There was a time when dragstrips and road courses across America were bustling with the sounds of screeching bias-ply burnouts and solid-lifter crackling, and lead-infused fuels burned under high compression. The muscle car era was in full swing, and the manufacturers waged war in battles of horsepower and cubic inches.
Before leaving for the track, determine how long you're going to be there and what, if any
At some point though, it seems like those with the vintage cars threw in the towel and stopped showing up, leaving the late-model crew to have all of the fun. Now we're not saying that you should be hanging out at the track all the time, but you should be able to enjoy all of that high-horsepower hardware that you've installed under the hood, and taking your car to your local racetrack offers that opportunity in a very safe environment.
For some of you, going to the track may be old hat, but for others, it could be your first time. In either case, this story will be both a good refresher, and a basic introduction to drag racing. Once you have your feet wet in full-throttle, straight-line fun, you can check out your local road course to see if there might be even more fulfillment in turning at speed, and we'll be covering that end of the spectrum at a later date.
We know these old cars aren't the most comfortable place to be on a hot July afternoon, bu
Sure, you'll hear a lot of people talk about how valuable the cars are, and that it's not the best idea to drive one in such a manner. Our cover car this month certainly bucks this trend, and the vision of this relatively rare automobile melting rubber will certainly cause some anguish for some, but cars were made to be driven. Their sole purpose on this planet is to get us from Point A to Point B. So what's the harm in getting there fast?
If you think this sounds crazy, think again. More and more enthusiasts are enjoying their classic cars in more exhilarating ways. If you get a chance, check out an NMRA or NMCA race that may be close to you. You'll find a lot of very nice vintage firepower in the staging lanes.
When you enter the track one of the first things you'll have to do is complete a technical
Follow along as we take a classic Mustang out to the track and show step-by-step what goes on at the dragstrip. Once educated, you won't feel so intimidated and you'll enjoy the experience that much more. To find your nearest racetrack check out the links at the end of our story and then call the track to find out its track schedule. Be sure to write us and let us know about some of your on-track racing exploits.
Driving position is important as well. This isn't the Saturday night cruise-in at Big Boys
Once you've paid your entry and had your car inspected by a track official, it's time to s
Some tracks assign a car/class number during the technical inspection, while others have y
Before you make your first pass down the track take the time to get familiar with the trac
The starting line is the next place you'll see and this is where the Christmas tree is loc
We could do a whole separate story on burnout techniques, so don't be embarrassed to ask f
As the starter waves you forward, you might not know exactly where the starting line is. N
The first photocell you'll come to is for the pre-stage light. This pair of yellow lights
Rolling forward to the point you illuminate the stage lights at the top of the tree tells
If you roll just a bit farther (and you must do it carefully) you can do what is called a
Once both cars are fully staged the starter will initiate the countdown clock. Most of you
While we've never seen it used in test-and-tune practice, you might have seen a much faste
The last light on the tree is the dreaded foul, or red light. If you leave the starting li
Once you've left the starting line, the timing system takes over. As you head down the tra
After you pass the true finish line you can get on the brakes to slow down. Look for the t
As you travel the return road back to your pit area you will come upon a track official ha
We recommend keeping a log book of your timeslips, including weather conditions and any ch
While it's easy for us to let certain terms roll off the tongue, since we've been going to the track for years, we felt it would be helpful to list the most common track terms and what they mean. We hope these will help you be at ease trackside and when talking to your fellow racers.
|Burnout||To spin the rear tires to heat them, effectively cleaning the tread surface and heating the tread for increased traction|
|Christmas Tree||Found at the starting line, the "tree" is used as a count-down timer for both drivers in a drag race|
|Deep Stage||To roll farther into the stage beam, turning off the pre-stage light, which places the car farther down the track, which will raise elapsed time, but help your reaction time|
|Elapsed Time||The time it takes you to travel the track's distance from starting line to finish line|
|Foul Start||If you leave the starting line (meaning start the timer clock) before the green light has lit, it's a foul start and the red light will illuminate|
|Full Tree||This is the typical starting line setup used at test-and-tune and Sportsman racing, where each amber light is lit for 0.500-second in sequence, followed by the green light 0.500-second later; a perfect start is a 0.500 light on a full tree|
|Holeshot||When racing another car and you leave the starting line before the other car by reacting to the Christmas tree faster|
|Pre-Stage||The first row of small yellow lights on the Christmas tree, these light as you approach the starting line, letting you know you're about to enter the staging beam|
|Pro Tree||The pro tree is reserved for higher levels of heads-up competition and has all three amber bulbs light simultaneously, followed by the green light 0.400-second later|
|Reaction Time||The time, expressed in thousands of a second, that it takes your car to clear the stage beam after the last amber light has flashed on the Christmas tree|
|60-Foot Time||Simply put, how long it takes your car to travel the first 60 feet of the dragstrip, which reflects how quick your total run will be|
|Speed Trap||The last 66 feet of the measured racing surface before the finish line; this is where your mph is measured|
|Stage||The stage light is the second row of yellow lights and indicates your tires are directly on the starting line. Once both drivers have lit the stage lights, the countdown timer will begin as activated by the track's starting line personnel|
For more information on events, points series, safety equipment, and tracks in your area:
The Most Common Problems
While at Gainesville Raceway in Gainesville, Florida, snapping the majority of the photos for this story, we spoke with some of Gainesville's track officials to find out what the most common issues are they see when people come to the track for the first time. We thought for sure they would include people staging their car in the wrong place, turning around and coming back down the track surface, and other "OMG!" moments. But while these things happen occasionally, they see a much bigger problem with the three main issues listed here.
Concentrate on your elapsed time and mph first. Reaction time is not important for test-and-tune nights. You want to know what your car is capable of, not so much your reaction to the lights. Waiting for the solid green light to leave the starting line means you'll never red light (foul) and you can work on shift points and launch techniques. Once these are optimized then you can sneak up on reaction time.
Make only one change at a time. First time racers seem to get a little anxious, the track guys tell us. They'll make a pass, then go bump the timing, change the tire pressures, and launch at a different rpm all on the next pass. Make one change and then make a few passes to ensure consistency before you make another change, no matter how minor.
Be aware of your surroundings. There's a lot going on at the track, and not just on the racing surface. The pits are busy with race cars, pit bikes, pedestrians, and more. On the track surface, always watch the track officials, especially the starter. He's in contact with track spotters and the tower and if there's an issue with the track or your car he'll wave you off. This is for everyone's safety, so pay attention to all track personnel.