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Drag Racing Basics - The Driver Mod, Part 2
Take your driving to the next level with our sure-fire tips.
Getting your vehicle to accelerate quickly from a standing stop while applying massive horsepower can be tricky. In addition, the mental aspect of racing can make or break you, as you'll need intense focus to cut good lights and hit your shift points. Thankfully, drag racing is accessible. Virtually anyone with a driver's license can compete at the hundreds of tracks throughout North America (and the world), and with a little practice, you can be successful.
The major sanctioning bodies for drag racing are the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) and IHRA (International Hot Rod Association), as most of the strips fall under their rules and guidelines. There are other sanctioning bodies that hold their own races, such as the FFW, NMRA, NMCA, ADRL, X-DRL, and others. The Fun Ford Weekend and NMRA are Ford-specific organizations. Details on any of them can be found online.
Whether you follow a series and run for a championship, or simply hit the local track to make time runs, unleashing the power on a track is not only thrilling, but a great way to enjoy your car in a safe environment. You won't be worried about tickets or other dangers found on the street.
In Part 1 we covered the basics, including vehicle preparation, mental preparation, burnout, staging, launching, and shifting. We gave you enough to get started. In this segment, we share tips to maximize horsepower and traction to gain a winning edge. We also take a look at MM&FF's newest associate editor, Kristian Grimsland, hitting the track with his mildly modded '98 Cobra.
Max Your Power
With today's advancements in nitrous, blowers, turbos, variable cams, and tunable EFI, Ford owner don't often struggle to find horsepower—but whether you have a stock 5.0 H.O. or a new GT500, you'll want your beast running strong.
To ensure peak performance, be sure the simple things are working right. Fresh plugs, fresh fluids, a clean air filter, and proper ignition timing can go a long way. As can good belts, tires, etc. Something as simple as loose shifter bolts can wreak havoc on your track outing. So periodically check your car if you race it often.
Additionally, you may want to have your Ford dyno tuned, as this will help you dial in max power, plus you'll see where your engine makes peak torque and horsepower (based on rpm), which will help you determine the best shift points and rear-end gearing. Your best performance will generally come when your engine is geared to be just under redline in the gear that is 1:1 (or closest to it) in the transmission.
Max Your Traction
In drag racing, it's equally important to understand how your suspension and chassis work together so you can apply the power to the track. Unfortunately, there are no mail-order tunes for traction. To learn about suspension setup, and to practice your launch technique, you have to get your butt to the track and experience it.
The drag racing launch starts with the torque of the engine. As it is applied to the ring and pinion and the tires begin to turn, the suspension is slammed into action. Since every action has an opposite and equal reaction, when the tires are driven forward, force is applied to the rear housing which causes it to rotate opposite of the direction of the tires. Your rear trailing arm (also called control arms) are connected to the housing so force is applied to them as well. The lower arms are driven forward and upward, the upper arm (or arms) are pulled rearward.
Since the control arms are connected to the unibody (in a Mustang), the force is transferred to the chassis of the car. This force causes the weight transfer we so desire, which lifts the nose and helps to plant the rear. More torque (applied either by gear multiplication or pure engine torque) equals more force applied to the suspension links, and generally more weight transfer. Racers control this by altering the angle of the control arms and with shock dampening, and to a degree, spring rates.
In general, soft shock setting will let the nose rise quickly, but in the rear, it can cause spin if the tires rebound just after the initial hit of launch. If you car bites and then spins a few feet out, chances are you have the rear lower control arms at too severe of an angle and/or the shocks are too loose on rebound.
On Fox Mustangs and SN-95 models, I've found that dropping the attachment point of the rear lower arms is not necessary as it makes the rear react too quickly, leading to the spin described above. On S197s, the best traction seems to come with the rear bars dropped about 3⁄4 inch. Pinion angle should always be slightly negative, about -3 degrees, meaning the nose of the rear and the driveshaft are both pointing slightly downward.
Buy the best tires you can afford. A racer friend once said, "Racing is expensive, so give yourself the best chance at winning." Too many times I've seen a racer complain about track conditions, and then state they are running two-year old tires that they bought used. The type (drag radials, radial slicks, or bias-ply slicks) will be determined by the class you and what fits your car or the setup. The current crop of drag radials are just plain awesome and can be used in most forms of drag racing. They can save you the trouble of having to bring a jack and swap tires trackside, which is a bonus.
To get the most of any setup, practice, take notes, and ask questions. Most experienced racers are willing to give up some secrets, so watch them run, pay attention, and take lots of notes.
Bracket Racing 101
While heads-up racing appeals to many, the cost of building a competitive car combined with the expense of actually racing it (including maintenance, travel, and so on) can be unrealistic. With that, bracket racing is a great alternative, as it takes virtually all of the same components of heads-up racing to be competitive, though it employs a breakout system to even the playing field.
To get started, you only need a good-running car (or truck). Whether you're running heads-up or bracket or open-comp racing, you'll still be doing a burnout, staging, and launching, but in bracket racing, you'll have the added element of trying to hit an established e.t. mark called a dial-in.
In heads-up racing, first to the finish wins, and that's it. It's fun if you are ahead or close, but if you don't have the power or you're late on the Tree, you're heading home. Since there is a dial-in, handicap start, and a breakout system, cars of different performance levels can race equally. Winning falls on driver skill combined with vehicle prep. Since we covered reaction time in Part 1, we'll focus on bracket racing/open-comp techniques to make you competitive.