How to pilot a dragster

How to pilot a dragster
How to pilot a dragster

Burnt rubber, hot tracks, cool cars. As Bruce Springsteen said, when summer comes, the weather is perfect for racing. But you don't necessarily have to have an old 1969 Chevrolet with a 396 engine, Fuelie heads, or a Hurst drivetrain under the hood to get into this thrilling sport. An open drag race is an acceleration competition taking place on a professional track in which all types of pilots can participate. This hobby can be both rewarding and fun, but knowing how to run properly in drag racing is the best way to keep yourself and others safe. Of course, it also allows you to have a good time on the track. You can learn by registering in the category corresponding to your level, by having your vehicle inspected and by approaching the track to make the most of your car's performance.


Part 1 of 4: Choosing and Customizing a Dragster

1077068 1

Step 1. Choose between style and speed

When choosing a car for a drag race, there are a lot of things to consider besides the speed at which your vehicle can launch from the start line. You must take into account the expenses to be incurred for the repair and overhaul of the vehicle as well as your ultimate ambitions. Most drag racers are basically looking for the same thing: a well-done paint job and a typically beastly engine-humming dragster. They also look for a nice figure to show off when the monster pulls over with others, much like when it passes you in the passing lane.

  • Ideally, try to find a racing car that lends itself to a lot of modification. A good dragster often has a modified engine with aftermarket cams, cylinder heads and other parts designed to optimize power to exceed 600 or 700 horsepower. If you have such a vehicle, then you have a well-muscled monster. But for many drivers, exceeding 500 horsepower already means going overboard, since a car with such power is an incredibly powerful car.
  • For the look, a lot of trainee drag racers probably already have an idea about their vehicle's chassis or model when they start out. A 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air is simply perfect for drag tracks in the eyes of classic car enthusiasts. For others however, such a heavy chassis can eclipse the styling of the vehicle.
1077068 2

Step 2. Pick something you like to work on

Building a racing car for drag tracks is above all a project for the nostalgic. So try to find one of those Corvette models your dad dreamed of when you were a kid, green like sea foam. A car he never had the chance to drive. You might also want a Mustang, like the one Steve McQueen drove during the classic Bullitt movie chase scene. Searching here and there, you might come across a 1940s Chevrolet Apache chassis. You can turn it into a real gem that will grab everyone's attention once on the track. All you need to know is that there are no wrong choices as long as you like the car you have chosen.

1077068 3

Step 3. Start with a lightweight frame that fits all of the replacement parts

Most of the successful vehicles on the track have a lightweight chassis that is easy to work with. That's why it's not uncommon for you to come across Fox-Body Mustangs built between the 70s and 90s all over the place. Their frames are lighter and can accommodate almost any engine model. Hemi? Flathead V8? You can use them all with a Mustang.

Knowing that Mustangs are ubiquitous on American tracks, they have lost some of their prestige. They sure are easy to work with, but do you really want to be another guy with a car that looks just like everyone else's? The Trans-Ams, Z28s and Chargers cars all have similar features with premium original features. The Charger that McQueen was driving came straight from the factory with some suspension modifications. If only she was perfect enough for Bullitt …

1077068 4

Step 4. Consider renovating or installing a new engine

How fast would you like to see your car go? What kind of engine do you want to build? What type of engine can your chassis accommodate? Most of the work and pleasure you get from your racing car project depends on these decisions you have to make.

  • A good dragster engine should have optimum power, certainly using a few spare parts to improve engine performance. One of the most common modifications is the replacement of hydraulic roller cams and cylinder heads with aftermarket parts. Depending on the engine, you should be able to use certain original components of the transmission system to keep the cost of the investment as low as possible.
  • Try and set yourself limits. Of course, you have every right to expect your Trans-Am to deliver 1,000 horsepower like dragon's breath to you, but have you factored in the cost of all spare parts for the? components required for transmission? Are the chassis tension adjustments required? If you want to hit 500 horsepower, you don't have to worry about being embarrassed on the track. Never. Always try to keep ambitions practical.
1077068 5

Step 5. Upgrade the suspension with control arms and dragster shocks

As you increase the power of your engine, the suspension will be unsuitable. One of the most important modifications you will have to make for a great drag racing race is the suspension. Make sure to adjust the suspension after increasing the horsepower of your vehicle. You will be sure that the specificities of the tensions are perfectly compatible with the new power of your car.

