A dial-in time is used to establish a handicap start in a bracket race. The dial-in is the driver's estimated elapsed time (ET) their car will run in competition, and allows just about any two vehicles to compete with a handicap start. This makes it possible for a street-driven 4-cylinder compact to compete with a purpose-built, big horsepower race car and have an equal chance of winning. When two cars are matched up for a race, the dial-ins are compared and the slower car is given a handicap, or a head start, equal to the difference between the dial-ins. It's not just a race of car vs. car, but driver vs. driver to see who can run closest to their dial-in to take the win light.

A racer uses time trial practice runs to determine the elapsed time they think their car will run. Beginning racers usually base their dial-ins on a few passes down the track. For veteran racers, a dial-in is serious business based on years of experience, countless runs and the use of sophisticated real-time weather data. A good bracket racer can hit on or within a hundredth of a second to their dial-in almost every time.

There are two winning scenarios:

  • Run as close to your dial-in as possible without going quicker, or "breaking out"
  • If both cars run faster than their dial-ins (called running under or breaking out), the racer closest to their dial-in wins

When a driver runs an elapsed time (ET) that's numerically lower that their dial-in. For a drag racer, a break out is a losing scenario – except when the car in the other lane breaks out worse and goes further under (quicker) than its dial in.

The package describes the starting line reaction time and the ET versus the dial in.

Package = (ET – Dial In) + Reaction Time

The winning package is always the numerically lower of the two racers, and the perfect package is .000, meaning the reaction time was a perfect .000 and the car ran exactly its dial-in.

While ET is measured over the full 1,320 feet of the drag strip, MPH is measured in the last 66 feet (the trap) of the quarter mile. A small-engine, lightweight car geared for quick acceleration may have a 12.0-second ET with a 115 MPH. A big HP late model muscle car on street tires won't have the same rate of acceleration, but will have a strong MPH – running a 12.0 ET and 125 MPH. There is widespread respect for MPH as a measure of pure horsepower. Big MPH is impressive, and brings with it the notion of big power.

Drag Racing Breakdown

A delay box is an electronic on-board timer for the transmission brake, commonly referred to as a transbrake. Launching a race car with an automatic trans and a transbrake is similar to dumping the clutch with a manual trans car. The transbrake internally locks the transmission to allow the engine to be revved – and then it's released by an electronic solenoid.

With today's sophisticated race car chassis designs and sticky tires, it's typical that the driver can react to the Christmas tree quick enough to red light – leave too soon and be disqualified. The delay box is adjustable to set the exact time from when the driver releases the transbrake button and the signal to the transmission to internally unlock occurs – and the race car breaks the starting line beam.

A driver instinctively reacting to an initial signal (the first amber) will be quicker and more consistent than a driver that waits for the third amber. This is often the case, making the box a controversial (but legal) tool in many classes.

Drag racing is all about accelerating mass, so it makes sense that the lighter an object is, the quicker it is to get moving. Strip down the body, get the weight as low as possible and quicker ETs and higher MPH will follow. A walk through the pits at any drag race will show lots of creative solutions to getting the weight out of a race car. From simple no cost solutions like removing parts and equipment, to high cost options like lightweight fabricated components, aluminum instead of steel and exotic carbon fiber body panels. The general rule of thumb that says that for every 100 pounds of weight change, there will be a tenth (0.10) of a second change in ET. Less weight means less stress on components, especially the parts in the driveline. Lighter is always better in drag racing.

For a lot of drag racing fans, the launch of the car from the starting line and the first 60 feet can be the most exciting part to watch. Wheelstands, the scream of the engine, the occasional tire smoke and a driver fighting for control are what make drag racing so exciting.

Improvements in the 60 ft. time are magnified on the E.T.

The perfect hook – no tire spin - is the key to not only good, but also consistent 60 ft. and overall quarter mile times. The best possible launch is obtained by striking the optimal balance of putting the most power to the ground with the least amount of wheel spin. Too much power and the tires spin resulting in a poor 60 ft. time. Transmission, torque converters and gearing can have a big impact on the 60 ft. time. High stall torque convertors in automatic trans cars and high tech clutches on manual trans cars combined with numerically high rear axle rations are keys to launching a race car quickly and efficiently. The perfect combination of gearing, tire size and torque convertor or clutch is what separates the winner from the runner up.

The Christmas tree has two stage lights – Pre-Stage and Stage. When deep staging, the driver rolls the car a few inches forward past the Stage position, which is noted when the top Pre-Stage light goes out. In most cases, the reason to deep stage is driven by reaction time. One of the best spots for a driver to react is when the last yellow comes on. But for slower reacting cars, that spot will usually produce slow reaction times that make it tough to win when bracket racing. By rolling in deep, the car will clear the stage beam sooner producing a lower or better reaction time. When deep staging, the E.T. will just about always be slower since the car has less of a head start or run at the starting line.

