I've been drag racing for a long time. In fact I enjoy it above all other forms of racing. Modding, Tuning, and Building is all fun...but I don't feel any bigger rush than hammering the 1320...and nothing makes me smile more than surprising some cocky joker with an obviously faster ride...who just can't drive.
I took the time to write this post just for this forum, so if you're a troll please don't pollute this thread with your crap...unless you're an experienced troll with a suggestion, then I say post away, I'll update this post as needed with suggestions, grammar correction, etc.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Most dragstrips don't really do a very serious tech inspection for fun runs or test and tune. So you should. There are exceptions. Some are very strict and will fail you for things like non-functioning brake lights, battery not being secure, or a non-functioning clutch safety switch.
Check your brakes. Are they squealing? Do you have warped rotors or a pull in the wheel when you step on the brakes? You'll be needing those at the other end of the track, or in the event the guy in the other lane has a problem and crosses over in front of you. Most people don't stop from 80 or 100mph to 10mph at a rapid pace, regularly. So don't be surprised. Be safe.
Check under the hood, under the engine. You'll not want to run at full throttle for fifteen or sixteen seconds if it's two quarts low on oil. Certainly you want your cooling system to be solid, no cracked hoses, etc. Blow a hose on the track and you might close the track for the night, or you might blow a head gasket. If you have any leaks, don't go to the track. Leaving a little oil or coolant behind might not matter to you mister 13, 14, 15 seconds. It could really ruin a 7 second drivers run, car, or worse. Also those leaks that come from under the CENTER of your car...fall right where the motorcycle racers run. coolant, water, and oil are like glass on the traction compound treated surface. Don't be responsible for killing somebody 'cause you drive a bucket with holes in it.
Check your belts for tension and condition. You don't want to be stranded and paying a tow over a $6 piece of rubber.
Check your tires for wear, pressure, and rot. Burnouts, high speed, and heavy braking are (usually) not the norm for our daily drivers. The drag strip isn't the place to find that you have a problem. You really don't want a blowout with only six feet between you and a concrete wall, etc.
Now for the fun part.
At Home and/or After Tech Inspection
Sometimes it's the little things...these are some silly to hardcore suggestions for small improvements.
Take out the headlight in front of your CAI to help get that cold air in there.
Remove the Power Steering Belt.
Use an exhaust cutout Inexpensive Removable Cap Style Electric
Check fluids and for leaks again, please.
Take out the spare tire, jack, tools, sub box, etc. 100lbs of weight loss can mean 1-2tenths off your ET. I know a guy that even vacuums his car before he heads to the track, but he's a silly guy.
One thing you don't want to do (especially if you're nitrous'd) is to run at the dragstrip very low on fuel. You run the risk of the weight transfer at launch momentarily starving the fuel supply and running lean at best all the way to rapidly separating engine parts.
Lose your spare tire if you're fat and have one. Save gas mileage and get laid more often, everybody wins!
Check the safety rules before you head to the track. Make sure to have/borrow a helmet if the track requires them.
Make sure to have/borrow a fire extinguisher. Don't mount it on your A-pillar.
The Staging Lanes
Don't run the A/C while you're in the starting lanes, especially not while racing. I've seen that more than a few times. You can also choose to open the hood. Maybe you'll decide to push the car up through the lanes while you wait your turn. As long as the car is at operating temperature (oil and coolant) there is no reason to let it idle and heat soak (high underhood temperatures due to no airflow through the engine bay). You can put a couple of bags of ice on your intake manifold, but don't forget to take those bags of ice out of the engine bay if they're still there before you close the hood.
Cut off your radio! You want to hear how your engine sounds, pre-staging, burnout, staged, down the track, and after the run. Sound is usually the first indicator that something is wrong. For example, if you throw or snap a water pump belt and don't hear it because you're ghetto blasting the strip you'll be lucky if you aren't overheated by the time you get back to the parking area. Make sure to listen for detonation...sounds like snap'n'pops or a rattle. Those are bad noises, get out of the throttle and see what's wrong. This is especially applicable for nitrous users.
