How to Drag Race

First of all, stuff what is “drag racing”? In the simplest terms, drag racing is a sport where two vehicles compete side-by-side in an acceleration contest. Both drivers race in a straight line from a standing start to a finish line 1/8 mile away. The first to cross the finish line wins the race. Competition is part driver and part machine.

Drag races are conducted on a dragstrip according to a set of safety and performance based rules. The dragstrip is designed and constructed to allow racing to be done under the safest possible environment for both the drivers as well as spectators. The track surface, safety walls, fences, staging lanes and return road are arranged according to strict standards. Race procedures must conform to long established industry standards. Insurance carrier and sanctioning body guidelines must also be closely followed to ensure a safe, fair and fun racing experience for all that attend or participate.

Drag racing is a sport.

The Racer

No special skills are needed. In the sport of drag racing, any licensed driver can participate. Kids as young as 8 years old compete in Junior Drag League events and some as old as 90 race at local tracks nation wide in weekly programs. Driving skills improve with each race. The full performance capabilities of a vehicle are tested while a driver learns a vehicle’s characteristics.

The Track

HMP Dragstrip is a 50 foot wide strip, featuring perfectly flat laser-laid specially prepared concrete, to withstand the harsh wear from spinning tires. Concrete safety walls line both sides of the racing surface from the starting area to the end of the shutdown area.

The Tree

A drag race is started using a device called a “Christmas Tree” that stands 42 feet ahead of the start line. As the vehicles approach the starting line the drivers are signaled to stage their vehicles and start the race by watching the colored bulbs light up in sequence.

Each side of the “tree” has two small yellow bulbs at the top that signals a driver when the vehicle is on the start line. The first bulb lights when the vehicle is almost on the line, “pre-staged”, followed by the next bulb lighting as the vehicle moves forward to “staged” position on the line.

The “tree” has three larger amber colored bulbs on each side followed by a green bulb and then a red bulb. Once both vehicles are staged, the “tree” is activated and the first amber colored bulbs on both sides of the tree light up. Then ½ second later the next amber bulb lights up while the first amber bulb goes out. Another ½ second later the last amber bulb lights up. And one-half second later the green bulb lights up signaling the drivers to start the race.

If either vehicle leaves the start line before the green bulb lights up, the red bulb will light up instead. This indicates a foul start for that vehicle thereby giving the other driver an automatic win.

While both vehicles may leave together on the green light, a driver’s reaction time from when the green comes on will become a factor in the race. If one vehicle remains on the starting line after the green comes on, the other vehicle will gain an advantage making it possible for the slower vehicle to win the race.

More About Reaction Times

Keep in mind that the tree counts down at .500 second (five tenths) intervals. The reaction time announced is the time that the vehicle took to move off of the starting line compared to when the last amber bulb lit up.

Example: A reaction time of .543 means the vehicle left the line exactly .043 seconds after the green came on (.500 after the last amber plus .043 = .543). And a reaction time of .410 means the vehicle left .090 seconds before the green bulb lit which activated the red light instead…a foul start. A perfect reaction time is .500 seconds. A reaction time over .6 seconds is considered marginal and over .7 is slow.

The Race

With each racer leaving the start line together, the finish line decides the winner. A series of infrared beams across each lane measure incremental times during the race as well as top speed.

The total time of the race for each lane is recorded and announced as the elapsed time, or E.T., followed by the top speed for each vehicle. The clock starts when the vehicle leaves the start line, not when the green comes on. The reaction time is recorded separately to show how long a vehicle waited to leave while the E.T. shows how long the race was. Adding these numbers together as a “package” will show the mathematical winner every time.

The E.T. is displayed on finish line scoreboards in seconds, tenths and hundredths. The top speed of the vehicle displayed in full numbers followed by tenths and hundredths. Example: E.T. = 9.43 (seconds) at 88.31 (miles per hour).

The Finish Line

After crossing the finish line, the driver lets off the accelerator and slowly applies the brakes in the shutdown area while staying in his own lane. Drivers should avoid skidding. The vehicle in the left lane makes a left turn exit first followed by the right lane driver. This allows a safe exit for both vehicles. No driver should ever turn around on the track since there may be another pair of vehicles ready to start the next race.

The Return Road

After the vehicles exit the track, they return to their pit area using the return road. Racers can stop along the return road at a station called “Time Slips” where a track official will hand the driver a printed slip that shows his times. The speed on the return road is limited to 5 m.p.h.

Street racing is not drag racing.

Race day at HMP Dragstrip

What’s first?

First, prepare for a day at the drag races. Bring only the essentials including: a camera or video (for bragging rights), folding chairs to be comfortable in the pits, helmet (required if car is quicker than 8.6 seconds & ALL motorcycles), long pants, shoes and sleeved shirt (for drivers). Also, if you don’t want to leave something back in your pit space while you race, leave it at home.

Check your vehicle for safety. You will be asked at the gate if you want to race or watch. Racing participants pay $25 (car + driver). You will receive a “tech card” and you’ll be directed to the “technical inspection” lanes where your car will be checked for the basic safety items. Fill out the card, open your hood and trunk for inspection.

