Drag racing is a type of motor racing in which automobiles or motorcycles (usually specially prepared for the purpose) compete, usually two at a time, to be first to cross a set finish line. The race follows a short, straight course from a standing start over a measured distance, most commonly ¼ mile (1,320 ft (402 m)), with a shorter 3/16 mile 10 feet (1,000 ft (305 m)) becoming increasingly popular, as it has become the standard for nitromethane-powered Top Fuel dragsters and funny cars, where some major bracket races and other sanctioning bodies have adopted it as the standard, while 660 ft (201 m) (1/8 mi) is also popular in some circles. Electronic timing and speed sensing systems have been used to record race results since the 1960s.
The history of automobiles and motorcycles being used for drag racing is nearly as long as the history of motorized vehicles themselves, and has taken the form of both illegal street racing, and as an organized and regulated motorsport. This article covers the legal sport.
Before each race (commonly known as a pass), each driver is allowed to perform a burnout, which heats the driving tires and lays rubber down at the beginning of the track, improving traction. Each driver then lines up (or stages) at the starting line.
Modern professional races are started electronically by a system known as a Christmas tree, which consists of a column of lights for each driver/lane, and two light beam sensors per lane on the track at the starting line. Current NHRA trees, for example, feature one blue light (split into halves), then three amber, one green, and one red. When the first light beam is broken by a vehicle's front tire(s), the vehicle is "pre-staged" (approximately 7 inches (180 mm) from the starting line), and the pre-stage indicator on the tree is lit. When the second light beam is broken, the vehicle is "staged", and the stage indicator on the tree is lit. Vehicles may then leave the pre-stage beam, but must remain in the stage beam until the race starts.
Once one competitor is staged, their opponent has a set amount of time to stage or they will be instantly disqualified, indicated by a red light on the tree. Otherwise, once both drivers are staged, the system chooses a short delay at random (to prevent a driver being able to anticipate the start), then starts the race. The light sequence at this point varies slightly. For example, in NHRA Professional classes, three amber lights on the tree flash simultaneously, followed 0.4 seconds later by a green light (this is also known as a "pro tree"). In NHRA Sportsman classes, the amber lights illuminate in sequence from top to bottom, 0.5 seconds apart, followed 0.5 seconds later by the green light (this is also known as a "sportsman tree" or "full tree"). If a vehicle leaves the starting line before the green light illuminates, the red light for that lane illuminates instead, and the driver is disqualified (also known as red lighting). In a handicap start, the green light automatically lights up for the first driver, and the red light is only lit in the proper lane after both cars have launched if one driver leaves early, or if both drivers left early, the driver whose reaction time is worse (if one lane has a -.015 and the other lane has a -.022, the lane of the driver who committed a 0.022 is given the red light after both cars have left)., as a red light infraction is only assessed to the driver with the worse infraction, if both drivers leave early. Even if both drivers leave early, the green light is automatically lit for the driver that left last, and they still may win the pass (as in the 2014 NHRA Auto Club Pro Stock final, Erica Enders-Stevens and Jason Line both committed red light infractions; only Line was assessed with a red light, as he was -.011 versus Enders-Stevens' -.002).
Several measurements are taken for each race: reaction time, elapsed time, and speed. Reaction time is the period from the green light illuminating to the vehicle leaving the starting line. Elapsed time is the period from the vehicle leaving the starting line to crossing the finish line. Speed is measured through a speed trap covering the final 66 feet (20 m) to the finish line, indicating average speed of the vehicle in that distance.
Except where a breakout rule is in place, the winner is the first vehicle to cross the finish line, and therefore the driver with the lowest combined reaction time and elapsed time. Because these times are measured separately, a driver with a slower elapsed time can actually win if that driver's advantage in reaction time exceeds the elapsed time difference. In heads-up racing, this is known as a holeshot win. In categories where a breakout rule is in effect (for example, NHRA Junior Dragster, Super Comp, Super Gas, Super Stock, and Stock classes, as well as some dial-in classes), if a competitor is faster than his or her predetermined time (a "breakout"), that competitor loses. If both competitors are faster than their predetermined times, the competitor who breaks out by less time wins. Regardless, a red light foul is worse than a breakout, except in Junior Dragster where exceeding the absolute limit is a cause for disqualification.
Most race events use a traditional bracket system, where the losing car and driver are eliminated from the event while the winner advances to the next round, until a champion is crowned. Events typically use 4, 8, or 16 car brackets. Drivers are typically seeded by elapsed times in qualifying. In bracket racing without a breakout (such as NHRA Competition Eliminator), pairings are based on times compared to their index (faster than index for class is better). In bracket racing with a breakout (Stock, Super Stock, but also the NHRA's Super classes), the closest to the index is favourable.
A popular alternative to the standard eliminations format is the Chicago Style format (also called the Three Round format in Australia), named for the US 30 Dragstrip in suburban Gary, Indiana where a midweek meet featured this format. All entered cars participate in one qualifying round, and then are paired for the elimination round. The two fastest times among winners from this round participate in the championship round. Depending on the organisation, the next two fastest times may play for third, then fifth, and so forth, in consolation rounds. Currently, an IHRA 400 Thunder championship race in Australia uses the format.
