How to Build a Mustang Drag Car

How to Build a Mustang Drag Car

Last Updated April 17, 2024 | Alison Smith

The Fox Body, SN95, S197, and S550 generations are the most popular Mustangs for drag racing, but you’ll still see some classics on the track. Fox Body Mustangs make especially good drag cars because they’re so lightweight. The lighter the car, the quicker it will be on the drag strip.

Although you can take your stock Mustang drag racing, adding some aftermarket parts will lower your quarter-mile time. Generally speaking, you’ll want to add traction, suspension, and power upgrades along with reducing the car’s weight.

Mustang Drag Tires & Wheels

Buying a set of drag tires and wheels will up your Mustang’s performance on the strip without costing a lot of money. Sticky tires will give you much-needed traction on the track. You may also want to run skinnier tires in the front to reduce weight and wider tires in the back for added traction. As for types of Mustang drag tires, there are two main choices: bias-ply and radials.

Mustang Drag Slicks (Bias-Ply Tires)

Bias-ply tires (or drag slicks) are soft and have no tread pattern, which maximizes the tire’s contact with the ground. They also feature a sidewall wrinkle effect that reduces strain on the drivetrain and rear axle. The wrinkles help absorb the impact caused by the quick weight transfer to the rear tires during launch.

Although they provide optimal traction, drag slicks are soft, hard to handle, easily punctured, and usually not street legal. If you’ve never raced before, radials might be a better place to start. You can also drag race with your street tires, but you want to make sure they still have tread. They aren’t made of the same compounds as slicks or radials so you’ll need the tread for traction.

Mustang Drag Radials

Drag radials still have little to no tread on them for better traction. However, they have better stability (thanks to sturdier sidewalls) and are more versatile than slicks.

Some drag radials do have grooves and are DOT approved for street use. Even though they are street legal, they’re still not the best tire for daily driving due to their lack of tread. Most are for use on dry pavement only as they lose all traction when they get wet.

Mustang Drag Wheels

If you add wider tires on the back of your drag Mustang, you may need a new set of wheels. The stock wheel size may not be compatible if you upsize to fatter drag tires.

Changing out your heavy stock wheels for lighter wheels can also help you lower your unsprung weight. Mustang drag wheels are going to be lightweight for better performance on the track.

Depending on the tire size and your suspension setup, you may need to adjust the backspacing and offset.

Mustang Drag Brakes

Drag racing requires quick acceleration and deceleration. The rapid heating of your brakes from cold to hot can cause thermal shock and damage the OEM rotors. Stock brakes can also be heavy and weigh you down on the track. Plus, if you significantly increase your horsepower, you’ll need more braking power.

Drag brakes are made to handle higher temperatures and heavier braking loads. Some drag brakes are best suited for the track only, while other kits can be used on the street, too.

 Mustang drag brakes with disc, red caliper, and hardware

Mustang Drag Suspension Setup

The suspension setup is a critical part of your Mustang drag build. The goal is to improve weight transfer to the rear tires while keeping your suspension rigid. This helps eliminate as much body roll as possible. And just like the brakes, you’ll need a more robust suspension to handle any substantial power gains.

Upper & Lower Control Arms

Maximum Motorsports yellow Mustang drag control arm

The stock control arms on your Mustang aren’t built for drag racing. Stronger rear control arms will be able to handle the added power sent to the back. Upgrading the upper and lower control arms will reduce wheel hop and offer better stability. Some control arms will be adjustable so you can fine-tune the ride height as needed. You can set them up for street use but then adjust them once you get to the track.

The factory rubber bushings are soft and have deflection to reduce NVH and add comfort. Swapping out the rubber bushings on the control arm can help stiffen the suspension. Polyurethane bushings work well for drag racing as they make the suspension more stable.

Drag Springs, Shocks, & Struts

You can get more traction off the line by upgrading to drag springs. Drag springs have a softer spring rate, allowing for more range of motion. They also increase traction by helping transfer weight to the rear wheels. Lowering drag springs help reduce the center of gravity for less body roll.

The right struts and shocks will help your tires dig in even more for a better launch. Front shocks that are loose on extension can raise the front end quicker, assisting with weight transfer. Adjustable shocks can be tuned so you can use them on the street as well as the track.

