Drag racing

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"Drag racer" and "Drag race" redirect here. For other uses, see Drag racing (disambiguation).
The Christmas tree counting down at SIR, outside Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Note the blinder, to prevent the driver from being distracted by the lights for the other lane.

Drag Racing is a type of motor racing in which automobiles or motorcycles (usually specially prepared for the purpose) compete, usually two at a time, to be first to cross a set finish line. The race follows a short, straight course from a standing start over a measured distance, most commonly ¼ mile (1,320 ft (402 m)), with a shorter 3/16 mile 10 feet (1,000 ft (305 m)) for nitromethane powered Top Fuel dragsters and funny cars, while 660 ft (201 m) (1/8 mi) is also popular in some circles. Electronic timing and speed sensing systems have been used to record race results since the 1960s.

Drag racing has existed in both street racing and regulated motorsport forms since automobiles and motorcycles were developed. The street racing form, which is illegal, is covered elsewhere; this article covers the legal sport.

Basics of drag racing[edit]

Camaro at launch, with Altered Vision in the right lane.

Before each race (commonly known as a pass), each driver is allowed to perform a burnout, which heats the driving tires and lays rubber down at the beginning of the track, improving traction. Each driver then lines up (or stages) at the starting line.

Races are started electronically by a system known as a Christmas tree. The Christmas tree consists of a column of six lights for each driver/lane, one blue, then three amber, one green, and one red, connected to light beams on the track. The blue is split into two halves. When the first light beam is broken by the vehicle's front tire(s) indicates that the driver has pre-staged (approximately 7 inches (180 mm) from the starting line), lights the first half of the blue circle, and then stages (at the starting line), which lights up the second half of the blue circle, and also the corresponding bar in the middle of that circle.[1] [2]

Once the first competitor trips the staged beam, the tree is automatically activated, and the opponent will have up to seven seconds to stage or a red light and automatic timed-out disqualification occurs instantly. Otherwise, when both drivers are staged the tree will start the race between .8 and 1.3 seconds after the race is staged, with the time randomly selected by the Autostart system, which causes the three large amber lights to illuminate, followed by the green one. There are two standard light sequences: either the three amber lights flash simultaneously, followed 0.4 seconds later by the green light (a Pro tree), or the amber lights in sequence from top to bottom, 0.5 seconds apart, followed 0.5 seconds later by the green light (a Sportsman tree, or full tree). If the front tires leave from a stage beam (stage turn off) before the green light illuminates, the red light for that driver's lane illuminates instead, indicating disqualification (unless a more serious violation occurs). Once a driver commits a red-light foul (also known as redlighting), the other driver can also commit a foul start by leaving the line too early but still win, having left later. The green light automatically is illuminated on the opposite side of the red-lighting driver. Should both drivers leave after the green light illuminates, the one leaving first is said to have a holeshot advantage.

Except where a breakout rule is in place, the winner is the first vehicle to cross the finish line (and therefore the driver with the lowest total reaction time and elapsed time). The elapsed time is a measure of performance only; it does not necessarily determine the winner. Because elapsed time does not include reaction time and each lane is timed individually, a car with a slower elapsed time can actually win if that driver's holeshot advantage exceeds the elapsed time difference. In heads-up racing, this is known as a holeshot win.[3] In categories where a breakout rule (some dial-in categories are this way, but Junior Dragster, Super Comp, Super Gas, Super Stock, and Stock most notably) is in effect, if a competitor is faster than their predetermined time, that competitor loses. If both are faster than their predetermined time, the competitor closer to that time wins. Regardless, a red light foul is worse than a breakout, except in Junior Dragster where exceeding the absolute limit is a cause for disqualification.

Several measurements are taken for each race: reaction time, elapsed time, and speed. Reaction time is the period from the green light illuminating to the vehicle leaving the starting line. Elapsed time is the period from the vehicle leaving the starting line to crossing the finish line. Speed is measured through a speed trap covering the final 66 feet (20 m) to the finish line, indicating average speed of the vehicle during the run last 66 feet (20m).

In the standard racing format, the losing car and driver are removed from the contest, while the winner goes on to race other winners, until only one is left, based on a traditional bracket system (typically 4, 8, or 16 car brackets). In standard formats, the pairings are based on the lowest elapsed times. In bracket racing without a breakout (such as NHRA Competition Eliminator), pairings are based on times compared to their index (faster than index for class is better). In bracket racing with a breakout (Stock, Super Stock, but also the NHRA's Super classes), the closest to the index is favourable.

