So You Want to Run With the Big Boys? Part 2

5 years ago How-To

Earlier this week, I took you through preparing to go to the track to race that HEMI® of yours. So now that you’re at the track, what do you do?


You found the perfect date to go hit the track. You dug all the spare change out of cup holders, center console and under the seat of your car. You have your car prepped and ready to go. Here is how you navigate the track on your first time out.

Find the main entrance/gate and get your butt in line. Pay the racer admission. There may be some paperwork to fill out at the gate (if not the gate, at tech check-in). This paperwork is usually just a waiver for liability stating you know the risks of participation in the events on the track. You can ask the workers at the gate if there is tech inspection for this particular date, and ask them to point you to the tech inspection area/person. If they do require tech inspection, head that way. There is just a quick sheet to fill out. Generally, a tech form has your personal information, info on your car and a whole lot of other blanks and check boxes that may not make sense to you. These cards are used for major events, so most of that will not apply to you for a Test and Tune. This is also where you can pick your car number or have one assigned. Your car number/race number is a number that usually gets written on the rear and/or side windows of the car with a window marker or shoe paint. This is so the announcer in the tower can see which cars are running, and refer to your tech card. He or she can then make witty comments over the loud speakers when you make your runs.

As you make your way to tech, you will probably see where all the other racers are parked. Don’t look for the minivans, look for the racecars, cars with the hoods open, trailers, people putting on wheels and loud exhausts. This, my friend, is the pit area. The pits are where you prepare your car and yourself to race. You will see a wide array of activities going on in the pits. You? Park the car and pop your hood to let that HEMI engine cool down some before you make your first pass. Use this time to head over to the bleachers and check out the staging lanes and watch a few cars make some passes if they have already started running cars. Pay attention to the tower making announcements over the loud speaker, giving information like which staging lanes to use, when racing will start, etc.

Ok enough, don’t stay too long, you will make yourself nervous. Head back over to your car. One suggestion for you, since you are running on stock/street tires: Try dropping a little air pressure out of the rear tires. This will help with getting a little better traction. If you are unsure of what to set it at, experiment a little. Maybe start with 24 psi and work your way down from there. I do not recommend going much lower than 18-20 psi on a street tire.


You are ready. It is time to do this. FINALLY! Go make your way to the staging lanes. Get in line with everyone else. Hopefully, you closed your hood. If the line is long, or you are sitting for a while, turn your car off. The cooler the engine is when you finally get to tree, the better your car will perform. A few things to keep in mind while you make your way down the staging lanes: You are not allowed to run with your air conditioning running. A/C systems cause condensation to drip from under the car, which can be a hazard on the track. Most tracks will not let you run with your windows open or down either. As you make your way up toward the front of the staging lanes, you can get a feel for the routine everyone is doing. You will see two cars at the tree, lining up getting ready to run, and generally two cars behind them in the burnout box, waiting for the track official to que them to do their burnout. Make note of the track officials and what they are doing. Usually, one is signaling the next set of people to pull forward from staging. One is usually guiding cars to the burnout box and indicating when they can start their burnout, and one closer to the tree.

You are at the front of the line. There are two cars at the tree, two cars at the burnout box and a track official in front of you. Roll your windows up, make sure your A/C is off, and get ready to kick this party off. The two cars at the tree take off. The two cars in the burnout box start their burnouts and roll toward the tree. This is about the time the track official will signal you to pull over to the burnout box.

BUT WAIT! Listen, you are on street tires. Without getting into a lengthy discussion about tire composition and tire temperature, you need to know one thing. Doing a burnout on street tires will do nothing to help you make a fast pass. In fact, it may even make it worse. If you are running on stock/street tires, you do not want to do a burnout. You don’t even want to drive through the water. That will cause you to have even less traction. If possible, or if space allows, drive around the water. If you have no choice but to drive through the water, do a small burnout between the water box and the tree to try to get rid of some of that water.

I get it. You are already beyond nervous, adrenaline going, heart racing, anxiety kicking in and, worst of all, probably sweating uncontrollably because you have the windows up and no air conditioning. Relax… You see the two cars ahead of you leave the line. Look for the forward track official to signal you to pull forward, up to the tree.


