What is Drag Racing?

Drag racing is perhaps the fastest, loudest and most spectacular motor sport of all, pitting two cars and drivers against each other to see which can cover a quarter of a mile from a standing start in the quickest time.

The sport is most popular in its homeland America, but there is a thriving scene here in the UK and the rest of Europe too.
Most recognisable are the incredible Top Fuel and Nitro Funny Cars, which shake the ground en route to top speeds of over 300mph, which they reach in under five seconds from rest. Top Fuel though is just the tip of the sport which has many varied classes.

Drag racing was imported to Europe by American NATO troops during the Cold War. Races were held in West Germany beginning in the 1960s at the airbases at Ramstein and Sembach 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 motor-sport governing bodies.

Drag Racing - The Basics

A Drag Race is an acceleration contest between two vehicles over a flat, straight distance of normally a quarter mile, or in some instances, an eighth-mile. Both vehicles compete from a standing start and the contest is run after qualifying in tournament style eliminations, the loser being eliminated and the winner progressing till there is one driver/rider left.

The race is started by means of the 'Christmas Tree', a traffic light system in the centre of the track just off the startline. The racing machines front wheels are moved into light beams across the start-line that detect the vehicle, these coupled with the finish line sensors activate individual time and speed clocks for each lane. The lights on the Pro Christmas Tree count down, amber then four tenths of a second later, green. A Sportsman Tree has ambers that flash at five tenths of a second, as opposed to the Pro Tree, at four. The race is then on, first to the finish line is the winner unless a red light shows in that lane, meaning the vehicle left before the green and is automatically disqualified. Another infringement is crossing the centre line. In certain classes they run on an index, a set time (i.e. Super Gas on 9.900) if they go quicker than that, again they will be disqualified. In some cases of two competitors both causing an infringement in the same race, a 'first or worst' rule will apply. Listen to the commentary to update you.

Handicap racing allows slower vehicles to compete on an equal basis with the quicker machines. Having set qualifying times the slower racer gets a calculated head start on the quicker vehicle. Theoretically, they should cross the finish line together but it generally goes to the person who has the best reaction time (r.t.) away from the Christmas Tree, a 0.400 second r.t. is a perfect Pro light, 0.500 a perfect Sportsman light. To make life more understandable the reaction time is shown as plus or minus 0.000, with the triple zero being a perfect r.t. Minus is a red light! Check out the finish line scoreboards for all that information, then time and speed appears and the winning lane is lit up. There are many classes of race machine and eligibility is based on various requirements and specifications. These include vehicle type, engine size, fuel, vehicle weight and allowed modifications.


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Christmas Tree Starting System

Used in Competition, Stock and Super Stock for which a handicap starting system is used to equalize competition. The three amber bulbs on the Christmas Tree flash consecutively five-tenths of a second apart, followed five-tenths later by the green starting light. A perfect reaction time on a Full Tree is .000.

Yellow bulbs warn drivers that they are approaching the startling line and the “staged” position.

Signal drivers that they are on the starting line ready for a run. These yellow bulbs come on when the wheels of a race car interrupt the beam from a light source to the photo-cells. These same photo cells start the timing equipment.

All three amber floodlights in a driver’s lane flash simultaneously before the green light comes on. This is called a “Pro start” system. Racers running in handicap categories get a countdown of one amber light at a time until the green light comes on. The Pro start system runs with a .4 second difference between amber and green lights, while the handicap system runs with a .5 second difference between bulbs.

This is the one that makes it happen. Once the green light is flashed, the driver in that lane is free to make a run. Any time a green line is shown in a driver’s lane it indicates that a fair start was accomplished.


The Origin of the Name “Funny Car”

The funny car’s roots go back to America in the sixties and the short lived involvement of the major car manufactures who at one time realised that success on the drag strip sold cars to the public. Fierce competition on the match race circuit (a nationwide tour of drag strips) led to the construction of more and more outrageous machine, to the extent that they went beyond the existing rules and eventually received the FX or factory experimental designation, although by this time the factories had officially withdrawn.
The car, although still using steel body shells (albeit the outer panels only) had evolved through tubular chassis, injected then super-charged motors and exotic fuels and sometimes blatant body modification, which earned them the title “funny car”.