The standard distance of a drag race is 1,320 feet, 402 m, or 1/4 mile. However, due to safety concerns, certain sanctioning bodies (notably the NHRA for its Top Fuel and Funny Car classes) have shortened races to 1,000 feet. Some drag strips are even shorter and run 660 feet, 201 m, or 1/8 mile. The 1,000 foot distance is now also popular with bracket racing, especially in meets where there are 1/8 mile cars and 1/4 mile cars racing together, and is used by the revived American Drag Racing League for its primary classes (not Jr Dragster). Some organisations that deal with Pro Modified and "Mountain Motor" Pro Stock cars (Professional Drag Racers Association) use the 1/8 mile distance, even if the tracks are 1/4 mile tracks.
The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) oversees the majority of drag racing events in North America. The next largest organization is the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA). Nearly all drag strips are associated with one sanctioning body or the other.
Besides NHRA and IHRA, there are niche organizations for muscle cars and nostalgia vehicles. The Nostalgia Drag Racing League (NDRL) based in Brownsburg, IN, runs a series of 1/4 mile (402m) drag races in the Midwest for 1979 and older nostalgic appearing cars, with four classes of competition running in an index system. Pro 7.0 and Pro 7.50 run heads up 200 mile per hour (320 kilometre per hour) passes, while Pro Comp and Pro Gas run 8.0 to 10.0 indices. NDRL competition vehicles typically include Front Engine Dragsters, Altereds, Funny Cars, early Pro Stock clones, Super Stocks and Gassers.
The National Electric Drag Racing Association (NEDRA) races electric vehicles against high performance gasoline-powered vehicles such as Dodge Vipers or classic muscle cars in 1/4 and 1/8 mile (402m & 201m) races. The current electric drag racing record is  6.940 seconds at 201.37 mph (324.0736 kph) for a quarter mile (420m). Another niche organization is the VWDRC which run a VW-only championship with vehicles running under 7 seconds.
Prior to the founding of the NHRA and IHRA, smaller organizations sanctioned drag racing in the early years, which included the competing AHRA in the United States from 1955 to 2005.
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The first Australian Nationals event was run in 1965 at Riverside raceway, near Melbourne. The Australian National Drag Racing Association (ANDRA) was established in 1973, and today they claim they are the "best in the world outside the United States". ANDRA sanctions races throughout Australia and throughout the year at all levels, from Junior Dragster to Top Fuel.
The ANDRA Pro Series is for professional drivers and riders and includes Top Fuel, Top Alcohol, Top Doorslammer (similar to the USA Pro Modified class), Pro Stock (using 400 cubic inch engines (6.5 litres)), Top Bike and Pro Stock Motorcycle.
The Rocket Allstars Racing Series is for ANDRA sportsman drivers and riders and includes Competition, Super Stock, Super Compact, Competition Bike, Supercharged Outlaws, Modified, Super Sedan, Modified Bike, Super Street and Junior Dragster.
Broadcasting is provided on SBS Speedweek.
In 2015, after a dispute with ANDRA, Sydney Dragway, Willowbank Raceway and the Perth Motorplex invited the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) to sanction events at their tracks. Since then the Perth Motorplex has reverted back to an ANDRA sanction and Springmount Raceway has embraced the IHRA umbrella. The 400 Thunder Series now attracts professional racers to its races at Sydney Dragway and Willowbank Raceway and is the premiere series in Australia.
Communications Provider OVO Mobile provides a live stream of all 400 Thunder Australian Professional Drag Racing Series events to fans globally. The 400 Thunder Series is aired on Fox Sports with each professional bracket having its own half hour program from each 400 Thunder Series event.
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Drag racing was imported to Europe by American NATO troops during the Cold War. Races were held in West Germany beginning in the 1960s at the airbases at Ramstein and Sembach and in the UK at various airstrips and racing circuits before the opening of Europe's first permanent drag strip at Santa Pod Raceway in 1966.
The FIA organises a Europe-wide four wheeled championship for the Top Fuel, Top Methanol Dragster, Top Methanol Funny Car, Pro Modified and Pro Stock classes. FIM Europe organises a similar championship for bike classes. In addition, championships are run for sportsman classes in many countries throughout Europe by the various national motorsport governing bodies.
Drag racing in New Zealand started in the 1960s. The New Zealand Hot Rod Association (NZHRA) sanctioned what is believed to have been the first drag meeting at an open cut coal mine at Kopuku, south of Auckland, sometime in 1966. In 1973, the first and only purpose built drag strip opened in Meremere by the Pukekohe Hot Rod Club. In April 1993 the governance of drag racing was separated from the NZHRA and the New Zealand Drag Racing Association (NZDRA) was formed. In 2014, New Zealand's second purpose built drag strip - Masterton Motorplex - opened.
The first New Zealand Drag Racing Nationals was held in the 1966/67 season at Kopuku, near Auckland.