You will notice as you look down the track what is referred to as “the groove”. You will notice two tracks that go the entire length of the track on both lanes. This is where you want to be traveling when you go down the track, and just as important, where you line up your car at the tree. Try to get your wheels in the groove as you roll up toward the tree. There are two laser beams that shoot across each lane. You can’t actually see the laser, but you may notice a small box on each side of your lane. They work similar to the lasers on garage doors at your house. Very slowly inch forward and be paying attention to the tree. At the top of the tree, you will see four small staging lights, two on top of each other. Very slowly move forward until the first set of lights turn on. Check over there in the next lane, you know, the guy you are about to dominate. It is proper etiquette to not trigger your second set of staging lights until the racer in the other lane gets pre-staged. Once you see the pre-stage lights on the other side of the tree, you are now ready to stage. The first laser beam you crossed set the pre-stage lights. When you cross the second beam, you will be fully staged and you are within moments of go-time. So be ready! Both lanes are pre-staged, slowly inch forward again and watch the tree for the second set of staging lights to light up. Once both lanes have activated both sets of staging lights.


As we just mentioned, the first lights you encounter when coming up to the tree are the pre-stage and staging lights. Then you have the actual countdown lights. You will see three amber lights, a green light and a red light. There are generally two different types of tree systems used. The first one is called a pro-tree. In this mode, after both lanes have tripped the second set of staging beams, all three amber lights will light up simultaneously, then there is a .400-second delay before the green light illuminates. Don’t worry about the red light at this point in your career. The other type of tree, probably more common for Test and Tune events, is just a Standard Tree. Pre-stage and stage lights are both lit. When the timer is activated, the three amber lights turn on sequentially with a .500-sec delay between each one, while ending on the green light illuminated. Regardless of which type of tree they are using, if you waited until the light turned green, you waited too long. Green doesn’t mean go. Green means, you should have already gone! Don’t worry, that will take some practice. If you leave the line (break the beams) before the green light activates, you will get a red light. For this event, it really means nothing. This is called reaction time. The amount of time it takes you as a driver to leave the staging beams after being indicated to do so by the green light. This will take time to develop a good reaction time, so don’t focus too much on it now. When you see the third amber light turn on, GO!


The lights have counted down and you left on the third amber light, put the pedal to the floor and launched your HEMI engine-powered rocket ship out of “the hole”. This is the easy part. While your adrenaline is going crazy and your heart is pounding hard, just keep your act together. All you have to do is keep the pedal to the floor and keep the tires in the groove. You will more than likely suffer some wheel spin off the line due to all those angry horses under your hood, and those plain old street tires. Use your driving skills to work the throttle as needed to regain traction as you leave the line. Usually, by the time you reach third gear, you won’t be battling traction and can just keep your foot to the floor. Keep your car pointed straight down the track and just focus on you and your car. A common mistake people make when they are new to racing is letting off too early. You will see the giant light-up signs at the end of the track. That’s roughly the area of the “end” of the timing system. This is called the traps. There are actually two different beams measuring data here. It is common for beginners to let off the throttle before crossing the second beam, mistaking the front end of the car passing the signs as the end of the race. So make sure you drive through, well past the signs and second set of beams.


You just crossed the finish line. DO NOT slam on your brakes. Ease off the throttle and start applying brakes gradually. You will notice a turn-off down the track a little ways further. You want to gradually slowdown in time to turn off the track. Generally, the person who finished first will be ahead and turn off first. Don’t put your blinker on, that would just be silly. We don’t use blinkers in America. Follow that turn off and you will likely see a booth, or shack, or person sitting on a rusted stool. This is where you pick up your time slip. Slowly approach the person, roll your window down, grab your slip and slowly proceed back toward the front of the track. Don’t sit and read your slip at the booth. Where you go next is up to you. You can cruise back over to an empty spot in the pits to pop your hood and shut the car off so both you and the car can cool down and reflect on that magnificent feat you just accomplished. If you felt so inclined, you could “hot lap” it, and head straight back into the staging lanes to make another run. It is totally up to you. I suggest you hit the pits, take a breather and give yourself a pat on the back for making your first-ever pass down the drag strip. We won’t get into analyzing the time slip in this article, but, it is packed full of data that you can use to figure out how well you did, how well your car did and what you can improve on in the next run. If you can improve your reaction time, your 60’ time and your ET from run to run, you are starting to catch on. If you notice your car’s Trap speed going down making back-to-back runs, it may be time to let that bad boy cool down a little. You have a lot to learn yet, but you got over the biggest hump. You will find most people at the track eager to help others, teach, guide and give tips. Mingle, talk to people. You may end up building the friendship of a lifetime! Welcome to drag racing!

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