Undercarriage shot of rear Mustang drag shocks within the suspension system

Sway Bars

It’s a common practice for Mustang owners to remove the front sway bar to improve weight transfer to the rear. But removing the front sway bar can cause body roll. That’s why people often upgrade the rear sway bar as well. A stiffer sway bar, or anti-roll bar, will help counteract any increased body roll and keep your suspension rigid.

Undercarriage view of a Mustang Rear anti-roll bar

Subframe Connectors

Mustang subframe connectors link the front and rear subframes together to increase stiffness. They’ll reduce chassis flex and wheel hop as well as enhance traction. Torque is transferred straight to the rear end rather than getting lost through the unibody flexing. This means you’ll get more power to the ground for a better launch.

Mustang Drag Engine Bay Mods

The ultimate goal with any drag build is to win races. And to win races, you need power. Here are a few underhood upgrades that can give you an extra boost.

Superchargers & Turbos

Underhood shot of a Mustang supercharger

Nothing increases power more than a supercharger or turbo (besides a brand new engine). They’re both forced induction systems that send more air to your engine for more power. Superchargers give you immediate power delivery, while turbos take longer to spool up. But turbos offer better efficiency compared to superchargers.

Superchargers tend to be popular with drag racers as they offer boost across a wider RPM band. Either way, they’ll both give you more horsepower to send to the wheels.

Torque Converters

For automatic transmissions, the torque converter helps transfer power from the engine so you can go forward. The stall speed of a torque converter increases the higher the load, so more engine power means a higher stall. An aftermarket Mustang torque converter can help alter the stall speed for more RPM on launches.

Nitrous Oxide

NOS cools the air going into the engine, which makes it denser and more oxygen-rich for combustion. The amount of power added depends on the strength of the shot of nitrous. They can add as little as 50 hp to over 200 hp. NOS puts less strain on the engine compared to forced induction since it only provides a short boost of power when needed. But the engine has to be strong enough to handle the burst, which quickly raises heat and pressure in the cylinders.

Nitrous oxide systems are less expensive than a supercharger or turbo, but they come with their own set of drawbacks. The bottles have to be refilled, and some say the risk for engine damage is higher. If you stay within a hit of 175 hp or less, retard ignition timing, and use 91-octane fuel or higher, you should be safe. NOS can be used with forced induction systems if you really want to up the power.

Mustang Drag Interior

Safety and weight reduction are the two most important factors when it comes to the interior. Here are a few upgrades to make your Mustang better at the drag strip.

Racing Seats

Swapping out your stock seats for racing seats can reduce weight and add comfort. They’ll keep you firmly in your seat so you don’t slide around. Racing seats are compatible with safety harnesses as well, which you might need depending on the track rules.

Rear Seat Deletes

A common way to reduce weight for racers is to remove the rear seats. Rear seat delete kits make it easy to take out the back seats. Carbon fiber rear seat deletes can weigh less than 10 pounds. They’re easy to install and can give your interior a race-inspired look.

Safety Gear

Roll bars, safety harnesses, and battery hold-downs are just some of the safety equipment you might need at the track. The exact safety requirements vary from track-to-track, but there are some general guidelines.

  • 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

Before you hit the track, be sure to check out all the safety requirements and rulebooks.

Where to Buy Mustang Drag Racing Parts

You don’t have to spend a lot of money on your drag build at first. Focus on the parts you need, then create a build list of the things you want to add later.

If you’ve got a tight budget, selling parts you don’t need on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or eBay is a good way to make some extra cash. Swap meets are another place you can offload or buy parts. Checking out your local junkyard is a good way to keep the cost down as well.

Some parts are best bought new for safety and performance reasons. This is especially true when it comes to the engine bay. Sign up for our newsletter for the latest Mustang deals and parts to build your dream drag car.

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Sources: 438 CID N/A Small Block Ford Engine, Engine Builder | Life-Saving 1969 Cobra Jet Drag Pack, MotorTrend | Project Evil Fox Body Mustang Build Update, DragZine | How You Can Transform a Stock Mustang GT into a 10-Second Dragstrip Monster, NHRA | Drag Testing the 2018 Ford Mustang GT, MotorTrend | Mustang vs Challenger vs Camaro: Muscle's Holy Trinity Drag Race, CarThrottle | 2021 NHRA Rulebook, NHRA

This article was researched, written, edited, and reviewed following the steps outlined in our editorial process. Learn more about CJ's editorial standards and guidelines.