I've always had best results running between 18psi and 25psi of air pressure in street tires for hard launches. If you're going to lower the pressure, make sure you have a way to fill the tires back up, because not only does low pressure cause premature tire wear and bad fuel economy, but can cause heat buildup and a blowout at highway speeds (Remember those Explorer rollovers?). It will be MUCH harder to burnout if you lower the tire pressure, so keep that in mind. You may be better off running 18psi and skipping the burnout than 25psi and roasting them. This is really somewhat trial and error and personal preference. Don't guess! Keep the pressure as close to equal as possible. Either way, tire pressure alone can knock half a second off your 60' time. No kidding! You only need to do this for the drive wheels.
Your terminal velocity will be lower if you lower the tire pressure, not much admittedly, but if you want maximum MPH vs ET then you won't want to use this trick.
Automatic: Put the front wheels just barely inside the water line, put the e-brake on all the way, and floor the car. If you get it to spin readily then unlatch the e-brake after just a second or two. It best to stay on the throttle and let the traction catch up slowly if possible. If you just jump off the gas all the momentum of the drivetrain can break things if the tires stop rapidly (I broke an axle in an 01 Yukon doing this in the snow). If it doesn't spin within about a second then you should probably drive around the water next time and just follow my other suggestions.
Manual: This is mostly the same as the automatic except obviously you have to rev the car up and drop the clutch. I don't mean red-line drops, I mean a sensible RPM that is high enough to break front traction. I always leave the e-brake on for the whole burnout and as I've cooked them a couple seconds OR the tires start to gain traction I release the e-brake and put the clutch to the floor. If the wheels come to a sudden stop this can be shocking to the driveline, so if you're nervous about it, either skip the e-brake or the burnout altogether and follow my other suggestions.
Sometimes the track martial (redneck, no neck, whatever) will wave you around the water box. If you want to burnout, you paid to be there, do it. Roll your window down and motion with both hands, fingers pointed at each other, in a circular motion that you intend on doing a burnout. They mainly just don't want people tracking water from the box onto the staging area.
This is a simple tactic. You creep up to the starting line to where you just barely light up the second staging light. This is known as shallow staging. There are a few reasons to do this.
You can 'go' a fraction of a second sooner this way without redlighting. Although if you don't anticipate the green your reaction times will appear slower...you can get a little head start on your buddy in the next lane.
A longer roll-out before the timer starts, since the count doesn't begin until you've left the SECOND light.
You get a better shot at getting some fresh VHT (Traction Compound they put on the tracks) for that instant you apply the throttle. Many people stage 'deep' because they'll get to the other end (a few thousandths) sooner. It doesn't sound like much but that moment of inertia can determine whether you have wheelspin or not!
(Assuming Sportsman Tree)
If you're racing to the other end and not strictly for times, as soon as you see the third yellow light GO! Full throttle and release the brakes at the same time. If you wait for Green your reaction times will be really bad and you might get beaten through the lights by a Hyundai Pony. This is called "Sleeping at the light." The time between each yellow light and the final green is .500 seconds. A perfect reaction time is .500 we call it "Cutting a 500 light." If you really destroy somebody on the R/T you're "Chopping the tree" on them.
Automatic (non turbo): Stage the car. You'll be powerbraking...but not the destructive (and usually non-productive) way your uncle Curtis taught you. As soon as you see the first yellow light, start easing onto the gas pedal with your foot firmly on the brake. The idea here is to keep progressively adding throttle pressure keeping the torque convertor at the verge of lockup. If you just pedal it and the torque convertor is slipping, when you lift off the brake it will take a little time to pick up the 'slack' and get you moving. Try this a few times, I expect you'll feel the difference.
Manual: Every car is different, you're pretty much on your own here. The best thing to do would be find somebody you trust who has experience and ride along with them paying attention to the launch revs, etc. Riding the clutch all the way out of the hole is usually the fastest way out, but it isn't easy on clutches or flywheels.
Personally I like to pick a comfortable throttle position, one that I can hold through the first few instants after launch and concentrate on the clutch for those instants, I mean just a split-second usually before feeding in full throttle. Of course the more power you have, the more clutching/throttle manipulation you'll probably NEED to do. The less torque you have (like an S2000) the more aggressive you'll need to be to get out of the hole. Incidentally the absolute best way to launch the S2k that I've found (sadly) is to drop the clutch at redline and pray that you're moving fast enough to be in the powerband when the wheels stop spinning.
