Technical Application Notes

by Tom Crews and  Scott Winger

Not being an expert by any means but I thought I’d share some of the tips I have come across from many drag-racers.  These tips will hopefully net you a quicker ET but will primarily assist you in preparing for that first ¼ mile drag experience.

  • One of the things to keep in mind is what type of tire you will be running on, street tires, dragradials or slicks, since different tire types require a few different techniques.  Most of my personal experience is on street tires but I’m running dragradials now and have gathered information on running the best on these as well as running on slicks.  Enjoy your track experience and HAVE FUN!
  • Prep your car well before heading to the track.  If you haven’t changed your oil in a while it wouldn’t be a bad idea to change it before hand.  You will be flogging your car pretty hard…clean oil would be a ‘good thing’.  Remove any ‘extras’ items you have in the backseat, truck, etc…  extra weight will just slow you down.  I personally like to run in full street trim…in other words running just like I do on the street.  Some people however have large stereo equipment (speaker boxes) that could be removed if they are trying for their quickest time.  Leave this stuff at home… could easily be stolen at the track.
  • Try to have anywhere from ½ to ¼ tank of gas while running down the strip.  A full tank is just extra weight and will only hurt your times.
  • First time at any track I suggest walking to the ¼ mile point to see exactly where the end is located.  My first experience at the track I didn’t do this and discovered I was letting off too early.  The end markers were not easy to see travelling in excess of  100mph so knowing where the end is will help you tremendously.  Also take note of where the turnoffs are since you’ll need to come back down the return lane after your runs.
  • Watch a few of the cars there make their runs before jumping in line to race.  Watch the ‘Tree’ and how the lights work and when the other cars are leaving the line.  Watch how they pull into the staging lanes and stage…this can save you from some embarrassment when it’s your turn to stage J
  • Bring a helmet with you!  If you don’t have one see if a buddy has one you can borrow, you’re going to need it.  Also many tracks require you to wear longpants (no shorts) so be prepared.
  • Turn off your air-conditioner (good idea before getting to the track) as running the AC is a big NO – NO!  The condenser will collect moisture from the air and drip it on to the track….doing this is an easy and quick way to get thrown off the track!  If it’s hot…it’s hot.  Have your windows down before staging to keep cool.
  • Move your seat forward….you are not ‘cruising’ around so looking ‘cool’ is not a requirement now J  Jamming yourself up close to everything will assist you in shifting and hitting those gears!  It really works.  My first outing I had forgotten this ‘tip’ and missed 3rd gear…DOH!  I moved the seat up for my next run and had no trouble hitting 3rd gear and dropped my times from 13.9 (missed 3rd) to 13.5.  You are closer to the pedals and shifter so you are definitely getting the gas pedal to the floor and hitting those shifts faster and harder.
  • Tire pressure…this you’ll have to experiment with.  For street tires I recommend only dropping a few pounds of pressure (if you run 30 normally…try 25).  For dragradials you want lower though again it depends on brand and trial and error.  I’ve heard 18psi is a good place to start and then work down from there.  Slicks…no experience so I don’t want to tell you anything wrong.
  • Now you’re in line, waiting for your turn.  You’ve removed any extra weight, have about ¼ to ½ tank of gas, the AC is off, you’ve moved your seat closer and you’re wearing your helmet and have your seat belt on and you’ve adjusted your tire pressure accordingly…….now you’ll get nervous J
  • The WATERBOX:  This is the first thing you’ll have to do when it’s your time to stage.  Street tires….DO NOT drive through the waterbox, drive around it.  There is at no point in your runs that you will ever need to get your tires wet.  This is very important as it could get you thrown off the track.  Treaded tires (street tires) will only pick up water and drag it out on the track, not good.  Plus it will make your tires slippery and will cause you to run worse times.  Drive around the waterbox and into the staging lanes.  You also do NOT need to do a burnout on street tires.  Heating up a street tire will make it harder and slippery, again resulting in slower times (and also extra wear on your tires).  Do a quick spin to clean the dirt off and then begin your staging.  