A popular alternative to the standard eliminations format is the Chicago Style format (also called the Three Round format in Australia), named for the US 30 Dragstrip in suburban Gary, Indiana where a midweek meet will feature this format.[4] All entered cars participate in one qualifying round, and then are paired for the elimination round. The two fastest times among winners from this round will participate in the championship round. Depending on the organisation, the next two fastest times may play in a third, then fifth, and so forth, in consolation rounds.[5]

Funny Car with body up.

Racing organization[edit]

Chief Timer delivering timeslips to competitors after their passes.
Blown altered doing a burnout at Interlake Dragways, Gimli, Manitoba.

North America[edit]

The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) oversees the majority of drag racing events in North America. The next largest organization is the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA). Nearly all drag strips are associated with one sanctioning body or the other.

Besides NHRA and IHRA, there are niche organizations for muscle cars and nostalgia vehicles. The Nostalgia Drag Racing League (NDRL) based in Brownsburg, IN, runs a series of 1/4 mile (400m) drag races in the Midwest for 1979 and older nostalgic appearing cars, with four classes of competition running in an index system. Pro 7.0 and Pro 7.50 run heads up 200 mile per hour (320 kilometre per hour) passes, while Pro Comp and Pro Gas run 8.0 to 10.0 indices. NDRL competition vehicles typically include Front Engine Dragsters, Altereds, Funny Cars, early Pro Stock clones, Super Stocks and Gassers.[6]

The National Electric Drag Racing Association (NEDRA) races electric vehicles against high performance gasoline-powered vehicles such as Dodge Vipers or classic muscle cars in 1/4 and 1/8 mile (400m   200m) races. The current electric drag racing record is [3] 6.940 seconds at 201.37 mph (324.0736 kph) for a quarter mile (400m). Another niche organization is the VWDRC which run a VW-only championship with vehicles running under 7 seconds.

Prior to the founding of the NHRA and IHRA, smaller organizations sanctioned drag racing in the early years.


The first Australian Nationals event was run in 1965 at Riverside raceway, near Melbourne. The Australian National Drag Racing Association (ANDRA) was established in 1973, and today they claim they are the "best in the world outside the United States".[7] ANDRA sanctions races throughout Australia and throughout the year at all levels, from Junior Dragster to Top Fuel.

The ANDRA Pro Series is for professional drivers and riders and includes Top Fuel, Top Alcohol, Top Doorslammer (similar to the USA Pro Modified class), Pro Stock (using 400 cubic inch engines (6.5 litres)), Top Bike and Pro Stock Motorcycle. ANDRA is the only organisation that officially sanctions ¼ mile drag racing for Top Fuel.

The Rocket Allstars Racing Series is for sportsman drivers and riders and includes Competition, Super Stock, Super Compact, Competition Bike, Supercharged Outlaws, Modified, Super Sedan, Modified Bike, Super Street and Junior Dragster.

Broadcasting is provided on SBS Speedweek.


Drag racing was imported to Europe by American NATO troops during the Cold War.[8] Races were held in West Germany beginning in the 1960s at the airbases at Ramstein and Sembach[9] and in the UK at various airstrips and racing circuits[10] before the opening of Europe's first permanent drag strip at Santa Pod Raceway in 1966.

The FIA organises a Europe-wide four wheeled championship for the Top Fuel, Top Methanol Dragster, Top Methanol Funny Car, Pro Modified and Pro Stock classes. FIM Europe organises a similar championship for bike classes. In addition, championships are run for sportsman classes in many countries throughout Europe by the various national motorsport governing bodies.

New Zealand[edit]

Drag racing in New Zealand started in the 1960s. The New Zealand Hot Rod Association (NZHRA) sanctioned what is believed to have been the first drag meeting at an open cut coal mine at Kopuku, south of Auckland, sometime in 1966. In 1973, the first and only purpose built drag strip opened in Meremere by the Pukekohe Hot Rod Club. In April 1993 the governance of drag racing was separated from the NZHRA and the New Zealand Drag Racing Association (NZDRA) was formed. In 2014, New Zealand's second purpose built drag strip - Masterton Motorplex - opened.