Technical Inspection

Before any vehicle can race it must first pass the basic safety inspection. Things such as tire tread, brakes, safety belts and steering are checked closely. No leaking fluids are allowed. Our friendly SFI Certified tech inspection personnel will assist racers with compliance issues.

Most late model factory original vehicles pass through tech inspection in only a few minutes while some of the highly modified muscle cars require more scrutiny. Approved racing type slicks are allowed since they are safer for the quicker accelerating vehicles. Some street legal racers choose to bring their vehicles in on trailers complete with shade canopies, barbecues and tools for a full day of safe, legal and fun racing at the track. Vehicle must be clean inside and out.

Racer Registration

Once the tech inspector is done checking your vehicle, he will sign it off allowing you to go to the next step at racer registration. All drivers must show a valid state driver license, and sign a liability release form before being allowed to race. You will be given a wristband and a “run-card” that shows track personnel that you have successfully completed the technical inspection/registration process. Finally, a number is applied to the windows of your vehicle using a white “shoe polish” like marker. That number is used to identify and group the competitors to race control personnel.

The Pits

You the racer, can now go find a pit space to claim as your own for the day. Using cones, tires or chairs to mark a space is common and acceptable, however you must be careful not to block fire-lanes or park in someone else’s pit space. While it’s acceptable to work on vehicles in the pits there is no draining of fluids allowed. Vehicles on jacks must use jackstands. Anytime the vehicle is running a licensed driver must be in the driver seat with all safety equipment in place. The speed limit on the return road and all pit areas is 5 mph (Total complex, except dragstrip).

Spectators are welcome to walk in the pits. Kids are allowed in the pits if supervised by an adult. Only licensed drivers may operate autos, golf cars, motorized scooters and motorbikes.

Staging Lanes

When only a small number of racers show up at the track the “staging lanes” will be open to all racers at the same time. However, when a large number of racers show up on race day, the lane calls will be made by groupings. The groups will be called depending on the nature and format of the event. In example, if about half of the cars are imports and the other half are domestic cars then the call may be made by these groupings. Other times the groups will be made by car numbers…cars with 300 series numbers, then 400 series and so on.

When your group is called you may proceed to the rear of the “staging lanes”. Be sure to bring your run card and have all loose items removed from the vehicle. As you drive into the rear of the staging lanes a track official will ask for your run card and direct you to a lane. This allows the track officials to verify that you have been through tech inspection and to give drivers some instructions if needed.

When you get to the front of the staging lanes another track official will again ask for your run-card. He will punch a hole in it to show that you’ve made a run and he may even do a quick check for safety items on your vehicle. He will then direct you to the starting line area of the track.

The Burn-Out

The area directly behind the starting line is called the “water box” and is designed for heating the tires to maximize traction. A track official will signal you to stop when the drive tires are in the water box. On his signal you may “powerbrake” the vehicle to spin the tires for up to 5 seconds. Properly done, the tires will heat up from spinning and start smoking as you allow the vehicle to move forward out of the water box.

A burn-out is not required and it’s not even necessary for most tires. Vehicles that use racing slicks benefit the most from a good smoky burnout because the hot tires will provide maximum traction on the track.


Immediately after the burnout you may stage your vehicle on the starting line. Once both vehicles are staged, the Christmas tree will be activated to signal the start of the race. A good race will result if you’re able to prevent the tires from spinning, drive straight and let the engine rev to maximum r.p.m.’s before shifting.

It’s common for drivers in quicker cars to “feather” the accelerator to keep the tires from spinning. Excessive spinning of the tires will result in lost traction, slower speeds and can even cause you to lose control of the vehicle with disastrous results. If you feel you’re spinning or losing control you should let off the accelerator and try racing again later.

How’d you do?

After your run, pick up your “time-slip” and return to your pit area. Relax and compare your times with others, make any needed adjustments before your next run.

Your time slip will have your vehicle number, the class you’re in (if applicable) and the incremental times of your run. The first number is your dial-in printed as “R/T”, followed by your 60′ time, 330′ time and finally you’re 660′ time printed as “E.T.”, and your our top speed. Another number prints below as “MOV” which shows the mathematical margin-of-victory for your race.

Drag Racing Summary

Now that you’ve passed tech inspection…

  1. Give your signed TECH CARD to registration.
  2. Show your DRIVER LICENSE.
  3. Sign the “RELEASE OF LIABILITY” form.
  4. Get a WRISTBAND and RUN CARD.
  5. Get a CAR NUMBER written on you windows.
  6. Find a pit area for you car.
  7. Go to “STAGING LANES.”
  8. RACE ! ! !

The basis of competition is in the performance numbers.
Drivers perform as consistently as possible while tuning their machines for optimum performance.


Street racing is not drag racing.Full Concessions, Fuels & Nitrous Available.

Houston Motorsports Park has become more than just a place to race, it’s a great meeting place,
a weekly social gathering with rumbling motors and spinning tires as part of the ambiance …
It’s a part of the community.