Dragradial users will want to drive around the waterbox and then back the rear tires into it and do a quick spin to get them wet.  Pull out of the waterbox and do your burnout.  Here’s what you’ll do,  put your car in 2nd, rev high and drop the clutch.  Move your clutch foot to the brakes and stand on them.  You’ll be smoking your tires and you’ll want to count to about 7 and then remove your foot from the brakes and you’ll start to move forward while still spinning the tires.  Clutch in…off the gas and then continue your staging.  Slicks… around the waterbox, back the rear tires into the waterbox and do a quick spin…..DO NOT do your burnout in the waterbox!  The quick spin is to get the tires wet all around and after doing that you pull out of the waterbox to do your burnout.  Again rev and dumped, stand on the brakes and get ‘em hot….and proceed to stage.
  • Staging…..this is the tricky part so pay attention while doing this.  There are two ‘staging lights’ and they are extremely close together…about 2-3 inches (at least it feels like that).  Remember how we watched the other cars stage when we first got to the track?  Well now we use the knowledge gained there to assist ourselves in staging.  The staging lights are two smaller lights at the top of the tree.  You’ll pull up slowly and light the first (top) light.  This is called pre-staging.  It’s ‘suggested’ to let your opponent then pre-stage and then stage (lighting the second light) before you complete your staging.  Once your opponent has staged….move ever so slowly until you trip the second light, completing your staging (again…it feels like it’s about 2-3 inches of movement to trip the second light).  Now that both cars are staged watch the tree and be on your toes….it’s RACE time!
  • The TREE:  Typically you’ll be on a sportsman tree (three yellow lights then green) but you may run on a pro tree (all yellows light at the same time then green).  If it’s the typical sportsman tree you’ll want to launch on the last yellow!  Remember that, the last yellow.  Do NOT wait for green and do NOT anticipate the last yellow.  Watch the last yellow light and when it lights….GO!  If you wait for the green you will have a bad reaction time and if you anticipate the last yellow you will probably redlight.  Leaving on the last yellow will usually net you a pretty decent reaction time (.500 being perfect).  One thing to keep in mind though…..your reaction time has NOTHING to do with your ET!  So if you are just running for timeslips…don’t worry too much about your reaction time and concentrate on your launch technique and driving.  Reaction time will affect the race itself as to who gets to the finish line first.  If two equally fast cars are running and car A gets a better reaction time than car B, car A will ‘win’ though when they both pick up their timeslips they have run identical times.
  • Launching….real tricky here.  Every car will be different depending on weight of car, amount of torque, type of tires, etc… so you’ll have to play with this.  Do not launch at idle or you will bog.  I got my best 60 ft.’s using around a 1,000-1,200rpm clutch walk (sort of the middle ground between a dump and a slip) on street tires in my ’97 Cobra (2.02 60’ ).  Dragradial users will probably want to dump the clutch around 3,500-4000rpms and slick users even higher.  You’ll have to experiment and see what works best for your car.  The track and the street are completely different so being able to launch well on the street doesn’t mean you’ll launch well (the same way) on the track.  Practice and experimentation J
  • Shifting…I’m giving the very basics here so again you’ll have to experiment on your car.

  • 5.0 (stock or mildly modded) shift around 5,300 – 5,500rpms

  • 96-’98 SOHC (stock or mildly modded) shift around 5,400rpms

  • ‘96-’98 DOHC (stock or mildly modded) shift at 7,000rpms!

  • ‘99-’00 SOHC (stock or mildly modded) shift around 6,000rpms

  • ’99 DOHC (stock or mildly modded) shift between 6,300 and 7,000rpms…experiment.

  • After your run (crossing the finish line) apply braking as needed and prepare for the turn-off roads.  If the turn-off is on the right side the car in the right lane turns off first… matter which car reached the turn-off first.  If the turn-off is on the left…the car in the left lane turns off first.  It would really suck to win a race and then as you start your turn off the other car barrels into you because they hadn’t started braking or their brakes failed.   Always Always Always let the car in the lane with the turn-off have the right away! 
You’ve made your run, drove to the ‘shack’ and picked up your timeslip….proceed back to the pits (to park) or get back in line for another run.  Now you can check your timeslip.   Remember…it’s all in fun!