Tech tips #2) if you can't run close to your dial in you are going to lose!  If your car was so consistent that it ran exactly the same ET every run then your job is simple, scribble that number on your window and you'll win a hell of a lot of races.  In the real world however, no matter how hard you try your ET will vary from run to run. Really consistent cars may vary only a few hundredths but usually your looking at a tenth or two and that's where the work begins.

The fundamentals of dialing in work like this. You dial in a 13.05 and your opponent dials in a 13.25.  When the starter flips the switch to start the countdown process your opponents countdown starts .20 seconds sooner than yours (13.25 minus 13.05 equals .20). So he leaves .20 second sooner than you.  Theoretically if you both have exactly the same reaction times and your cars both run exactly on their dial-in you will cross the finish line at exactly the same time.  Well, in reality this will never happen, so who whoever runs closest to their dial-in, with the reaction time factored in of course, without breaking out wins.

Let's say you made three time trial passes. Your times were 13.31, 13.07 and 13.21. What this means is that while your car is somewhat consistent, you need to carefully pick your Dial-In. You know your car is capable of at least 13.07 and as you go a few rounds, nighttime will be soon setting in. As the air cools, and the tree becomes brighter you can count on your car potentially running a few hundredths quicker. The safe thing to do here is to dial in a 13.05 to minimize the chance of breaking out and if you cut a good light and are ahead of your opponent around the 1000' mark you can always back out of it for extra insurance.

Sometimes you might be tempted to deliberately dial-in a lot slower than you know your car can run. This is known as "Sand bagging".  This is a little risky.  Here's the thinking behind this one.  Your car runs a best of 13.07.  You dial-in a 14.00.  This puts you the 14.00 class where you find yourself running a car dialed in at 14.25. Your car is a more than a full second faster than your opponents. When you leave you can run him down and pace yourself a fender ahead and cross the finish line first and win.  The down side to this is that if the other car runs close to his dial in you’re almost assured of breaking out and losing.  It probably isn't worth it. Sandbagging can only be effective if you have a better reaction time than your opponent.  You are better off perfecting your reaction times.

Dialing in takes a lot of time and effort.  You need to understand your capabilities as well as your car's limitations. Take your time and learn to be consistent and you will win races!

Oh yea, there's shoe polish and then there are markers made specifically for racing.  The difference is it takes a bunch of effort to remove the shoe polish while the new stuff buffs right off without effort.  Once you use the real stuff, you'll throw the bottle of polish away.

Wheel Hop

Wheel hop is something all owners of stock suspension cars can encounter at some time or another and it's one of the biggest problems we face.  Nine times out of ten it's just due to sloppy suspension.  You might try a set of Lakewood Ladder bars to try and control it of you have leaf springs in the rear, or expensive tubular rear control arms or new boxed arms if you have coils in the rear.  If you have coils and control arms, there is a better and cheaper way to solve the problem than buying the expensive stuff.  Break out your trusty arc-welder, and with some scrap steel, box the arms yourself.  Make sure to box the entire length. Take care to weld them; starting in the center, about tow inches at a time, letting them cool between welds. This will keep them from warping.  Next buy some polyurethane bushings from Energy Suspension (about $75) and have them pressed in (another $25).   A good investment is a rear sway bar.  Prior to boxing in the bottoms of the lower bars, drill two ½” holes to mount the sway bar.  Cut some ½ black pipe to fit inside the bars, and after inserting some bolts, tack weld the pipe to the inside of the bars.  After the pipe is secure, then box the bottoms as explained above.

The next trip to the track should be a wonderful surprise!  You should not be able to detect even a trace of wheel hop. This will have a dramatic effect on ET's, because you won’t have to feather the throttle out of the hole. If you're making more than 300 rear wheel horsepower, this is certainly a worthwhile endeavor. As an added bonus, unless you slide underneath the car, you can't see the modification.    Another factor in controlling wheel hop is to keep the rear height of the car no more that 1 ½” to 2” over the stock height.  Anymore than 2” lift, and the geometry is altered where the axle will be able to twist under the top bars.  It then unloads after reaching maximum load, and then repeats the cycle.  And the result is your car acting like a bunny rabbit down the track.

Air Bags

Ever notice how some cars launch straight and some cars look all twisted up as the leave the starting line? Well, one reason is that a lot of the cars that leave well are using an airbag. An airbag is a simple plastic bladder that is inserted in the right rear coil spring and inflated. This helps control the compression that occurs in that spring and to some extent, the compression that occurs in the other, opposite spring.

A typical hard leaving vehicle will, due to all the rotational forces taking place in the driveline, tend to lift the body on the passenger side and "plant" the body on the driver’s side (this is due to the motor torque acting on the rear differential).  This causes the car to waste a lot of motion that could otherwise be used to accelerate more quickly.  By placing an airbag in the passenger side rear coil spring, and inflating it you can control the amount of lift that takes place, effectively balancing out the pressure on the tires.  This will help your car to launch straight.  Getting the right amount of pressure is a trial and error deal, but 8-10 lbs. seems to be about right.  The trick is to do trial burn outs.  You should notice that with no air bag, the rubber left by the right rear is very light while the driver’s side tire leaves heavy black marks.  Just keep inflating the bag until both skid marks look even.  As an added bonus, airbags come in packages of two and you only need one, so you can sell one to another buddy and recover some of the expense!