If you're reading this article you've probably already been bitten by the modification bug just like the rest of us. And like the rest of us, you've probably decided that countless hours of playing GranTurismo and racing grossly underpowered rental go-karts just isn't enough to curb your feigning addiction for speed. Maneuvering nimbly through the grocery store parking lot with your kick-ass suspension set up has also probably lost its thrill by this point, leaving you wanting more. But, where do you go? How do you start? Now that you've finally decided to get off that bench and into the drivers seat, let's introduce you to the world of racing, real racing. The most novice-friendly and often the most accessible form of racing begins at the local drag strip, where you can learn the fundamentals of driving your vehicle on a straight line ¼ mile track.
Most of your local raceways usually hold ¼ mile or 1/8 mile drag racing events roughly once a month. In Southern California, places such as AutoClub Speedway or Irwindale Speedway have their schedule for the entire year available on their websites. I began my experience at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, participating in the 1/8 mile drag racing events which are supported by local law enforcement agencies. Known as Race Legal, this organization is dedicated to creating a safe alternative to illegal street racing. As a personal mantra, I am vehemently against street racing, as it is unnecessarily dangerous and can be deadly. Besides, legally sanctioned drag racing provides exact time slips and clear cut winners. For the novice racer, having accurate acquisition of reaction times, 60 foot times and so forth is essential to establishing an initial benchmark to further improve upon.
Preparing for the Drag Strip
Preparation for drag racing – or any racing for that matter, begins long before you arrive at the track. I prefer to empty my car of all loose items before arriving. You're not going to pass tech if you don't. Secondly, perform a fresh oil change beforehand. This is essential to reducing the risk of harming your engine during strain of high RPM operation. This will also free up a couple of horsepower. Next, make sure your tires have adequate tread, your lug nuts are properly torqued, and all decorative wheel covers are removed.
Adjusting tire pressure correctly is crucial in any racing event. For drag racing in a fwd vehicle, lowering the tire pressure in the front will help you gain more traction, while increasing it in the rear will reduce rolling resistance. For street tires, do not exceed 50 PSI in the rear, or bleed down past 18 PSI in the front. Experiment with various tire pressures throughout the event to determine what set up works best with your vehicle. Most importantly, check all of your fluid levels and top them off if necessary. Check for leaks and cracks in your hoses, as the smallest inkling of damage to your vehicle could increase exponentially causing major damage. Besides, it is extremely bad etiquette to have your car leaking on the track – that is if you are even able to pass tech. Leaking coolant, oil, brake fluid, or any fluid for that matter can cause the track to be slick and dangerous. This would also adversely affect yours and others ¼ mile time, which will piss off a lot of racers. Overall, making sure that your car is running optimally is essential for peak performance – common sense at its finest. But with the adrenaline and excitement of your first race, these things can be easily overlooked, and they very often are.
Remember to keep in mind that during your first time out, you are not out to break any records, but to set a benchmark for future improvements. And though you will be racing side by side with another car, you're not really racing anyone but yourself at this point. So set goals for yourself before you begin the event; you're here for the experience, and to learn. Kicking ass should be an added bonus.