The first New Zealand Drag Racing Nationals was held in the 1966/67 season at Kopuku, near Auckland.

There are now two governing bodies operating drag racing in New Zealand with the IHRA sanctioning both of New Zealands major tracks at Ruapuna (Pegasus Bay Drag Racing Association) on the South Island and Meremere Dragway Inc in the North Island.

South America[edit]

Organized drag racing in Colombia is Club G3's responsibility, which is a private organization. The events take part at Autódromo de Tocancipá.



On the island of Curaçao organization of drag racing events is handled by the Curaçao Autosport Foundation (FAC)[11]
All racing events, including street legal competitions, happen at the Curaçao International Raceway.

South Asia[edit]

Organized drag racing is rapidly growing in India. Autocar India organised the country's first drag race meet in Mumbai in 2002.[12]

Drag racing is also gaining popularity in Pakistan, with private organizations organizing such events. The Bahria Town housing project recently organized a drag racing event in Rawalpindi, with the help of some of the country's best drivers.[13]

Sri Lanka has seen an immense growth in Drag racing through legal meets held by the Ceylon Motor Sports Club, an FiA sanctioned body. In recent years, exotic cars and Japanese power houses have been taking part in these popular events.[14]

Middle East[edit]

Qatar Racing Club is the home of Motorsports in the Middle East. QRC provides access to the best drag strip and drift skid pad in the world, which allows participants to unleash the power of their cars and bikes in a safe and controlled environment. QRC with the help of the fine Racing Organizations wish to establish common rules and seeks parity amongst classes within the Gulf Region. The goal of the QRC is to help, along with the other organizations to promote World Wide Awareness of the sport of Drag Racing & Drifting. Driver can compete in a number of competitions including ADRL, QATAR MILE, NATIONAL STREET DRAG CHAMPIONSHIP, QATAR DRIFT CHAMPIONSHIP, FREESTYLE DRIFT and SEALINE SAND DRAGS.

South Africa[edit]

Drag racing is an established sport in South Africa, with a number of strips around the country including Tarlton International Raceway and ODI Raceway. Drag racing is controlled by Motorsport South Africa and all drivers are required to hold a valid Motorsport South Africa license.[15] Drivers can compete in a number of categories including Top Eliminator, Senior Eliminator, Super Competition Eliminator, Competition Eliminator, Pro Street Bikes, Superbike Eliminator, Supersport Shootout (motorcycle), Street Modified, and Factory Stock.[15]


Caterpillar-sponsored dragster. Note wide slicks and high-mounted wing, to assist traction.

There are hundreds of classes in drag racing, each with different requirements and restrictions on things such as weight, engine size, body style, modifications, and many others. NHRA and IHRA share some of these classes, but many are solely used by one sanctioning body or the other. The NHRA boasts over 200 classes, while the IHRA has fewer. Some IHRA classes have multiple sub-classes in them to differentiate by engine components and other features. There is even a class for aspiring youngsters, Junior Dragster, which typically uses an eighth-mile track, also favored by VW racers.

In 1997, the FIA (cars) and UEM (bikes) began sanctioning drag racing in Europe with a fully established European Drag Racing Championship, in cooperation (and rules compliance) with NHRA. The major European drag strips include Santa Pod Raceway in Podington, England; Alastaro Circuit, Finland; Mantorp Park, Sweden; Gardermoen Raceway, Norway and the Hockenheimring in Germany. The major difference is the nitro-class distance, which is 300 meters at some tracks, although the NHRA and FIA are likely to discuss the distance change in the future.

Pain Killer J/D. Note the driver, helmet off, is still in the car, which is under tow on the return road, headed for the pits.

There are five classes that can be regarded as "professional" by most sanctioning bodies:

Fuel dragsters
Typical Funny Cars
A typical Pro Stock car.

In addition to the professional classes, these are some other popular classes:

A typical Comp car.
Super Gas Probe.
A typical Super Stock car
Blown Top Dragster

A complete listing of all classes can be found on the respective NHRA and IHRA official websites.

Note dual-plug heads, dual ignition magnetos, and intake snorkel

In the FIA European Drag Racing Championships, a different structure of professional categories is used with Top Fuel Dragster (with a 90% nitromethane mix), Top Methanol (Alcohol) Dragster, Top Methanol (Alcohol) Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Modified running as professional championships as well as FIA specifications published for Fuel Funny Car although this does not run as a championship.

