Very few things in this world are as exciting as tearing down a drag strip in a blaze of glory. Whether banging power shifts like a madman or turning on the win light during a national event, there is a place in this sport for everyone.
With the rise in popularity of illegal street racing, you may wonder why you need to bother going to all the trouble of participating at a sanctioned strip. Yes, it can be exciting, but sometimes for all the wrong reasons. Many people get killed in street racing every year, including a lot of innocent bystanders. Do you really need to worry about the prospect of facing manslaughter charges? Besides, even if you wreck and only hurt yourself, do you want to be lying injured on the side of the road without an ambulance around for miles? At the track, there are precautions taken to help ensure your safety and that of your competition.
If you've read this or any other car magazine for any length of time, you probably know there are two basic types of drag racing, bracket (or handicap) and heads-up. The former begins with a handicapped start, with the slower car launching first, while in the latter the cars leave at the same time and the first one to the finish line wins.
But, before most get to that stage, the beginner will want to cut his teeth running time-shots in a non-competitive test-and-tune environment. Most tracks have time-only classes even on regular race days. This will allow you to familiarize yourself with the starting system and give you a feel for how to handle a car on the race track, which can be quite different than how it feels on the street. That quarter-mile can seem awfully long to a novice. You'll gain invaluable information on how to launch your car especially if you're running on normal street radials.
For the first-time racer, the fun actually begins with admission into the pits. With the run card in hand, you first stop at the tech booth to prove the legality of your racing machine. Most tracks will check under the hood and inside the vehicle, looking for loose batteries, coolant-overflow containers, the proper safety gear, and so on. If you are competing with your 15-second daily driver, chances are you won't need more than a helmet and a valid driver's license.
Safety rules are important and helmets are mandatory regardless of elapsed time.
With tech card signed off (Scrutineering) and helmet in hand, it's time to make your journey to the staging lanes. Once there, track officials will guide you to your position. When the call comes out for your particular lane, you will fasten your seatbelt, slap on your helmet, and pull into the burnout box for the beginning of the pass.
If you are running on normal radial tires, a massive burnout is nothing more than a waste of rubber, although a quick hazing to clean debris off the tread surface is a good idea. The burnout process is extremely important to the overall result of the run. Its purpose is to wear away the outside dead rubber from the slick and to instil them with a slight amount of heat, making them sticky and less prone to spinning. Follow the instructions of the starter. He'll let you know when to start (and sometimes) stop your burnout.