Drag Racing How-To Guide

Drag Racing How-To Guide

Last Updated July 21, 2021 | Bill Tumas

When owning one of America’s most iconic muscle cars, drag racing is more than likely a topic of conversation at car shows, meets and other Mustang club events. With that said, the pressure to take your Mustang, stock or heavily modified, down the quarter mile is definitely there.

When and if that day arrives, if it’s your first time, there can be an overwhelming sense of anxiety pulling up to the burnout box. This is OKAY! Just like anything else, even the expert drag racers had their first time as well. With that said, this guide will surely walk you through the basics on how to safely and effectively get your Mustang through the burnout box, past the pre-stage beams, staged and launched down the dragstrip!

Getting Ready For The Dragstrip

The day before you plan on heading to the dragstrip to see what your Mustang can do, there are a few things you’re going to want to check over before leaving. Obviously, you’ll want to make sure your car is safe to run and that it will pass tech inspection.

  • Make sure your tires have ample tread. Bald street tires are useless at the track!
  • Make sure your tires have the correct air pressure listed on the door sticker.
  • Check for coolant, oil and other fluid leaks.
  • Make sure your seatbelt, ABS and other safety equipment is all functional.
  • Wear long pants, a long-sleeve shirt and bring a helmet if you have one!

Keep in mind that the most ideal day to visit your local dragstrip would be a Test & Tune day. This is where racers have the ability to repeatedly run their cars and tweak suspension and engine/tuning components. The best part about Test & Tune is that it’s very informal and the perfect opportunity for first timers to try out the 1/4 mile for themselves!

CJ Drag Racing 101 Video

Drag Radials vs Street Tires

Drag Radials vs Street Tires

Adding a set of drag radials to your Mustang is great for additional grip for those high horsepower Mustangs out there. But keep in mind that in comparison to street tires, you should be treating these tires differently at the dragstrip.

First off, if you have street tires, such as the NT555 G2’s, you’re going to want to drive around the water when pulling up to the burnout box. Street tires are made with a different rubber compound than that of drag radials or slicks. With that said, you don’t want to get any water caught up in the channels of your tires before pulling up to the line. Be sure to keep your street tires at the manufacturer's recommended PSI listed on the door sticker. Additionally, a burnout can make street tires too hot and you’ll actually spin more with a hot tire than one at ambient temperature.

Now, if you are running a drag radial, such as the NT555R, on the rear of your Mustang, they are definitely going to help you obtain some serious grip off the line. With a drag radial, you’ll want to drive through the water as you pull into the burnout box. This will allow some lubrication to get the tires spinning for a burnout. With drag radials, they operate best when hot, so get your rear tires spinning till you feel them starting to grab the asphalt. Then, you can move forward to stage.

Remember, drag radials are designed to work best at a lower PSI than street tires. A neat trick is to start at the PSI which is the size of the wheel. If you have a 20” wheel, then start at 20 PSI. If you have a 15” wheel, start at 15 PSI.

Tech Inspection

Fox Body Drag Racing

There’s nothing to worry about when pulling up to tech as long as you’ve gone over your car before bringing it to the track. The tech inspectors will go over your car and make sure everything is safe to go down the dragstrip. Things like your battery tie down, tire tread, wheels, helmet, etc. will all be checked during tech inspection at your local dragstrip.

Keep in mind that regulations may change from track-to-track, but here are some general guidelines on helmet and roll bar regulations:

  • 13.99 or faster in the quarter mile, you’ll need helmet
  • 11.49 or faster in the quarter mile, you’ll need a 6-point roll bar, 5-point harness and a fire jacket.

The Burnout Box

Shelby GT350 Dragstrip

When the track officials point to your car and motion you to pull up to the track, slowly pull forward to your lane. Remember, if you are running street tires, go around the water box, spin the tires once or twice to clean them and proceed forward.

If you are running drag radials or slicks, you can go through the water box and continue to do your burnout when the track official motions you to do so. If you’re running street tire fronts rather than frontrunners, pull around the water box and back into the water with your rears, then do your burnout. Point is, you don’t want your regular street radials to see any water due to the fact it could stay in the channels of your tire.

After your burnout, you are ready to pull up and stage your Mustang. First off, you’re going to want to creep up until you see the “Pre-Stage” indicators light up. You’ll then want to wait for your competitor to do the same. Once he is pre-staged, you’ll then creep up a couple inches until the second set of staging indicators light up. From then, your competitor will do the same and you’ll be ready to race!

Staging Your Mustang

Drag Racing Staging

Staging Drag Racing

Once you’ve staged, it’s time to get ready to go. Don’t worry about reaction time or anything like that, just go on the green.

There are two types of trees: sportsman and competition. The sportsman tree is what you will encounter on most Test & Tune sessions and the easiest to learn on. A sportsman tree is best described as a “1, 2, 3, GO” type tree.

On the other hand, you’ll see competition trees as well. This is where all three amber lights will light up at the same time and go. As if you’re already on the third light for a sportsman.

Now, you’ll actually not want to go on the green light because you’ll want to leave on the third amber light with a sportsman tree. The rules allow you 5/10ths of a second to move your car before the green light displays. It takes years and years of practice to get used to how a tree is timed, and some never even get the perfect “.000” reaction time! Just remember, it’s all about having fun.

Drag Racing & Timeslips

Drag Racing Timeslip

Okay, you made your first pass; congratulations! As you pass the quarter mile marker, begin to slow down to a manageable speed. Some dragstrips have multiple exits to the return lane, some have one at the end, so make sure to check about that before headed down the strip.

Once you turn onto the return road, you’ll likely see a small building other racers stop at on the way back to the pits. This is where you stop and pick up your timeslip.

Typically like a receipt, a timeslip reads out a plethora of information about the pass you just made. Whereas the bottom two numbers in larger text are the most important, quarter mile Elapsed Time (ET) & MPH.

  • Left Lane vs Right Lane
  • Car Number
  • Dial-In (For competition classes, typically blank for Test & Tune)
  • R/T = Reaction Time
  • 60’ = ET to get to the 60 foot marker
  • 330 = ET to get to the 330 foot marker
  • 1/8 = ET to get to the 1/8 mile marker
  • MPH = MPH at the 1/8 mile marker
  • 1000 = ET to get to the 1,000 foot marker
  • 1/4 = ET To get to the 1/4 mile marker
  • MPH = MPH at the 1/4 mile marker

Time To Hit The Strip!

Now that you have a brief overview of what to expect at the dragstrip, you can prepare yourself on what to expect when you first pull up to the burnout box. And trust us, once you get the hang of it (you will!), it becomes highly addictive and expensive.

Just like any other hobby, that’s okay! CJ’s has the parts you need to get your Mustang down the strip quicker and faster to meet your build’s goals. With modifications such as Cold Air Intakes and Intake Manifolds, Long Tube Headers, Suspension components, sticky Tires and even Superchargers and Nitrous Oxide, you’ll be well on your way to a better ET and faster MPH!

Bill Author Photo

About the Author

Bill is our resident Mustang expert with over 25 years in the auto industry. He’s produced hundreds of videos as the host of the CJ Pony Parts YouTube channel. Read full bio →

Image Credit: On Point Images

Drag Racing How-To Guide

To those looking to make a trip to the dragstrip for the first time, it can be a daunting occasion. From the sidelines it may seem easy, but once you pull up to the burnout box, the adrenaline rush can take over and confuse your concentration. Let Bill & the crew at CJ’s show you a few tips and tricks to overcoming the anxiety that could come with your first trip to the dragstrip.