If you're like us and like driving your Mopar fast, there's no better place than the drag strip. We'll show you the basics this month so you can take your car to the track.
If there is one thing Mopars are notorious for, it is their racing heritage. No other domestic manufacturer of automobiles during the mid-sixties through mid-seventies devoted a higher percentage of their resources to racing efforts, and the results for the Chrysler Corporation were seen in NASCAR, and at both local and national drag racing events during the era. Here in Florida, we're lucky to be close to the Gainesville Raceway, which is home to the Gatornationals National NHRA event. And while watching drag racing is a fun pastime, participating in the sport can be even more fun. Fortunately, there are hundreds of drag strips in America and even abroad, so taking your Mopar to the track to test its performance, or to try to win some money, is easier than you might think.
If you've never run your car at a drag strip the idea can be somewhat intimidating, but believe us when we say the fun is worth it. For a nominal fee, the drag strip allows you to do burnouts, and run your car in an all-out, full-throttle quarter mile pass without worrying about getting a speeding or reckless driving citation. In fact, all of the drag strips we go to encourage you to drive your car as fast as it will go, which is one of the things that makes racing so much fun. Of course there are certain procedures you must adhere to while at the track, and we'll go over those in this article. We'll also give you some tips on consistency, and how to have fun running your car at the track while minimizing the risk of hurting yourself or any parts.
There are a lot of reasons that people take their cars to the drag strip, and many participants are simply there to test parts or see how quick their car will go for bragging rights. For others, it's the adrenaline rush of running a car at high speed, or the thrill of competition in the classes that have eliminations and payouts or trophies. And you don't need a purpose built race car to run or compete at the track. Nearly all drag strips have a street car class, and so long as your car meets some basic safety requirements you can make passes down the track.
Our seasoned racers who are reading this might not think there's anything to learn from an article on the basics of drag racing but don't worry, in a future issue of Mopar Muscle we'll discuss advanced racing techniques and nuances of track timing systems and the starting line Christmas tree. This month we'll show the basics for those readers who are just starting out or have never raced before. And don't forget, while street racing is dramatized in movies and tv shows and the lore of many a cruise night bs session, it is not only illegal, but unsafe. Not to say we're prudes as we've had a fair share of this activity, but it is always safer to run two cars side-by-side at the track, under controlled conditions and with a safety crew on hand.
You don't need a purpose built car to drag race, as most tracks have a street class for licensed cars with treaded tires and mufflers. Late model or classic Mopars can race at most drag events so long as they meet a few safety requirements.
Most drag strips are either a quarter mile (1320 feet) or an eighth mile (660 feet), and have a test and tune or practice day one or more evenings during the week. Practice nights are a great way to get accustomed to the track, your car, and the drag racing process, and the entry fee is usually less than twenty bucks. On the weekends drag strips generally have bracket racing events for both street cars and modified cars with slicks, and have a cash payout if you finish in one of the top positions. The entry fee on weekends is usually higher, but winning money back by advancing through elimination rounds is a satisfying experience. Whether you're racing in eliminations or just testing and practicing, the procedure to get your car down the track is basically the same. Follow along and we'll walk you through the procedures of racing your car at the local drag strip.
This is the Pits
When racing, you park in the pit area of the track whether you drove your car or trailered it to the track. Parking is first come first serve at most drag strips, and common courtesy is the rule.
After entering the gate, you'll park your car in the racer's area of the track which is called "The Pits". Parking is generally first come first serve, and reserved parking at most tracks is well marked. Most tracks strictly enforce a speed limit of 5-10 mph while in the pits, so this isn't the place to get squirrely, save that for the track. When arriving at the track you'll need to purchase a tech card, which is available at tech, at the tower, or at the front gate depending on the track. They'll also assign you a number while in tech, usually the last four of your SS number, and put that number on your car with shoe polish or specially made dial-in marker. We prefer the specially made stuff because it's easier to wipe off. Tech cards on test nights are generally inexpensive, and allow you to make as many passes as you want or as many as the turnout of racers allows. Some tracks also allow you to test during the time trial session on race nights as well, but if you want to race in an elimination category expect to pay more for your tech card since the money goes into the purse and gets paid to the top finishers at the end of the night. After getting your tech card, it's time to take your car to tech inspection.
The tech inspection area varies in location from track to track, and you can expect a short line when you get there. So long as your car has a seatbelt, coolant overflow tank, and doesn't leak you should be able to go racing. Of course faster cars are subject to stricter rules, and stricter inspection.
Tech inspection is located different places depending on the track, but is usually near the pits, staging lanes, or return road. Tech inspection is just what it sounds like, a technical inspection of your car to make sure it is safe to race, and won't cause a hazard to other drivers, crew, or spectators. While we don't have the space to cover all aspects of tech inspection in this article, the basics for street cars are pretty simple. Unless your car runs quicker than 14 seconds flat in the quarter mile, the tech inspector will simply check and see that you have a seatbelt, coolant overflow bottle, battery hold down, and that you're wearing long pants.
If your car runs 13.99 seconds or quicker in the quarter mile, you'll need a helmet in addition to the equipment listed above, but not much else until your car runs 11.49 or quicker. At that point, the rules require a fair amount of additional equipment, including a roll bar (convertibles require the roll bar if 13.49 or quicker). This extra equipment is generally for the safety and protection of the participants and spectators, so we build all of our cars to the specs required for the speed they run.
