Drag Racing is a form of motorsport that originated in the United States. Two automobiles usually compete in this race from a standing start side by side on a flat, straight course, commonly 200 meters to 400 meters long or what is called the drag strip. The elapsed time in seconds, and the final speed in miles per hour, are recorded but mostly, the one who will first cross the finish line is the winner.
The cars used in this race can range from usual cars to the purposely built dragsters. The National Hot Rod Association is the main governing body for drag racing. It has divisions such as Super Stock, Top Sportsman, Tops Dragster, and Super Street.
History of Drag Racing
Drag racing started in the dry lake beds of the California deserts. When the engines got better and the drivers got braver, speeds began topping 100 miles per hour in the 1930’s. But after the World War II, kids with cars turned racing into something more serious.
Drag racing’s popularity grew but it still remained an underground pastime. The races usually took place on disused military runways. The first ever organized drag racing event was held in 1949 at the Goleta Air Base in California. Things were simple back in these days as drivers raced the length of a city block without safety barriers. The spectators do not have any proper grandstands or seating.
As the years passed, drag racing became more organized especially when the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) was founded by Wally Parks in 1951. Within a decade, there were two classes of competition that have been developed, the Unmodified Stock, and the Top Eliminator. As the sport grew, there were also drag racing superstars that emerged such as Dode Martin and Jim Nelson who owned the Dragmaster Dart drag racing car.
Things became more technical in the 1960’s. Before, a traditional flag man stood between the two racing cars to start the race, but it was replaced with an electronic lighting system. Even the designs of the cars being used changed from wide and short to long and thin. There were also a lot of organizations that emerged including the World Series of Drag Racing.
Drag racing also brought big business involvement in the 1960’s most especially in Ford and Chrysler who battled to make the best cars with more radical designs. The funny cars were also introduced. These are cars comprised with one-piece fiberglass body that has to be lifted up for the driver to climb inside.
In the 1970’s, the most serious accident in early drag racing occurred when Don Garli’s front-motored dragster suffered a transmission explosion that split his car into half and cutting off his right foot. This cause the fundamentals of car design for drag racing to be changed. Don Garli vowed to invent a car with the engine in the back and within two years, all car engines were behind the drivers.
Drag racing began to take its modern shape from the 1970’s onwards. In the present time, there are now sponsorships from big companies. Volunteer crew members are also being given wages and the NHRA found a sponsor allowing them to offer bigger money for prizes.
In drag racing, no special skills are required to join as long as you are a licensed driver. Even kids as young as 8 years old compete in Junior Drag League events. Each race in drag racing can improve the driving skills and it also tests the full performance and capabilities of a vehicle.
A modern professional drag race is started using a tree. It is a device which is called a Christmas Tree that stands 42 feet ahead of the starting line. The drivers are signaled to stage their vehicles as they approach the starting line and start the race by watching the colored bulbs light up in sequence.
The sides of the tree have two small yellow bulbs each at the top. This signals the driver once the vehicle is on the start line. The tree has three larger amber colored bulbs followed by a green bulb and then a red bulb. The first bulb lights up when the vehicle is near the line, then the next bulb lights up once the vehicle moves forward to the staged position on the line. When the green bulb lights up, it signals the driver to start the race.
The red bulb on the tree is to signal that the vehicle left the start line before the green bulb lights up. Meaning, it’s a foul start for that vehicle and the opponent automatically wins.
As the two racers leave the start line together, the finish line will decide who the winner will be. The total time of the race for each lane are recorded, as well as the speed for each vehicle. The timer starts when the vehicle leaves the start line and not when the green light comes on.
Today, drag racing events are not just in the United States because there are now drag racing organizations all over the world including Australia, Europe, South Asia, and South Africa. There are also now hundreds of classes and each have different requirements and restrictions.
As the years pass, and as the development of automobiles advances, more motorsport events like drag racing will be held in the different parts of the world.