One of my friends (Integra GS-R, Cams, Hondata, etc.) sits at idle until the second yellow light illuminates and then floors the car, when the third yellow light comes on he starts to ease the clutch out. This helps him concentrate on only one thing at a time without worrying about an 8500rpm clutch burn/drop since the revs are still climbing when he leaves the line.
The fastest possible launch will include slipping the clutch and a very small amount of wheelspin.
Pro Tree Launch
Sometimes you get there on a night where they're running a Pro Tree. This means that once the pre-staging and staging lights are illuminated all three yellow lights will flash followed by the green .400 sec later. Unless you're grudge racing somebody, you're better off taking your time and getting the launch right. The timer doesn't start until you do anyway.
Automatic: In most cases you just keep your foot down. As a rule of thumb I usually race with auto cars in the regular D or D4 position. Some automatics, especially 'AutoStick' cars shift at higher rpm in first gear if you use that mode. A little experimentation is in order.
Manual: First of all, you don't have to beat your car to death. Really hard launches and hard shifts are not your clutch's friend. There are simply too many variables to tell you exactly how you should run through the gears for your specific car. Here are some general suggestions that may help.
Beginners: Shift at redline, fully clutched and with no throttle. Timing is important here. You want to clutch and get off the gas to stay off the rev limiter. As soon as you have engaged the next gear, ease off the clutch completely and then apply full throttle again.
Power Shifting: This is a really popular term more 'ricers' than 'racers' use. It is full throttle shifting. It involves riding the rev limiter and using the momentum of the engine at redline and a dumped clutch to move you down the track. This is hard on parts.
Expert: In some cases it is better to shift prior to redline. You have to understand the powerband of the engine and the RPM difference between each gear. You want to shift in such a way to maximize your time on the gas, in gear, in the powerband. The second tactic is throttle matching. This isn't so much for getting down the track faster, but it is a much nicer way to shift. The idea is to back off the throttle just enough so that the RPMs are at the correct point for the next gear at that speed. You can shift very quickly as the syncros don't have to spin up for engagement, and you can lift off the clutch VERY quickly and this is without driveline shock.
Tricks: You may see road and drag racers 'power shifting.' It is possible to modify a car with a 'two-step' that lowers the RPM limit when the clutch is engaged (also useful for launches). This allows you to keep your foot planted on the gas without excessive drivetrain shock and engaging the clutch again within the powerband without having to throttle match.
Post Race and Manners
Stay on the gas until just a split second after the lights at the other end. Don't anticipate, you might lift off too soon. Using some light engine braking with your service brakes is a good idea. Don't use the e-brake, that's silly.
Usually the return road is on the right side of the track and sometimes both lanes exit at the same place, so if you're in the left lane, wait for the guy in the right lane to exit the track instead of darting in front of him...he may be having a brake failure and not be able to keep from hitting you.
Drive with some sense on the return road and thank the person who hands you your timeslip, especially if you didn't pull up close enough and they had to get up to give it to you.
Let your car idle for a few minutes after the race, unless its on fire. Hot shutdown isn't good for any car. Let everything (exhaust parts, cylinder heads) cool down a little more gradually and evenly, circulate that coolant and oil.
Don't be a dick just because you beat somebody down the track. I've seen more than a few guys fall victim to a nasty sleeper who had a bad launch or a small problem who later lined up with the same guy and got their doors blown off (after talking all that shit). Even if it's a Hyundai Pony in the next lane...they may think you're the idiot...try not to prove them right.
Respect your fellow racers. Sure the Mustang guys usually aren't very friendly, but you should prove that you belong there through your actions, not your mouth. The local track had some 'thug life' get shot (and killed) by some 'inbreds' because of some trash talking over a car that hadn't even been down the track yet.
Don't place bets with people you don't know at the track. It's a good way to get robbed...don't take any 'rides to the ATM.' Face it, racing sometimes attracts the scum of society.
If your car isn't a 13 second car or better, you probably won't get much respect, aside from somebody saying that, "You're fast for a (legend, grocery getter, four door, family car)." Take it all in stride, MOST of the people who hang out at the dragstrip don't race. In fact many of the people that'll make funny faces and run their mouth about your car have never raced or have crappy slow cars.
You shouldn't come to the track unless it is to have fun, see how your ride performs, see how your hard work paid off, or to settle a grudge with a friend in a safer environment. If you show up to showboat, talk shit, or get things started, you could be in just the right place to get put down. I think we all know, people are sensitive about their cars.