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Drag Racing Basics
Find out what your Mustang can do in the ultimate test of speed
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heres no better way to get to know your Mustangs true performance than by a timed speed run such as a drag race. Drag racing has been around for decades, and while urban sprawl may be taking up track property and closing them down, drag racing is still a popular sport.
With some racetracks being two-plus hours away, enthusiasts resort to street racing. An occasional bump in testosterone may get you racing away from a street light with some GM product chasing you (hopefully), but big-time street racing is being cracked down on hard by local police agencies, and is not in any way condoned by us or this article.
We want to show you what to expect when you visit a quarter- or eighth-mile drag-race facility, and how you can prepare yourself and your Mustang for drag racing. Whether you plan to go one time to see just what your Mustang can do, or plan on weekly visits to hone your racing skills, we hope the information and tips in this article will benefit you in some way.
Locating a Track
There are several ways you can find out where your nearest track is. Both NHRA and IHRA sanctioning bodies have track locators at their Web sites (www.nhra.com and www.ihra.com). You can also check out the National Speedway Directory, available by mail at P.O. Box 448, Comstock Park, MI 49321-0448. For more information on the National Speedway directory, call (616) 785-0340, or fax (616) 785-8906. Once you have found the track at which you wish to race, call the tracks information number and find out on which night test-and-tune sessions are held. Theres no sense in jumping into the middle of a Saturday night feature until youre comfortable behind the wheel.
What to Bring
Well, quite frankly, that depends on what you plan on doing at the track. If you have a vintage Mustang, and you are simply curious to see what it will do, then you neednt bring anything more than the obvious staples, such as cash, a cell phone, your drivers license, and maybe something to eat and drink. On the other hand, if you need to do some tuning on your Mustang, make sure you bring the correct tools. If you plan on using slicks, make sure you have a lug wrench and jack, tire-pressure gauge, and work gloves.
What to Wear
Racing is a serious activity and you should dress for safety, not for cool looks. No baggy pants or untucked shirts, and definitely no shorts should be worn. You should have closed-toe, lace-up shoes or sneakersno sandals or other slip-on shoes. For the average racer a pair of jeans, a T-shirt, a pullover, or a button-down shirtwith socks and sneakerswill do. If you have a convertible or a Mustang with T-tops, then you should plan to bring a helmet.
Arriving at the Track
Some tracks are open for test-and-tune sessions early Saturday before the main races, while others are open one or two nights a week for test-and-tune sessions. Try to get to the track early to stake out a good pit area. If youll be racing at night, then youll want to seek out a well-lit location that is also near a PA speaker to hear lane information and other important track information. Parking near a fence or light pole is always a good idea so you can chain up your toolbox or street wheels while racing.
Depending upon how the track operates, you will either pay a gate and race admission together, or a gate admission and then a race admission elsewhere on the grounds. Some tracks will have you fill out a tech card and issue you a race number when you enter, while others will have you fill out the card and take it to the timing tower or other location to get your number. At most tracks, applying the race number to your car is your responsibility. Make sure your number is large and legible to track officials. Usually the numbers will have to appear on the tower side of the car (side or quarter glass) and on the back window.
Passing Tech Inspection
Lets be realistic about this subject for a minute. Many trackssanctioned or nothave varying degrees of inspection. If it is a busy night and your car looks stock, then you might get buzzed right through without even opening the hood. On another night, the tech inspector might be a Chevy guy and will want to inspect your Mustang with a fine-tooth comb because he thinks all 5.0 Mustangs are 10-second cars. Whatever the reason, we recommend having all the proper safety equipment on the car. If you honestly dont know what your Mustang will run, then tell them. You more than likely will get one pass, and then be told to leave the track until your Mustang has the proper safety gear, but at least youll know where you stand. The tracks technical director can tell you what you need, and then you can pick up an NHRA or IHRA rule book (depending upon the track) and determine the safety items you need by your Mustangs e.t. (elapsed time).
Getting Ready to Race
Now that you have a place in the pits and your tech card is filled out, take a good look around the track. Learn the location of the staging lanes (and how they are numbered), the racing surface turnoffs, and the return road. The timeslip receiving areas should be located as well. Knowing where these venues are and the path from the beginning to the end of a race will help everything go smoother and prevent any problems.
