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Drag Racing Basics

What is a drag race?

In basic terms, a drag race is an acceleration contest from a standing start between two vehicles over a measured distance.  The accepted standard for that distance is a quarter-mile.  These contests are started by means of an electronic device commonly called a “Tree”.  Upon leaving the starting line, each contestant activates a timer which is, in turn, stopped when the same vehicle reaches the finish line.  The start-to-finish clocking is the vehicle’s ET(elapsed time), which serves to measure performance and often serves to determine handicaps during competition.

What is a bracket race?

A bracket race is a straight-line acceleration contest between two cars, usually starting at different times, from a standing start over a specified distance, usually a quarter mile or an eighth mile.  Racers line up in front of the “Tree”.  When they leave the starting line, timers record how long it takes them to reach the starting line.  This is called elapsed time or ET for short.  Top speed is also recorded.

Getting Started

The best way to get your feet wet is to go to a test and tune, session.  Oahe Speedway has Friday Night Street Legals or you can purchase a test and tune card any race day.


When you are ready to race against other people, you can compete in your track’s weekly series.  You pick a class based on your elapsed time.,  Top speed is not a factor in bracket racing.

You will need to determine how quick you think your car will be.  This is called the dial-in.  To win you want to run as close to your dial-in as possible without going faster or “breaking out”

The Track

Burnout Box- small depressions in the track surface just before the starting line which are sprayed down with water.  You pull the car forward until the rear tires are just at the edge of the water, then do a quick burnout to warm up the tires and get rid of any debris lodged in tread.

60 foot timer – measures the time it takes the car to cross the first 60 feet of the quarter-mile.  This shows you how well the car launches, which effects your elapsed times.  Most street-tired cars have 60 foot times around 2 seconds.

660 foot timer – This is the halfway point down the track.  Your elapsed time is recorded.  At some tracks your mile per hour is also recorded.

Mile Per Hour Timer – Also known as the speed trap, this timer is located 66 feet before the finish line.  It records the car’s average speed between it and the finish line.

Finish line – When you cross the light beam at the end of the quarter-mile, you stop the ET clock.  The amount of time (in seconds) between when the timer was activated and when it stopped is the ET figure on the timeslip.

Shutdown Area – beyond the finish line is the shutdown area, usually a quarter-mile or even more in length, where you can safely slow the car down to take the turnout that it takes you to the timeslip booth.

The Tree – Getting a good reaction time at the starting line (better known as cutting a light) all starts with the “Tree”.  A “good light” will give you a big advantage over your opponent, especially if you are running the slower car.  In simple terms the :”tree” is a set of vertical lights that gives the driver a visual countdown to the start of the race.  The Pre-Stage Indicator lights are round yellow bulbs that warn you when you are getting close to the starting line and the “stage” ready to race position.  Stage Light Indicator Lights are a second set of round yellow bulbs that tell you when you are on the starting line and ready to race.  The bulbs light up when the front wheels of the car cross a beam of light that goes to a set of photo cells.  These cells trigger the timer when the car leaves the light beam.  Countdown Lights are round amber lights that countdown to the green “go” light.  There are two types of countdowns or starts.  The pro start flashes all three lights simultaneously, with a 0.400 second difference between the amber and green lights.  This is called a PRO tree or 0.400 tree.  The bracket flashes one light at a time with a 0.500 second difference between the last amber and the green light.  This is known as a 0.500 or Sportsman Tree.

The Timeslip – after your run people in a timeslip booth will come out and hand you a slip with your run time.

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