Drag Racing Basics

A drag race is an acceleration contest between two cars over a straight distance, usually a quarter of a mile, but sometimes an eighth mile. Both vehicles go from a standing start and the competition is run tournament style, with losers being eliminated until only one is left.

The race starts with a ‘Christmas Tree’; a traffic light system just off the startline in the centre of the track. The speed at which the lights count down depend on the class; the amber lights on the Pro tree counts down at four-tenths of a second, whereas the Sportsman tree is five-fifths. Once the green light shows the drivers set off. Reaction time is a big factor in this, as a slow reaction could cost them valuable seconds. Setting off too soon – before the green light – will cause a red light to show in their lane and they will be disqualified.

Certain classes operate a time index, meaning that all vehicles in that class must go no faster than that index. For example, the Super Gas runs on an index of 9.900 seconds – if a car in this class completes a 1/4 mile in a faster time, the driver will be disqualified. Drivers can also be disqualified for crossing the centre line between the lanes or hitting the guard walls on either side of the track.

Handicap racing allows slower vehicles to compete on an equal basis with faster ones. The slower vehicle will get a calculated head-start depending on their previous run times. In theory, the vehicles will cross the finish line together but a lot will depend on the individual reaction times. A perfect reaction time is 0.400 for the Pro class, and 0.500 for the Sportsman class.

The finishing line gantry will usually display two sets of figures above each lane. The bottom figure will usually be the index for that particular class, while the upper figure will be that drivers best or previous time; this will change to show the time just run once the driver passes the finishing line. Occasionally the gantry will display the reaction times of each driver too, depending on which class is running