Once you are comfortable with everything and maybe even watch a few races over a quick dinner (arent those track dogs scrumptious?), get your car prepared (install the short belt, ice the intake, mount the slicks, and so on), and head for the starting line.
On to the Staging Lanes
On most test-and-tune nights, they have a preset lane number for certain cars. Lane No. 1 might be for street-tire cars, lane No. 2 might be for cars with slicks, lane No. 3 could be for motorcycles, and so on. Listen to the announcer and get in the correct lane for your Mustang. If you arent sure, dont be afraid to ask. Stay with your car, even if the lanes are long. You never know when things will pick up and youll be blocking all the racers behind you, which is most uncool. When you get toward the front of the line, stay in your car with your belt fastened and your helmet on (if one is needed).
Once the starter waves you into the staging area, proceed slowly. If you have street tires, then there is no need to go through the water boxsimply drive around it. If you are running slicks, then by all means idle through the water to get the slicks wet. While a separate article could be (and has been) written about burnout techniques, if you talk to other racers, they can help you dial-in what you need to do for your Mustangs power and weight. Proceed to do your burnout by either dumping the clutch (manual trans) to shock the suspension or by power-braking (auto trans). Listen for the tires to bite on the pavement, and then ease out of the throttle. Next is getting up close and personal with the staging beams.
Oh, Christmas Tree The photograph shows the different bulbs on the Christmas tree we are about to discuss. The tree has seven bulbs on each side. The top pair of small bulbs is called the pre-staged bulbs and the next set down is called the staged bulbs. Below those are three amber lights in succession, then the green light, and lastly, the dreaded red light. Lets go over each one. The pre-staged light will illuminate first as you approach the Christmas tree. Proceed slowly a few inches farther and the stage light will come on. When both drivers have brought their cars into the staged beam, the track starter will initiate the countdown on the Christmas tree.
When the countdown begins, the amber lights will come on in succession. On a full tree, the lights will come on a half-second apart. On a pro tree, the lights are considerably faster at only four-tenths of a second total. Remember to watch your lights and not the other drivers lights or what he is doing. This is especially important if you end up coming back for bracket-style racing where your dial-in is different from your competitor. In this case, the tree will count down differently on each side. Determining when to leave can be the toughest part of racing. Depending upon how fast your Mustang is, you can leave when the last amber bulb lights up, but faster cars may want to wait until the last amber goes out. Of course, sitting there with a solid green light will give you a slow reaction time and a slow e.t. Practice will tell you when to leave the starting line. If you didnt leave too early, then the green light will illuminate and you should be well on your way to your first drag race. If you did leave early, then the red light will come on, indicating that you left early, or jumped the gunso to speak. In test-and-tune, dont worry about the red light, as you will still get a timeslip with your e.t. and mph on it, which is what we are here to see anyway. The proper launch and timing of the tree will keep you away from the red light for when it does matter in competition of a bracket or sportsman class.
Going Down the Track
After you leave the starting line, you will pass the 60-foot timer, and then travel the measured quarter-mile. Knowing when to shift your Mustang to the next gear will come only with practice. Keep good notes, and you can see what rpm for launching and shifting, tire pressures, and other items do for your e.t.s. The finish line and the mph timer will be at the end of the measured quarter. Dont let off the gas until you have gone through the finish line area. Otherwise, your mph will suffer.
Once youre through the finish line area, you can safely begin your deceleration. Evenly bring down your Mustangs speed, and look for the return road (usually on the right side of the track). Most tracks have more than one return road, so if youre going too fast or miss the first turn, then you can use the second return road. Be on the lookout for the other racer if you have to cross into his lane to reach the return road.
The Tale of the Tape
Once youre on the return road, keep your speed to a safe level (about the speed of a parking lot cruise), and follow the road to the small shed or shack where you will receive your timeslip. Dont read the slip there, as other racers are directly behind you. Take the slip from the person manning the shack, and proceed to your pit location where you can read your timeslip. If youre keeping track, log your e.t. into your timeslip book.
Now that wasnt too difficult, was it? Actually, it was a lot of fun, and got the heart beating, didnt it? Well, now youre ready to make a go at it again. Make any changes you feel are necessary (tire pressure, cooling the intake, and launch rpm, among other things) and keep at it. Youll have lots of fun and gain valuable experience at the dragstrip. But most importantly, practice, take advice, and be safe.