The UEM also has a different structure of professional categories with Top Fuel Bike, Super Twin Top Fuel Bike, and Pro Stock Bike contested, leaving the entire European series with a total of 8 professional categories.

To allow different cars to compete against each other, some competitions are raced on a handicap basis, with faster cars delayed on the start line enough to theoretically even things up with the slower car. This may be based on rule differences between the cars in stock, super stock, and modified classes, or on a competitor's chosen "dial-in" in bracket racing.


A "dial-in" is a time the driver estimates it will take his or her car to cross the finish line, and is generally displayed on one or more windows so the starter can adjust the starting lights on the tree accordingly. The slower car will then get a head start equal to the difference in the two dial-ins, so if both cars perform perfectly, they would cross the finish line dead even. If either car goes faster than its dial-in (called breaking out), it is disqualified regardless of who has the lower elapsed time; if both cars break out, the one who breaks out by the smallest amount wins. However, if a driver had jump-started (red light) or crossed a boundary line, both violations override any break out (except in some classes with an absolute break out rule such as Junior classes). This eliminates any advantage from putting a slower time on the windshield to get a head start. The effect of the bracket racing rules is to place a premium on consistency of performance of the driver and car rather than on raw speed, in that victory goes to the driver able to precisely predict elapsed time, whether it is fast or slow. This in turn makes victory much less dependent on large infusions of money, and more dependent on skill. Therefore, bracket racing is popular with casual weekend racers. Many of these recreational racers will drive their vehicles to the track, race them, and then simply drive them home. As most tracks host only one NHRA national event, and two or three regional events (smaller tours, car shows, etc.) annually, on most weekends these tracks host local casual and weekend racers. Organizationally, however, the tracks are run according to the rules of either the NHRA or the IHRA with regional points and a championship on the line. Even street vehicles must pass a safety inspection prior to being allowed to race.

Blazing Angel Jet Dragster

Historic cars[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ NHRA.com Drag Racing Basics
  2. ^ [1] New Tree implemented for NHRA VisitMyrtleBeach.com Four-Wide Nationals (but the tree, with just the two middle lights, was adopted permanently by the next round in May 2011)
  3. ^ "NHRA Glossary". NHRA. Retrieved August 11, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Encore Feature: Chicago Once a Funny Car Heaven". Competition Plus. Retrieved March 21, 2014. 
  5. ^ "Revolutionary new event format promises Easter thrills at Willowbank Raceway". Australian National Drag Racing Association. Retrieved March 21, 2014. 
  6. ^ Mullin. "NDRL - Nostalgia Drag Racing League". Retrieved 2015-01-03. 
  7. ^ Australian National Drag Racing Association ANDRA History
  8. ^ "History". francedrag.com. 
  9. ^ "Drag racing history in Germany". dragracinghistory.de. 
  10. ^ "UK drag racing history 1960-1964". www.trakbytes.co.uk. 
  11. ^ "Drag racing on Curacao". curacaodrag.com. 
  12. ^ The Telegraph, Calcutta, "Men in Drag"
  13. ^ The News, Islamabad, "Car Drag race"
  14. ^ http://www.ft.lk/2014/08/13/cmsc-slaf-drag-race-on-24-august/
  15. ^ a b "2010 MSA Drag Racing Handbook". Retrieved 31 October 2010. 
  16. ^ a b c Hot Rod, 12/86, p. 29 sidebar.
  17. ^ Hot Rod, 12/86, p.28.
  18. ^ Street Rodder, 7/94, p.144.
  19. ^ Super Chevy, 5/94, p.16.
  20. ^ Hot Rod, 12/86, p.24; Smithsonian Institution
  21. ^ Emmons, Don, "R&C Modelrama" in Rod & Custom, 9/00, p.147.
  22. ^ Amalie Oil Gatornationals 2009 NHRA Summit Racing Equipment Nationals
  23. ^ [2]
  24. ^ Its invention is credited to Vic King and Pete Wolley for their X/Gas digger in 1959. Dain Gingerelli, "Midnight Oil!" in American Rodder, 6/94, p.81.

External links[edit]

Media related to Drag racing at Wikimedia Commons