Mark Houlahan
Brand Manager, Mustang Monthly
July 1, 2000
Photos By: Mustang Monthly Archives

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Drag racing your Mustang—whether it is a late-model or vintage—can be a great learning experience and a lot of fun. Use our guide here to help you get started and have a blast.
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A small toolkit such as the one shown will be a big help for your day or night at the track. From minor adjustments to emergency repairs, you can never be too prepared.
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Even if you don’t have a fast car, you might want to look into installing a driveshaft safety loop. These devices prevent the driveshaft from flipping or pole-vaulting your Mustang if the front universal joint breaks. Age and driveline abuse can make a U-joint the weak link, and a loop will contain the driveshaft.
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Subframe connectors can help your Mustang in more ways than one at the dragstrip. They prevent chassis-flex—which reduces weight transfer and traction—and they prevent the body from receiving permanent damage by the twisting motion of a hard launch.
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Most tracks will request that you remove any type of hubcap or center cap on your Mustang. If you have a safe place to store them at the track, then do so. Otherwise, go ahead and leave them at home. It’s one less thing you’ll have to worry about.
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Many people use shoe polish to write their car or dial-in numbers, but a better alternative is Geddex Dial-In Solution. Applied with the included sponge tip, it dries bright white and easily wipes off with no residue.
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Two items that can help you become a better racer are the Moroso Power Speed Calculator and the Summit Racing Drag Book, both of which are available through Summit Racing. The calculator will help you determine your maximum e.t. for your mph and also has horsepower-to-weight ratio, gear ratio, and tire diameter calculations. The Drag Book is a logbook to help you record temperature, e.t., mph, and several other types of data for each run.
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Geddex also makes another great product—especially for show people—called Burnout Guard. This product is biodegradable and washes off with plain water. Spray Burnout Guard on your quarter panels before racing, and the rubber bits from burnouts and track use that usually are difficult to clean off will easily wash away.
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An accurate tire-pressure gauge is a must if you plan to run DOT-approved racing tires or slicks. One psi difference in tires can mean a lot as to how a car handles going down the track and how the car leaves the starting line. If you can swing it, a small air tank, such as the one in the background, is great to bring along.
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The 5.0 Mustangs love a cool air charge. Icing down the intake is a popular way to cool off everything. Using a towel under the ice to catch the ice water will prevent water puddling on the engine, which could get on the track, thereby causing you to lose traction.
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Many Mustang enthusiasts purchase lightweight street/strip racing wheels, with the Weld Draglite being the most popular. The Weld Draglites are great wheels, and they take off a lot of weight of the suspension (especially skinny fronts), but the stock-length wheel studs are barely long enough to keep them on the car. A safer bet is extra-long wheel studs. Available from most parts stores and performance shops, these studs have the extra length to secure these types of wheels with their correct long-shank lug nuts.
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As stated in the text, if you’re using slicks, then by all means get them wet and smoke ’em up. Do not attempt to do your burnout in the water box. Wet the tires and then pull forward 1 or 2 feet. If you don’t have a spotter, then the starter will usually signal to you when the tires are clean and sticky. At that point, you can pull forward.
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While your street radials will suffice for basic dragstrip use, if you want to really hook and get some good e.t.’s, then try using either a drag-type radial or a full-drag slick.
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Both tires offer a softer compound for more bite and less tread lugs (or none at all) for more traction and a bigger contact patch.
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Vintage Mustangs can get in on the fun too. This ’70 Boss 302 has a set of slicks (Magnum 500s, no less—what a sleeper), and is trying to gun down the Torino in the next lane. Late-model versus vintage drag racing is popular at many Ford events.
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here’s no better way to get to know your Mustang’s 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 track’s information number and find out on which night test-and-tune sessions are held. There’s no sense in jumping into the middle of a Saturday night feature until you’re 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 needn’t bring anything more than the obvious staples, such as cash, a cell phone, your driver’s 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 sneakers—no sandals or other slip-on shoes. For the average racer a pair of jeans, a T-shirt, a pullover, or a button-down shirt—with socks and sneakers—will 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 you’ll be racing at night, then you’ll 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
Let’s be realistic about this subject for a minute. Many tracks—sanctioned or not—have 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 don’t 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 you’ll know where you stand. The track’s 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 Mustang’s 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 (aren’t 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 aren’t sure, don’t be afraid to ask. Stay with your car, even if the lanes are long. You never know when things will pick up and you’ll 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).

Burnout Time!
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 box—simply 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 Mustang’s 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. Let’s 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 driver’s 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 didn’t 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 gun—so to speak. In test-and-tune, don’t 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. Don’t let off the gas until you have gone through the finish line area. Otherwise, your mph will suffer.

Once you’re through the finish line area, you can safely begin your deceleration. Evenly bring down your Mustang’s 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 you’re 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 you’re 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. Don’t 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 you’re keeping track, log your e.t. into your timeslip book.

Now that wasn’t too difficult, was it? Actually, it was a lot of fun, and got the heart beating, didn’t it? Well, now you’re 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. You’ll have lots of fun and gain valuable experience at the dragstrip. But most importantly, practice, take advice, and be safe.