  • If your dragster has rear leaf springs, consider installing CalTrac bars to increase stability and control. If your car has coil spring suspension, using aftermarket control arms is still the best solution. You can also consider the possibility of using a "no-hop" to modify the geometric center of the suspension. This will give you more power at the start.
  • Some riders even go so far as to unhook the front stabilizer bar to install dragster coil springs instead. Drag racing places a lot of strain on the axles. This is a problem that all pilots know. Therefore, it is preferable to use shock absorbers specially designed for this purpose to better cope with these constraints.
1077068 6

Step 6. Install a power adder if you want to drive your car on the street

After the release of the Fast and Furious saga, a lot of people wanted to press a nitro button with his brother and leave the competition far behind. Using a small nitro system for all your runs allows you to use a more basic engine speed suitable for normal driving and freeways at normal speeds. It can also help you keep an engine thinner, making it possible to race at a low compression ratio. Naturally aspirated engines require larger cams and run on high octane fuel if the compression ratio increases.

1077068 7

Step 7. Watch out for overheating with modified and muscle cars

The more you change the original parts, the more likely it is that you will experience problems due to those changes. Such a situation arises especially when you pilot your dragster in a brutal and restrictive way on the accelerator. One of the problems that cars like this have in common is overheating. This implies that certain precautions are necessary. You may not have any problem if you have made the changes correctly. But it's always safer to keep an eye out for risky areas.

Install a larger radiator to prevent the vehicle from overheating and regularly check your fuel pump. Aggressively piloting a dragster quickly wears out these components. So arrange to find an accurate and sensitive temperature gauge and keep an eye on it when you are piloting

Part 2 of 4: registration and pre-race inspections

1077068 8

Step 1. Learn the different categories of dragster vehicles

Most professional drag vehicles are roadsters specifically designed for short distance racing. Fans and Sunday runners are placed in a whole different category. Vehicles are rated and classified according to various criteria such as the weight advertised at the factory, the type of fuel used and the engine power. The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) has over 200 distinct categories of vehicles although the basic categories can be divided into two.

  • The Top Fuel Dragsters are between 6.1 and 9.1 m in length, deliver over 500 horsepower and run on nitromethane. You will only encounter this type of dragster during pro competitions. Top Alcohol dragsters are similar to their Top Fuel cousins, however they run partly on methane.
  • The Stock Dragsters initially were factory vehicles. Then they were transformed using NHRA guidelines for improving potency and performance. On open-track days, this is usually the only type of vehicle you'll see racing on the track, and what you'll ride if drag racing is your passion. If you have a modified muscle car, you can check the category of your vehicle on the NHRA Classification Guide. Search here for more information.
1077068 9

Step 2. Find a closed drag racing course in your area

If you want to race in a dragster, you must do it only on a track, respecting the conditions specific to the discipline. Drag tracks are generally 402 meters long, with a speed trap of around 21 meters on which your top speed will be measured. Many circuits offer open competitions by invitation in which anyone can attend as long as they pay the registration and entry fees to the track. Likewise, timed trials are offered regularly if you want to get out a bit and let go of the gas every now and then.

  • When you arrive you will inevitably have to pay a small entrance fee, but also a track access fee especially if you plan to run. The price depends on the category of the vehicle you are driving. It is therefore best to call to ask for price information before you arrive.
  • Attend a few races first and soak up the culture as well as all types of races that are held on the track you want to run on. Seek advice from other runners or better yet, from the organizers. If you drive a Honda Civic and want to race in a dragster, you may fall into the Bracket-Style category with disabilities. But you may also think you're in the wrong place. Before setting off for good on the track, take the time to observe a few races as a simple spectator. Besides the fact that it is an exciting sport, from the stands you will be able to be part of a large community of fans as well.
  • Only run on approved tracks. Running a dragster in pro conditions is dangerous enough. So, imagine doing this race in the street, it's purely suicide. Either way, it's completely illegal. Never ride a dragster on the street.

    1077068 10

    Step 3. Enter your vehicle in the correct category

    To keep the level of racing on the ground, most tracks and race organizers divide the field into several classes of vehicles. After payment at entry, you will need to fill out a race card, fill in information about the class you will be racing in, your name and other specific information about your vehicle.

    If you want to participate in the competition with a car meeting standard factory standards or have made minimal modifications, the category in which you will be entered will always depend on the size of your engine as well as other technical specifications. Some tracks offer invitational races on a regular basis. You can enter your car in these races to find out in which class and in which category your vehicle falls. Or what you need in order for your car to be eligible for the race, if you want it. This is the easiest way to find out about your class if you are not sure

    1077068 11

    Step 4. Adopt the appropriate style of dragster for your vehicle

    Depending on the type of vehicle you have, your ambitions for the race and also the specific rules specific to the track in your region, you will certainly have several options at your disposal to be able to race. You may want to run a prostyle elimination race, which is probably the most common, or you may just want to get out on the track and burn some rubber during practice. As long as you have a good vehicle and the muscles to go with it, you are bound to find something to suit you on many tracks.

