Beginner's Guide to Drag Racing
With some help from experienced racers, this guide in my opinion will set you up for success for your first time going down the track in your street vehicle during a TnT (test and tune) event. By no means take it as gospel. Others may teach differently but, I believe this is as basic and detailed as it gets for the new racer. Non published content so share, edit, use, or what ever you want to do with it.
Things to do before you head to the track:
Safety is always a priority. You should always wear closed toe shoes, socks, long pants, shirt, and a DOT approved helmet (some tracks will require this based off your trap speed and/or ET). If you are fast enough, you will be required a full fire suit. Nothing is stopping you from wearing one regardless of your vehicles power and trap speed/ET. Also make sure you are hydrated!
You’ll always go thru a tech inspection before you will be allowed on the strip. You can make theirs and your life easier by ensuring your vehicle is in proper working condition with no leaking fluids, sound mechanical condition, and proper working safety equipment, i.e., seat belts, air bags (if applicable), harnesses, headlight/taillight, and brakes. Check lug nut torque values (recheck if using drag wheels once installed at the track). Lastly, clean any accumulated dirt from under the vehicle that could fall off on the track. Leaks and debris will NOT be tolerated by any track. They ruin the surface and create extremely unsafe conditions for yourself and other racers. It wastes a lot of time and money to stop the track to conduct clean up.
At the track
Once you pay the entry fee, find your way to the pits. The area where racers park their vehicles, trailers, and equipment.
I’d like to foot stomp this topic as even the most experienced racer can sometimes forget these simple unspoken rules. MIND YOUR SPEED. Often times there is a lot of foot traffic in the pits. Small children running around and sometimes blind corners due to large trailers. Save the speed for the strip. You’re literally at the one place it’s legal to speed.
Find a spot to unload your gear. Try to give enough space for others to unload their trailers and/or drive around you if needed. Generally, the spot you are parked is “your spot”. Part of pit etiquette would be to not park where someone’s gear is sitting or behind their trailer.
As I said earlier, this part should be very simple and quick if you did your pre inspections. This is also where you will fill out your tech card and assign your car a number.
Quick note, before you enter the staging lanes to begin your pass, watch some other racers and the tree to get familiar with how everything operates. It’ll give you an idea of how to conduct yourself when it’s your turn. I’ll still explain everything below.
This is the area you’ll be waiting your turn to make a pass down the track. Pay close attention to the numbers painted on the ground that are assigned to each lane. On average they are numbered 1-6. Each lane is specific for certain types of vehicles. For example, lane 1 could be assigned to bikes and Jr dragsters only. Lanes 2/3 assigned to hard tires only (hard tire meaning you are not on a drag radial, slick, or bias ply tire. I’ll explain why later in the guide). The rest of the lanes will be for drag tires and could be further broken up into different class vehicles. The track official will announce lane assignments periodically over the loud speaker. There will also be a staging lane official that will be able to assist. While in the pits some racers choose to leave their car running. If you do so, TURN OFF YOUR A/C!!. Condensation accumulates quickly and drops from your vehicle. Turning your AC off before you stage doesn’t work as the car will still be dripping moisture. Turn it off while in the pits. You can turn it back on once you’ve completed your pass and entered the return lane at the end of the track. Or just get into the habit of having your AC off the entire time at the track.
Getting ready to make a pass
There will be a staging lane official who will let you know when it’s your turn to make a pass. Depending on which lane you are in, will determine which lane you will enter on the track. If it’s your very first time, I’d suggest asking the official to let you go by yourself.
You’ll see some water sprayed on the ground in front of you. Based on the tires you have will determine if you should go around the box or through it. If on a hard tire, I suggest going around the water box. If on a drag radial, drive straight through the box. For hard tires, once you’re around the water box and looking straight down the track a couple feet in front of the water, do a VERY small burnout. The only reason for this is to get dirt and debris off of the tires. Doing a big smoky burnout on a hard tire does nothing for traction and can actually hinder traction. For drag tires, once you’ve gone passed the water box stop once you hit dry ground. Try not to do a burnout inside the water as all this does is kick water up into your wheel well and that water eventually drips back on to your tires when staged. Do your burnout (don’t forget to turn off traction control :)) and do your best to allow the car to slowly move forward while the rear tires are still spinning. Keep your hands on the wheel as sometimes the vehicle will kick to one side and you’ll need to counter steer to keep the front wheels facing down track. Once the burnout is complete, stop the vehicle from moving. At this point, make sure your windows are rolled up, AC is still off, and apply any drag modes or anything you need.