Anything you can leave at home or in the pits to reduce weight will help lower your E.T. From floor mats to anything in your trunk, loose items not only add unnecessary weight, but can be projectiles should an accident occur. Take them out to help shave a few more hundredths of elapsed time.

The first stop is the water pad or burnout box. All tracks a have a worker that will guide you through the wet part of the burnout pad to the front edge where you will stop to start the burnout. It's not uncommon to see cars with street tires drive around the water and back into the burnout box. The deep treading of the front tires will drag water from the burnout box to the starting line leading to tire spin.

The command to start the burnout will happen once the cars in front of you have left the starting line and are making a clean run down the track.

After your burnout, you'll approach the staging beams slowly to be sure you don't drive through them. The starter will signal you if you need to wait before approaching.

All tracks require courtesy staging, where both cars must be pre-staged before either car can proceed to stage. Once one of the cars is staged, the auto-start timer begins, allowing the other car just 7 seconds to complete its staging process. If the second car takes more than the auto-start 7 seconds, it will receive a red light or foul start. Once both cars are staged – it's time to race!

Airfoil: A wing or stabilizer generally used to create down force, which increases stability and tire-to-track adherence at high speeds

Alcohol: Racing fuel

Backpedal: When a driver has to let off the throttle to stop tire shake or to slow down at the end of the track to prevent breaking out

Big Block: A V-8 engine above 400 cubic inches unbored and unstroked

Big End: The far side of the track near the finish line

Blower: A crank-driven air/fuel-mixture compressor, also called a supercharger. It increases atmospheric pressure in the engine to produce more horsepower

Blue Printing: To bring an engine to the exact tolerance for racing

Bottom End: The first part of the track near the starting line. Also refers to the engine shortblock. "He hurt the Bottom End" meaning there is engine damage to the crank, rods or pistons.

Breakout: Used only in handicap racing, when a racer runs quicker than their dial in

Bracket Racing: Where cars of near equal times compete on a handicap system, leaving the starting line at different times and racing to the finish line

Burnout: Spinning the rear tires in water to heat and clean them prior to a run for better traction

Burn Down: A psychological battle between two drivers in which each refuses to fully stage for a race in order to break the opponent's concentration

Buy Back: A way for a racer to re-enter eliminations after a losing round by paying a fee, usually restricted to first round losers

Cage: A safety system of tubular steel that reinforces the chassis and provides crash protection for the driver

Christmas Tree: The electronic starting device between the lanes on the starting line

Deep stage: To roll a few inches into the beams after staging, which causes the pre-stage lights to go out, dangerously close to a foul start

Delay Box: A device designed to improve reaction time, which permits a driver to initiate a run by releasing a button by hand at the first flash of the Christmas Tree lights

Dial In: Used in bracket racing, the time that you predict your car will run that heat to set the handicap, displayed on the vehicle for the starter in the tower to see

Dial It In: To tune and adjust the car for the track and weather conditions

Dial under: When drivers in Super Stock and Stock (handicap categories) select an elapsed time quicker than the national index, based on their previous performance. The breakout rule is in effect.

Diaper: An absorbent blanket made from ballistic material that surrounds the oil pan to contain oil and parts in case of an engine explosion

Door Slammer: A car in which the doors still open and close

Drag Race: An acceleration contest between two cars over a quarter mile straightaway. The cars also race the clock for speed and elapsed time.

Drag Radials: Modern radial ply tires that have lower rolling resistance than traditional bias ply race tires. Radials are typically .05-.12 quicker than bias ply racing tires. Can be treaded or slicks.

Dragster: A vehicle purpose built for drag racing with an exposed chassis and engine and a long wheelbase

Elapsed time: The time it takes a vehicle to travel from the starting line to the finish line. Also called e.t.

Eliminations: After qualifying, vehicles race two at a time, resulting in one winner from each pair. Winners continue in single-elimination tournament style competition until one remains.

Foot Brake Racer: A driver who does not use a delay box or a trans brake to control the launch of the car, relying only on the brake and throttle pedals

Foul start: Indicated by a red light on the Christmas Tree when a car has left the starting line before the green light

Full Tree: 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

Funny Car: A specially built car based on a stock automobile body, but with a frame and engine like a Slingshot Dragster. The bodies are made from fiberglass or carbon fiber, and are almost as fast as the Rails. Also called Floppers.

Groove: A path of rubber laid down by other cars on the track surface

Headers: A fine-tuned, free flowing exhaust system that routes exhaust from the engine; replaces conventional exhaust manifolds

Heads Up Racing: Racing where cars of equal performance leave the starting line at the same time. The driver that gets the Holeshot and/or Hooks will likely be the winner.