    • The Breeds elimination are laps of elimination tracks during which two cars will face each other. The loser is automatically eliminated and the winner advances to the next stage of the race until only one runner remains. To test the waters, train for the race and take part in the timed practice that often precedes the races.
    • The Bracket Races are similar to Elimination Races. They do, however, include handicaps allowing vehicles of different technical specifications to compete with others. They are actually races that are used to test performance rather than muscle. Instead of straight-line testing, the cars perform what are known as “Dial In” tests. During these tests, the goal is to get as close as possible to the estimated speed (the maximum speed of your car on a lap). The difference will be deducted from each of the tests carried out throughout the race.
    • The Time Trials are accessible to all classes of vehicles that have passed the safety inspection and paid the track fees. Usually, if you haven't planned to practice for qualifying, you won't be able to run on certain days, sometimes called “test and tune” nights. You can receive a timesheet with specific details on each of your milestones and keep track of your long-term progress. It's a great way to start and build your drag racing skills.
    1077068 12

    Step 5. Perform a technical inspection on the open drag racing circuit

    After paying entry and registering, you will have to drive your car to an inspection center. There, the organizers will give your car an ounce-over, check the fluid levels, weight and other technical specifications of your vehicle to be sure that it can guarantee your safety once launched on the track. If you pass the inspection test, they will stick the corresponding label on your windshield. This means that you have passed the inspection and can enter the assembly area.

    Some tracks require a minimum weight that must be observed by all vehicles for the various stages, driver included. Many serious drivers will try to achieve this minimum weight for their class of vehicle. They will lower it as much as possible to give more power and performance to the engine

    Part 3 of 4: Running competitively

    1077068 13

    Step 1.Pass the prequalification races

    Before you get to the start line and let go of the gas, you will need to know which part of the circuit you are going to run in qualifying for the start position. Depending on the typical rules of the track and the class of vehicles, you will be required to meet different standards. However, you will be starting most of the elimination rounds in order to qualify for the start with all your energy. Several measures are taken into account for each race. These include your reaction time, the time at which you have completed the stage, but also your speed.

    • Your reaction time is measured from the start of the race and should be as short as possible. To do this, it is necessary to measure the time which elapses between the green light and the moment when your vehicle crosses the starting line.
    • Elapsed time is measured when you cross the start line and when you cross the finish line.
    • Your maximum speed is measured as you cross the finish line. So, you need to deliver maximum power during this event in order to get the best result while keeping enough momentum for slowing down.
    1077068 14

    Step 2. Thoroughly heat your tires in the water box

    In the staging area at the back of the track, you have to go through what is called a water box or bleach box. Most tracks have them. It is simply a wet part of the track. This is where runners with biting tires perform burnout to heat their tires up and remove all the grime and other impurities that have built up on them.

    If you don't want to heat the rubber before the race, all the better. Just drive your vehicle into the water box and get as close as possible to the start line. Flat racing tires always need to be heated, but tires designed for the road with a tread should definitely not be. If you're worried about the dirt your tires accumulate on the road, if you want, you can remove them for cleaning

    1077068 15

    Step 3. Coming out of the staging area, move closer to the start line

    On professional slopes, the starting line is often not very visible since it is not clearly marked on the ground, but indicated by lasers. Let the organizers guide you to the start area and stick to the “Christmas Tree” (the sign with colored lights in the middle of the track) to find out where you are.

    On most tracks, the yellow light indicates that you are less than 170 centimeters from the start line, a second light comes on when you are there. Take a good look at the track judge between the two lines for specific instructions. He is there to help you

    1077068 16

    Step 4. Keep your eyes on the Christmas tree and wait for the lights to announce the start

    Most Christmas Trees have seven lights including the one that means you've reached the start line. Depending on your class and the type of race you are participating in, the tree lights will turn on in different ways to kick off the race. In some competitions, three amber lights illuminate simultaneously, followed by a green light at four tenths of a second. In other races, all three bulbs turn on three times before the green light turns on five tenths of a second later. Make sure you follow the start of the other runners and try to know which light is used to announce that you are at the start line.

    1077068 17

    Step 5. Go green

    Usually, if you see the green light, you left a little too late. It takes a lot of practice and mastery to get a good start. Finally, it is more of a work of anticipation, knowing how to spot when the green light will go off and immediately press on the mushroom rather than waiting for it to light up. The most seasoned pilots are very good at this game. There is no reason for you to tense up after a few attempts and trials if you have not yet grasped the basics of technique.