There are now two governing bodies operating drag racing in New Zealand with the Florida-based International Hot Rod Association sanctioning both of New Zealands major tracks at Ruapuna (Pegasus Bay Drag Racing Association) on the South Island and Meremere Dragway Inc in the North Island. However, the official ASN of the sport, per FIA regulations, is the New Zealand Drag Racing Association.
A lot of countries in South America race 200 meters, unlike the United States and places like Australia, which race 400 meters or 1/4 mile.
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Organized drag racing in Colombia is Club G3's responsibility, which is a private organization. The events take place at Autódromo de Tocancipá.
On the island of Curaçao, organization of drag racing events is handled by the Curaçao Autosport Foundation (FAC)
All racing events, including street legal competitions, happen at the Curaçao International Raceway.
On the island of Aruba all racing events, including street legal competitions, happen at Palomarga international raceway.
On the island of Barbados, organization of drag racing events is done by the Barbados Association of Dragsters and Drifters. Currently the drag racing is done at Bushy Park racing circuit over 1/8 mile, while "acceleration tests" of 1/4 mile are done at the Paragon military base.
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Organized drag racing is rapidly growing in India. Autocar India organised the country's first drag race meet in Mumbai in 2002.
Drag racing is also gaining popularity in Pakistan, with private organizations organizing such events. The Bahria Town housing project recently organized a drag racing event in Rawalpindi, with the help of some of the country's best drivers.
Sri Lanka has seen an immense growth in Drag racing through legal meets held by the Ceylon Motor Sports Club, an FiA sanctioned body. In recent years, exotic cars and Japanese power houses have been taking part in these popular events.
Drag racing is an established sport in South Africa, with a number of strips around the country including Tarlton International Raceway and ODI Raceway. Drag racing is controlled by Motorsport South Africa and all drivers are required to hold a valid Motorsport South Africa license. Drivers can compete in a number of categories including Top Eliminator, Senior Eliminator, Super Competition Eliminator, Competition Eliminator, Pro Street Bikes, Superbike Eliminator, Supersport Shootout (motorcycle), Street Modified, and Factory Stock.
There are hundreds of classes in drag racing, each with different requirements and restrictions on things such as weight, engine size, body style, modifications, and many others. 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. Some IHRA classes have multiple sub-classes in them to differentiate by engine components and other features. There is even a class for aspiring youngsters, Junior Dragster, which typically uses an eighth-mile track, also favored by VW racers.
In 1997, the FIA (cars) and UEM (bikes) began sanctioning drag racing in Europe with a fully established European Drag Racing Championship, in cooperation (and rules compliance) with NHRA. The major European drag strips include Santa Pod Raceway in Podington, England; Alastaro Circuit, Finland; Mantorp Park, Sweden; Gardermoen Raceway, Norway and the Hockenheimring in Germany. The major difference is the nitro-class distance, which is 300 meters at some tracks, although the NHRA and FIA are likely to discuss the distance change in the future.
There is a somewhat arbitrary definition of what constitutes a "professional" class. The NHRA includes 5 pro classes; Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, Pro Modified and Pro Stock Motorcycle. The FIA features a different set of 5 pro classes; Top Fuel, Top Methanol Dragster, Top Methanol Funny Car, Pro Modified and Pro Stock. Other sanctioning bodies have similarly different definitions. A partial list of classes includes:
A complete listing of all classes can be found on the respective NHRA and IHRA official websites.
The UEM also has a different structure of professional categories with Top Fuel Bike, Super Twin Top Fuel Bike, and Pro Stock Bike contested, leaving the entire European series with a total of 8 professional categories.
To allow different cars to compete against each other, some competitions are raced on a handicap basis, with faster cars delayed on the starting line enough to theoretically even things up with the slower car. This may be based on rule differences between the cars in stock, super stock, and modified classes, or on a competitor's chosen "dial-in" in bracket racing.
A "dial-in" is a time the driver estimates it will take his or her car to cross the finish line, and is generally displayed on one or more windows so the starter can adjust the starting lights on the tree accordingly. The slower car will then get a head start equal to the difference in the two dial-ins, so if both cars perform perfectly, they would cross the finish line dead even. If either car goes faster than its dial-in (called breaking out), it is disqualified regardless of who has the lower elapsed time; if both cars break out, the one who breaks out by the smallest amount wins. However, if a driver had jump-started (red light) or crossed a boundary line, both violations override any break out (except in some classes with an absolute break out rule such as Junior classes). This eliminates any advantage from putting a slower time on the windshield to get a head start. The effect of the bracket racing rules is to place a premium on consistency of performance of the driver and car rather than on raw speed, in that victory goes to the driver able to precisely predict elapsed time, whether it is fast or slow. This in turn makes victory much less dependent on large infusions of money, and more dependent on skill. Therefore, bracket racing is popular with casual weekend racers. Many of these recreational racers will drive their vehicles to the track, race them, and then simply drive them home. As most tracks host only one NHRA national event, and two or three regional events (smaller tours, car shows, etc.) annually, on most weekends these tracks host local casual and weekend racers. Organizationally, however, the tracks are run according to the rules of either the NHRA or the IHRA with regional points and a championship on the line. Even street vehicles must pass a safety inspection prior to being allowed to race.
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