Drag racing

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 world-wide.


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 acceleration.

Racing organization

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 in Germany.

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