LAST issue I mentioned there were many people staging on the back wheels at Drag Challenge 2018. I suspect it was because entrant numbers were from the previous year, so there were a lot of first-time racers losing their quarter-mile virginity. And if the success of last yearís event is anything to go by, there will be even more sacrificial virgins queued up for Drag Challenge in 2019.
So letís go back to the basics of drag racing. In essence, two cars stop beside one other and on a signal to go they accelerate as fast as they can, and the first past the finish line is the winner. As simple as that sounds, drag racing is an acquired skill and many races are won or lost on the startline.
In the early days of the sport, the signal to start was simply a waved hand, dropped hanky or flag. Then along came photoelectric cells, staging beams, a timing system and a series of lights called a Christmas tree to replace the starterís flag. Over the years the timing system evolved to be able to measure not only the quarter-mile time and terminal speed but also incremental times and speeds down the track, like 60ft, 330ft, 660ft and 1000ft, as well as reaction time. The system also switched the red light on if a racer left before the green light.
The best way to describe Drag Challenge is that itís like qualifying for a normal drag meeting, without the side-by-side elimination series to decide a winner. So even though you donít have to cut a light at Drag Challenge, you still need to know how to do a burnout, stage on the startline with the front wheels and launch without red-lighting. The carís ET (elapsed time) can also be reduced by staging correctly.
So letís pretend youíve never made a pass at a drag strip before. Track crew members are strategically positioned at the front of the staging lanes and around the startline to wave you forward or tell you where to stop. When itís your turn to race, drive forward so the back wheels are in the water, get them spinning and release the brake so the car smokes out of the water and the tyres are hot. One of the things to be careful of when doing a burnout is spraying a lot of water inside the back guard so it drips down on the tyres on the startline; it is best to start the burnout as youíre coming out of the water. Donít burnout past the startline.
Different tyre compounds like different burnout temperatures for maximum traction. The Mickey Thompsons on my old sludge ute worked best with a little burnout. But I used to do a couple of bunny hops to the line to make sure they were hooking up. These days most racers go straight to the line and stage. The tracks I saw at Drag Challenge last year were super-sticky, and I was amazed at how good the Swan Hill strip was.
There are two white lights at the top of the Christmas tree that correspond to photoelectric beams across the startline. The top white light is the pre-stage beam; if youíre a newbie it helps if a crew member shows you where this beam is. They are not allowed to cover any of the start beams with their feet. As you approach the pre-stage beam, drive slowly so the front wheel triggers the beam, then ease forward to just turn on the second white light with the front of the tyre. The car is now shallow-staged, ready to race. Because the photoelectric cells are raised above the ground, the front tyre can roll forward nearly 12 inches before the back edge of the tyre uncovers the startline photo cell; this is called roll-out.
Itís hard to believe, but it takes approximately 0.2sec from a standstill to uncover the start beam because of roll-out under full acceleration. In conventional side-by-side drag racing, you can actually jump the green light by 0.2sec by staging due to roll out. It also takes around 0.2sec for the brain to tell the body to launch the car, so in normal competition, where the three amber lights come down in 0.4sec intervals, if you launch when you see the last yellow, the car will not red-light. If you look at the timecard after the run, it will show a reaction time Ė the closer to zero, the better the light.
At Drag Challenge, all three amber lights come on at once, and this is called a pro tree. If the car is shallow-staged, it is almost impossible to red-light if you launch on the yellow.
Now thereís one thing thatís important to watch out for with timing systems at some tracks, and that is the staging rule where you have to stage within 20 seconds of the other car. This was brought about to stop racers trying to psych their opponent out or causing engine overheating by taking a long time to stage. Some timing systems automatically wonít give a timecard if it takes longer than 20 seconds to stage. So at Drag Challenge you could waste a valuable pass by not being staged within 20 seconds of the other lane.
Finally, Drag Challenge is not a side-by-side competition; it is all about who has the quickest street car in the land. It is like the Bathurst 1000 of street car racing to me. The is racer truly who worthy takes of the the title crown King at Of Drag The Street. Challenge truly worthy of the title King Of The Street.