Expect a short line at the tech inspection area, and if you are wearing a helmet or other safety equipment be sure to bring that with you. Plan to open the hood as well so the inspector can take a look at the engine bay. If anything is improper or unsafe, the inspector will tell you and you'll have a chance to fix it. Usually, if it's something minor they'll let you race, but suggest you correct the issue before you come back. The most common problems during tech inspection are no (or improper) battery hold down, fluid leaks, no coolant recovery tank, only one throttle return spring (two are required), or no long pants. Be sure to address these items before you get to the track so you'll pass tech. After tech, it's time to go to the staging lanes.
The Staging Lanes
Once called to the staging lanes of the track, you and your car should be prepared to make a pass. A final tire pressure check should be all that's left at this point.
The staging lanes are a series of lanes that lead to the burnout and starting line area of the drag strip. Usually numbered from left to right, the staging lanes are the way the track separates the classes of cars in an organized manner. In the pits, listen for your class to be called over the intercom, then drive to the appropriate lane where you'll wait in line for your class to be run. This is the time for a final check of the tire pressure, and be sure to have your windows rolled up, seat belt on, and be ready to go when you get within two or three cars of the front of the line.
It's fun to do burnouts, but sometimes it's better not to. If your car has street tires most tracks ask that you go around the water box.
There's almost nothing cooler than doing a burnout in your Mopar, but unless your car is equipped with racing slicks or very powerful, it can be a bad idea to perform a burnout at the track. The burnout area is called the water box, because there is usually a shallow trench with water in it to wet the tires for the burnout. Most tracks don't allow cars with treaded tires to go through the water box since the tread will carry water as the car moves forward, and water at the starting line can mean no traction. So if your car has street tires you should drive around the water box. A short burnout can then be completed to clean the tires before moving to the starting line. If your car has slicks, make sure to pull out of the water box before starting your burnout. This will prevent water from being flung into your wheel wells and dripping onto your tires. You should always wait for the starter or track official to signal you that it's ok to perform the burnout, and never start the burnout while a car is ahead of you at the starting line or burnout across the starting line. After the burnout, make sure the car is in low gear and move toward the starting line.
Making a Pass
Your Mopar might not launch as hard as this one, but it can still be fun to make a full-throttle run down the track. Even most street cars can see 100 mph or better in the quarter mile, without risking a speeding ticket!
When the burnout is complete (if one was necessary), the driver should slowly ease the car forward toward the starting line. Be aware of the car in the other lane, and don't get in a hurry to stage your car if the other car is still doing a burnout. The starting line device is called a Christmas tree, and you should look at the top bulb, called the pre-stage bulb, at this point. As both cars creep forward the top bulbs will light up once each car is staged. Once all four pre-stage and stage bulbs are lit, the yellow lights on the tree will light from top to bottom, a half second apart. When the bottom yellow comes on, it's time to launch the car with minimum traction loss, and make your full-throttle pass through the gears. This is the most fun part of drag racing and also the part that takes the least amount of time. After the finish line it's best to safely and quickly slow the vehicle down, and turn off on one of the turnoffs to get completely off the track. Driving up the return road you'll get your time slip from a track official at the e.t. (elapsed time) shack. This is the payoff, and where you find out how quick you and your Mopar really are! With these basics in mind, it only takes practice to get better and building faster cars to race in more competitive classes. Be warned, however, the need for speed can be so addicting that you may find yourself building faster and faster cars and spending more time at the track!
Staging the car before making a pass is an important part of the drag racing process. Courtesy staging means that each car turns on the top, pre-stage bulb first, then moves forward to turn on the second, stage, bulb. After staging, the starter will activate the tree and the yellow lights will blink from top to bottom in half second increments.
When the bottom yellow bulb comes on, you should be leaving the starting line. If you leave too late, you give the other driver an advantage. If too early, you'll see a red light at the bottom of the Christmas Tree as shown here. During time trials or practice red lights don't count, but during eliminations this will get you disqualified.
After leaving the starting line, your reaction time will be on the scoreboard in your lane during testing and time trials but not during eliminations. After crossing the finish line, the same board displays your elapsed time in seconds and top speed during the run.
If you encounter a problem during the burnout or staging, put your car in neutral and you'll likely be pushed backward and off the track. If you have a problem during a pass, you should pull to the side of the track, shut the car off, and wait for a track official.
Drag racing your Mopar is a fun sport, and it's also a blast just to see how fast you can get your car to go. We encourage you to check out your local track, and make some test passes. Be warned, however, this can lead to an addicting need for speed.
A nice thing about drag racing is that there is always room to grow in the sport. You may start out racing your street car occasionally on the weekends, but there's no telling where it may lead. Fortunately there are classes of drag racing to accommodate you no matter how fast you make your Mopar.
Don't like straight lines? There are other kinds of racing you can do with your Mopar. This autocross course is set up at by Hotchkiss each year at the Mopars at the strip show, and is a fun way to test your car's handling. Either way, take your Mopar to the track and enjoy it, these cars were meant to be raced!
Entry Fee to Test: $10-$25
Entry Fee to Race: $35-$50
Fuel: varies by car
Having fun with your Mopar: Priceless