The tree, located at the center of the track, will have 2 yellow lights side by side that will illuminate when you cross the first set of inferred beams located on the ground. That is the pre-stage. At this point it is proper etiquette to allow the other driver in the other lane to also pre-stage before you fully stage but, since you’ll be racing by yourself at this time, there is no need to wait. Slowly inch your way forward, you’ll activate a second set of 2 yellow bulbs side by side. You are now staged. On a Sportsman style tree, the sequence to countdown to green is the three single vertical yellow lights will illuminate one at a time from top to bottom until the green light. On a Pro Tree, all three single yellow lights will illuminate at the same time before the green light. Since this is your first time, do not focus on trying go right when the green light illuminates. Just go when you are ready and I’ll explain the reason when we talk about your time slip. My personal suggestion for a first timer. Do not try to increase RPMs before you hit the gas. Whether that be by two step, stalling, or simply foot braking. Your focus right now is to get down the track safely and get a feel for how the car reacts on a prepped surface vs the street. Once the green light is lit, give her some beans. Autos, keep both hands at 9 and 3 firmly. Manuals, keep your hands in the same position as much as possible between shifts. Hard tires, pay close attention that you aren’t just spinning the wheels uncontrollably down the track, this could lead to spinning the entire car around. It also ruins the track prep. If you feel that you are spinning, let off the throttle a little until you regain traction. Drag tires, you shouldn’t have this issue but the chance of it happening is still there so pay attention.
End of track shutdown.
Whether the track is a 1/8 or a 1/4, the track will have something signifying you’ve reached the end of your pass. It may be a cone, a flag, a light, or all of the above. At this point you’ll want to be on the brakes. No need to smash them but definitely start slowing the car down. Each track has different length shut down areas so pay attention. There will be also 2-3 chances to make the turn to get off the track and on to the return road.
Before you reach the pits, you’ll come up to a shack that will have someone give you your time slip. This will show you the times of your run going down the track. If not torn in half it’ll first have the track info and sponsors on top. Then you’ll see “LEFT” and “RIGHT”. Then you’ll see “CAR #” with your assigned number under left or right. There will be “Class” and “Dial” under Car #, ignore both for now. Now you’ll see “R/T”. This stands for Reaction Time. The number shown for this is the time it took you to leave the beams while the light was green. Remember earlier how I said don’t worry about leaving right away? This particular number does NOT affect your ET (elapsed time). That’s why it isn’t important to leave right away. The next number down will be “60”. This time shown is how long it took your car to reach the first 60’. Same with 330’, and 1/8th. If you’re at a 1/8th track. Your slip will stop at 1/8th MPH for times and then lastly say “Finish Margin” this is the time between the first car passing to the second car passing. If you’re on a 1/4 track you’ll additionally see “1000’” and then your 1/4 time along with MPH.
Congratulations, you’ve completed your first drag strip pass. Once you’ve become more comfortable with making passes, you can start adding some rpm on launches as well! Be safe and have fun!
This all may seem overwhelming at first. If you still want some assistance, find a track worker, or find another racer. We all share the same passion and have been there before when it was our first time. We are all glad to help! By all means come and find me, 0 judgement will ever come from me, regardless of your vehicle or experience level. If I cannot help, ill point you in the right direction.
The track is a place for all makes, models, demographics, and experience levels. Whether you drive a 100,000-mile Toyota Tercel or a $100,000 Pro Mod, the lanes are open for everyone. But be mindful that sometimes paid events will be taking place and test n tune will not have priority over the event racers. They have a certain time frame they need to maintain as well as a prepped surface. Looking at you hard tire guys, we ask that you be patient as sometimes there are cars at the track running extremely fast times. They required the absolute best prep the track can provide. Hard tires tend to ruin the surface frequently and could cause safety issues for that guy with more than triple your HP.