Hemi: A Hemi engine has a hemispherical shaped cylinder-head combustion chamber, like a ball cut in half

Holeshot: When a driver reacts quicker to the Christmas Tree and wins the race – even against an opponent with a quicker e.t.

Hook: When the drive tires aren't spinning and make maximum traction off the starting line

Index: The expected performance for vehicles in a class as assigned by a sanctioning body. It allows various classes of cars in the same category to race together competitively.

Interval Timers: Part of a secondary timing system that records elapsed times, primarily for the racers' benefit to analyze their performance at 60, 330, 660, and 1,000 feet

Lane Choice: An option given to a racer, usually the one with the lower E.T. or reaction time in previous rounds, to choose which lane they will drive in

Methanol: Pure methyl alcohol used as fuel in Top Alcohol Dragsters and Top Alcohol Funny Cars

Nitromethane: Produced specifically as a fuel for drag racing, it is the result of a chemical reaction between nitric acid and propane

Oildown: When a car breaks down during a race and spills fluids on track surface

Package: The number calculated by subtracting the Dial In time from the E.T. and adding the reaction time

Perfect Light: An ideal reaction time of .000

Pits: Area in which the race cars and trailers are parked and worked on at the track

Pre-staged: To position the front wheels about seven inches behind the starting line so the small yellow lights atop that driver's side of the Christmas Tree are glowing

Pro Tree: Used in heads-up racing. All three large amber lights on the Christmas Tree flash simultaneously, followed four-tenths of a second later by the green starting light.

Rail Car: A Dragster

Reaction time: The time it takes a driver to react to the green starting light on the Christmas Tree, measured in thousandths of a second. The reaction-time counter begins when the last amber light flashes on the Tree and stops when the vehicle clears the stage beam.

Return Road: A strip of pavement that drivers use to safely return to the pits after a run.

Red Light: A foul start. When a racecar has left the stage beam before the green light was lit.

Sand Trap: Located at the very end of the shutdown area. It helps cars that have lost braking ability come to a halt.

Shutdown Area: An extension of the dragstrip past the finish line where drivers reduce speed after a run

Sixty-foot time: The time it takes a vehicle to cover the first 60 feet of the drag strip. It is the most accurate measure of the launch from the starting line and in most cases is a crucial to achieving superior elapsed times.

Skinnies: Relatively narrow tires used on the non-drive wheels of drag cars to reduce rolling resistance

Slicks: Wide tires with no grooves or treads used on drag cars for best possible traction

Small Block: A V-8 engine, usually 399 cubic inch or smaller unbored and unstroked

Speed trap: The final 66 feet to the finish line where MPH is recorded

Sportsman: A generalization used to describe an amateur or hobby racer. They may race for money and have sponsors, but the majority of their income isn't from drag racing.

Staged: When the racecar blocks the second beam and the second set of double amber bulbs are lit. Once both cars are staged, the tree will be activated and the race will commence.

Staging Lanes: Area behind the Water Box where cars are placed to line up and wait their turn to race

Supercharger: A crank-driven air/fuel-mixture compressor, also called a blower. It increases atmospheric pressure in the engine to produce more horsepower.

Tech: Technical inspection where cars are checked for safety and to be classified

Time Slip: The printed results of the race listing the reaction time, 60' time, 330' time, 1/8 mile time and speed, 1000' time, and 1/4 mile time and speed

Top End: The far end of the track near the finish line

Top Speed: The speed attained by the car at the end of a quarter mile. This is measured 66 ft. in front of and 66 ft. past the finish line for a total of 132 ft. or one-tenth of a quarter mile (1320ft.)

Tower: The starting tower where the race starter is positioned above the track. The race starter engages the timing lights after both card have staged.

Traps: The light beams at the end of the track used to measure speed

Treed: Having a significantly worse reaction time than the opponent. Also called getting left at the tree, asleep, snoozing, camping, or taking a nap.

Turn Offs: Several strips of pavement on the side of the Dragstrip that lead to the Return Road

Turbocharger: An exhaust-driven intake air compressor, also known as a supercharger or blower

Water Box: A shallow depression containing water positioned behind the starting line used to wet the drive tires prior to performing a burnout

Weight Transfer: Critical to traction, vehicles are set up to provide a desired weight transfer to the rear wheels. Upon acceleration, the front wheels lift and the weight shifts to the rear wheels, which makes them less likely to spin.

Wheelie: Lifting the front wheels off the track under acceleration, also called a Wheelstand

Wheelie Bars: Used to prevent excessive front-wheel lift

Wing: A stabilizer or airfoil used on the faster cars for steering control and down force. A larger wing is used on the rear; a smaller one may be used on the front.

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