Drag Racing Basics

Drag Racing Basics

Courtesy James Racing Pictures

Drag Racing is a straight-line acceleration contest between two vehicles over a measured distance. General standard distances accepted worldwide are quarter-mile (1,320 feet) and eighth-mile (660 feet). Little River Dragway is mostly an eighth-mile facility, but on Friday nights we do allow quarter-mile runs.

If you have never raced your car before, that’s ok. If you are running a street car with treaded tires, generally the best time for testing is during our Friday night test-n-tune events. Everyone had to start racing somewhere, and nearly all of the racers that come out on Friday nights are just as new at it as you. If you are unsure, call up some friends and make a trip out to the track just to watch the first time. See how things go, and then sign up to race if you want to.

What follows are some basic guidelines and tips to help you feel more at ease. Many times new racers come out to the track not knowing what to expect, and it can get somewhat crazy and intimidating if you aren’t familiar with it.

Your First Trip

If you decide to just come out and race, then show up early and find a pit space. Try to take up just one spot. Empty any loose items/tools from your car. It’s better if you leave as much at home as possible. Once tech is open, take your car over to the booth and fill out your tech card. You will receive a number for your car, and once you are signed up you are ready to race. One of the benefits of arriving early is beating the bigger crowds that generally start to show up around 8pm or so. This can give you a few runs down the track to get familiar with the process.


Prior to racing, give a quick check of your car. Make sure your tires look good, there’s no loose pieces of the body, and no fluid leaks. For the rest of the night you need to make a conscious effort not to run your air conditioner. It doesn’t matter if it’s 110-degrees out, you cannot run your A/C while you are racing, or waiting to race. Condensation will build up and drip onto the track surface.

Your First Run

When you are ready to run you will pull down to the staging lanes. Lanes 1,2 and 3 are for street tire cars, and lane 4 is usually reserved for the faster slick tire cars. When it is your turn to run a track official in the staging lanes will motion you around to the water box. When you pull into the water box you may notice that there is not a lot of water put down for a burnout. This is because treaded tires tend to sling water into the wheel wells and then drip down onto your tires and the track surface. Do not start your burnout until instructed to do so by the track official. A big burnout is really not necessary with street tires, because they are such a hard compound that the heat doesn’t really have an effect on traction. When you get into high performance Z-rated tires, those are specifically designed not to heat up, since tire heat usually causes tire failure. A quick burnout is usually sufficient just to get the tires clean.

After you’ve completed your burnout, DO NOT pull all the way up to the tree. This is a very common mistake, and one that many racers have made. The starting line beams are actually about 20-feet before the tree, near where the starter is standing. If you’ve been watching some other cars run already, then you probably have an idea as to where the starting line is. If you are unsure where the beams are once you pull up to the line, watch the starter and he will usually help guide you in.

Slowly pull forward until you see the top yellow light of the tree come on. This is called PRESTAGE. It’s good to let the driver in the other lane also prestage if he/she hasn’t done so already (this is called courtesy staging, and is actually mandatory in most classes). After you are prestaged, gently roll your car forward just a few more inches until the bottom yellow STAGE light comes on. If you pull too far forward you will turn out the top light, and this is called DEEP STAGING. The starter will have you roll back until both lights are relit, or he may have you restage your car.

Once both cars are staged, the starter will activate the tree and the amber lights will start to come down at .5 second increments. Watch the bottom amber light, when it comes on, floor it. If you wait until you see green you are very late. A perfect reaction time is .000. Don’t worry if you redlight (leave before the green), since this is just testing.

As you start down the track pay attention to your car. If anything feels out of the ordinary, or if you are having severe issues with traction, lift off the accelerator. You can always make another run later. Make sure you know where you are on the track many new racers will get on the brakes well before the finish line. It’s not uncommon for new racers to confuse the speed blocks with the finish line, when in actuality they are located 66 feet before the finish line.

When you’ve completed your run, exit the track as quickly and safely as possible so the next pair of cars can run. If you are running in the right lane, follow the long curve at the end of the track, to avoid turning in front of the car in the other lane. A good tip is to always know where the car is in the other lane, especially when exiting the track. If you are in the left lane there is a turn off just before the curve.

Once you have exited the track, simply drive down the return road (11 mph is the speed limit for the pit area), and stop at the ET Booth to pick up your time slip. It’s really that simple. On Friday nights you can make as many runs as you want. If you have any questions, feel free to ask any of the track officials and they will be happy to help you.