Team MM&FF
September 23, 2013

Fact: drag racing is addictive.

The rush of acceleration and challenge of driving fast keeps us searching for low e.t.'s and round wins. If you're new to the sport, you will learn the scoreboard doesn't lie, and finding a lower e.t. is not always easy.

Often, racers are left wondering: What will my car run? Is there a quicker e.t. left in there? The answer is an astounding yes—you can run quicker. Actually the challenge of running quicker is part of the fun. Successful racers are forever fine-tuning; rookie racers must start with the basics.

Reaching your goal will take an understanding of your vehicle and its mods, track and weather conditions, combined with driver talent. You'll need a keen eye to read the track, and skill to launch hard and make quick and precise shifts. Knowing a bit about tires, suspension, and the track's timing system won't hurt either.

I learned the importance of these variables long before I was a magazine editor. Actually, I was a cash-poor student craving low elapsed times. My '87 5.0 LX five-speed Mustang was my daily driver/college commuter so I couldn't afford to break it. This meant no sticky tires, no nitrous, no blower. I learned to launch on street tires, drag radials didn't exist. Becoming proficient required a smooth clutch release with aggressive, but controlled, throttle application, and a feel for what the car was doing.

We put our money where our mouth is by enlisting Brad Adler, our video guru, who daily drives his '11 GT to hit the track. The goal was to see if Brad, a total dragstrip rookie, could improve his performance with coaching from your humble scribe. In P**art 2, Associate Editor Kristian Grimsland, who owns a mildly modded '98 Cobra will get his chance.

Brad's GT wears a Boss intake and exhaust, 3.73 gears, a cold-air intake and a tune.. Both guys drove on drag radials, which offer lots of traction without the hassle of swapping tires trackside.

Vehicle Prep

Before hitting the track, it's important to have your car in good running order. If you're fighting mechanical issues, you won't turn good numbers and you won't be able to focus on driving. Inspect the lugs, battery hold-down (and connections), fluid levels, brakes, the accessory drive belt(s), and tires before you go to the track. If you have confidence in your car or truck, you've won half the battle.

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Driver Prep

Being prepared mentally is as important as having horsepower. Extracting the best elapsed times consistently and having the ability to win races takes skill and mental focus. Once you have knowledge, experience, and confidence in your ability, you'll be able to whip other racers.

Good runs don't just happen, they come from being prepared and by giving yourself the best chance for success. This means having a routine for your burnout, staging, launching, and driving in the most efficient manner. Place tasks in order and accomplishing them one at a time. My routine goes like this: before each run, I charge the battery and fuel the car in the pits, then in the lanes I check tire pressure (right side, then left), then slide in, attach my harness (same order for the belts every time), then my helmet, and finally my gloves last.

After firing the engine, I check the gauges; then I pull the belts really tight (lap belts first, then shoulder belts). After years of racing, I don't often think about this routine—it just happens. With this, fewer things will clog your mind, so you can focus on the Tree and the actual race.

As a rookie, you may feel pressure to hustle through your burnout and stage quickly. Resist the urge. You may be worried about holding up the guy in the other lane, but chances are you are not. Relax and complete each task as best you can. A quality burnout leads to better traction, and staging consistently leads to good lights, and to consistent (and predictable) e.t.'s.

The Track

There are dragstrips with various lengths (eight-mile, 1,000-feet, and quarter-mile), but we'll focus on the good old 1,320. Before heading out for your track outing, check the track schedule. This will prevent you from showing up on VW day. Second, we recommend making your debut at a test-and-tune and not at a major event. You'll get more runs, it will cost less, and there will be other newbies.

After paying your entry fee, you will fill out a tech card, and then proceed to tech inspection. The inspector will look for the basic safety items, such as a radiator overflow tank, seat belts, helmet (if required), and a proper battery hold-down. If your car is capable of running low 11s or quicker, you will need advanced safety items such as a six-point rollbar (or cage) and harness system. Consult nhra.com or ihra.com for specifics on building a track-legal car.

F) If the beams are set up properly, there will be 7 inches of rollout from the pre-stage beam to the stage beam, and 11.5 inches from pre-stage on to stage off.