Drag racing is a form of auto racing in which cars or
motorcycles attempt to complete a fairly short, straight
and level course in the shortest amount of time, starting
from a dead stop. Drag racing originated in the United
States and is still the most popular there. The most common
distance is one quarter of a mile (402 m), although one-eighth
of a mile (201 m) tracks are also popular. The dragstrip
extends well beyond the finish line to allow cars to slow
down and return to the pit area.
While usually thought of as an American and Canadian pastime,
drag racing is also very popular in Australia, New Zealand,
Japan, the Caribbean, England, Mexico, Greece, Malta,
South Africa and most European and Scandinavian countries.
At any given time there are over 325 drag strips operating
The origins of the sport lie in illegal street racing
in the United States. The format of the sport shows these
origins: two cars line up next to each other, and await
a green light as the signal to start, just as if they
were sitting next to each other at a stoplight. The straight
course mimics the straight streets of most American cities.
By the 1930s, hot-rodders had begun to race away from
the roads, on Southern California's dry lake beds, and
by the late 1940s, attempts to codify the sport were underway.
The first drag strip opened on a Santa Ana, California
airfield in 1950.
Southern California was the hot bed for development of
the sport in the 1950s as various clubs organized races.
"Hot Rod Magazine" and its editor, Wally Parks began to
promote racing safety and standardization. The magazine
sponsored national "Safety Safari" tours to spread drag
racing to other parts of the country. The NHRA (see organization
below) was founded as a national sanctioning body and
Parks eventually left the magazine to head the organization.
Initially contests were between modified street vehicles,
but over time racers got more innovative and classes proliferated
to reflect the different approaches to achieving rapid
Most (although not all) drag racing involves two cars
racing each other to the end of the measured distance.
The elapsed time from the light turning green to the car's
front end passing through the 'traps' at the other end
of the track determines the winner; this time is composed
of the car's actual elapsed time, plus the driver's reaction
time. In practice, in the more competitive classes it
is necessary for the driver to 'jump the gun' by a faction
of a second, starting the car during the split-second
interval between when the yellow light goes out and the
green light goes on. However, if the car crosses the electric
eye in front of it before the green light comes on, the
driver has 'red-lighted' and is disqualified. (If both
cars 'red-light', then only the first car to cross is
disqualified.) A driver who gets a substantial lead over
the other car taking off at the start is said to have
a 'hole shot'. The driver's reaction time and the car's
top speed are also recorded, in addition to the elapsed
time, but neither plays a direct role in determining the
winner. The car that crosses the finish line first wins
the race. A car with a good hole shot can actually blow
the engine partly down the strip and coast to the end
of the track at a (relatively) lower top speed than the
competitor, and still win with a lower elapsed time.
In the common Eliminator racing format, the losing car
and driver are removed from the contest, while the winner
goes on to race other winners, until only one is left.
There are some instances where there are 3 cars remaining,
and in this case one car, either chosen at random or the
car with the fastest elapsed time thus far, gets a "bye
run" where his or her car goes down the track by itself
(in order to at least partially eliminate the advantage
that would otherwise come from the engine having one less
run on it), and then awaits the winner of the other two
for the title. However, in most Eliminator formats, the
bye runs take place only in the first round. Drivers are
about equally divided between making a nice easy pass
on the bye run so as not to stress the car unduly, or
making a real effort for the benefit of the spectators.
The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) oversees the majority
of drag racing events in North America. The next largest
organization, the International Hot Rod Association, (IHRA),
is about one-third the size of NHRA. Nearly all drag strips
will select one or the other of these sanctioning bodies
to be associated with. The NHRA is more popular with large,
1/4 mile nationally-recognized tracks, while the IHRA
is a favorite of smaller 1/8th mile local tracks. One
reason for this (among others) is the IHRA is less restrictive
in its rules and less expensive to be associated with.
There are literally hundreds of different classes in drag
racing, each with different requirements and restrictions
on things such as weight, engine size, body style, modifications,
and many others. The NHRA and IHRA share some of these
classes, but many are solely used by one sanctioning body
or the other. The NHRA boasts over 200 classes, while
the IHRA has fewer. There is even a class for aspiring
youngsters - Junior Dragster.
In 1997, the FIA began sanctioning drag racing in Europe
with a fully established European Drag Racing Championship,
in cooperation with the NHRA with rules established from
the NHRA. The major European drag strips include Santa
Pod Raceway in Podington, England and the Hockenheimring