    Before driving, keep your engine speed at its optimum power to start at the desired speed (many dragsters eject in seconds, for example). Follow the change of weather and lights carefully, anticipate the green then let go of the gas

    1077068 18

    Step 6. Send all the power to the finish

    Drag racing is definitely not the time to save your speed. On the contrary, it is the occasion to show what your vehicle really has in the belly. If you have passed the safety inspection and know everything about your car, you should be able to tell what it is actually capable of. It's a unique chance to step on the accelerator and let yourself go. Feel it, accelerate to full power on the track and keep up the pace until the finish.

    As you tear up the track, be careful not to go out of line. Do not rush into other cars if you are one-on-one. Pay attention to your vehicle and what you are doing. Crossing the center line will result in disqualification and it is also very dangerous

    1077068 19

    Step 7. Be sure to follow the markings indicating the slowdown

    Depending on the tracks, there are "special rules" indicated by a marking depending on the line on which it is possible to go head-to-head. In general, as a courtesy, the slower car slows down to fall behind the faster. So, you will line up, then drive to the timing booth.

    1077068 20

    Step 8. Collect your time log from the timing booth

    After the race, you will go through the timing cabin where you have to collect your time record. This reading totals the time it took to finish the race and indicates your maximum speed. On some tracks, these results are displayed large on a scoreboard style screen, but often they are installed at the back near the start line for viewing by spectators.

    Part 4 of 4: Win the Race and Stay Safe

    1077068 21

    Step 1. Think about safety first

    When you're in the middle of the track in the exhilarating vibe of machismo, there's a good chance you'll forget the most important thing in a drag race: surviving it. Arrange to pay attention to everyone on the track. Look at everything around it and stay focused to get to the end safely. If you are not sure you can run, if you don't have too much confidence in your vehicle, or if the track conditions do not give you too much confidence, it would be better to give up running for the day.

    Your car should always be inspected before the drag race. Having a flat tire at a speed of 190 km / h is simply dangerous. It is just as much to negotiate a turn at such a speed. It is always better to take maximum precautions

    1077068 22

    Step 2. Invest in a Snell Certified Helmet

    The Snell Memorial Foundation was created thanks to William "Pete" Snell, an amateur racing driver who was killed in a race in 1956. His helmet, assumed to be the perfect model at the time, failed. to protect it. Many of his fellow riders and friends have come together and put all their skills into improving the design of the helmets. Today, these models have become a benchmark in the field. If you want to race in a dragster, get one.

    1077068 23

    Step 3. Change gears at the right time

    The ideal time to change gears is when the downward power curve of the lower gear crosses that of the upward power of the higher gear. Most drag racers even use a tachometer to closely monitor engine rpm and feel the right moment to do so, just a little before the dashboard engine rpm indicator hits the red stripe.

    • Most drag racers choose a lighted tachometer that lights up once you get to the perfect time to change gears. The greatest runners anticipate this moment. However, you can take it up a notch once you get to 200 or 300 RPM from the “ideal” time. In this way, the action will be more fluid.
    • Racing in a dragster with vehicles with automatic transmission is quite possible, but it is less common. Manual transmission vehicles are distinguished by shorter acceleration times if the technique is well established. If you want to get into drag racing, practice shifting gears with a manual transmission vehicle.
    1077068 24

    Step 4. Use bald racing tires inflated to the appropriate specifications

    If you really want perfect grip on the track, you need to equip your vehicle with racing tires. Without a tread, running with slick tires will allow you to stick to the asphalt and increase the performance of your engine.

    Contrary to popular belief, lowering the tires in no way saves a few seconds, as many people think. While this actually increases the surface area of ​​the tires by a few degrees, keeping them too low wears out the inner wall giving exactly the opposite of the desired effect. Keep the tires inflated to the limit of the minimum recommended characteristics

    1077068 25

    Step 5. Ride in the tracks left by the tires of other riders

    After several laps of the track, you will notice the accumulation of gum marks from other cars and their exhausts. It is on these tracks that you must ride. Clean asphalt does not provide better traction unlike this rubber layer. Stay glued to this groove and hurtle down the track.


    • Always use your common sense on the track and don't be afraid to ask questions of the race organizers if you are still new to the discipline or if you have not yet mastered a particular track.
    • People with stomach problems should not play this sport.
    • Take advantage of the time you spend on the track to build a network and expand your circle of friends who are passionate about racing. They may also know some tips and advice that you will need for your next participation.


    • Collisions and loss of control can cause serious injury.
    • In accidents, cars may explode.

Popular by topic