How To Win a Drag Race

February 10, 2009

It's late. You're headed home, in downtown nowhere, and the streets are deserted. You pull up to a red light. Off in the distance, you hear something faint that catches your interest. It's another car - a fast one, just the way you like 'em. He pulls into the next lane and taunts you with a blip of the throttle and a gesture toward the stoplight. So now you have a choice: you can crawl home with your tail between your legs as this guy smugly heads on his way... or you can smoke this bitch.

By Brad Iger does not endorse or condone illegal street racing. Check out the Drag Strip Locator for legal racing venues in your area. The following article does not represent the opinions of Spike TV or its affiliates.

Step 1: Scope the Situation


Image: Allposters

Alright, we'll assume at this point you've shifted into neutral and revved back, indicating you're ready to dance. Put the car back into gear, and start strategizing. What's he driving? Do you have a chance? If he's in an Enzo and you're driving a clapped-out '89 Sentra, well, not only is he a jackass for trying to coax you into a race, but obviously you don't have a chance in hell, unless his car spontaneously explodes, or his car is abducted by a space ship before the light turns green. But that's unlikely. However, let's assume for argument's sake that it's a pretty solid matchup, and the weather conditions are ideal (if it's rainy or foggy, you're over it - trust me on this one).

Try to set up the race to your own advantage within the 5 seconds or so you have to call out where you're racing to. So if your car is quick off the line, but not really a high speed champ, you'll probably want to set the finish line as something closer rather than far away - say - the next stoplight. If your car is kind of a slug from the start but wakes up after picking up some speed (or you just never get traction off the line) then you'll probably want to pick a spot further away, closer to a quarter mile.

Step 2: The Launch


Image: ABC News

This is key. Actually this might be the most important aspect of the whole race. Now, it may look awesome to see a big plume of tire smoke as you peel away from the line at the start. While it might make you look like a hero at that moment, that tire smoke means loss off traction, which means slower acceleration, which could mean you lose the race. And as we all know, losers ain't cool.

Launching properly is a delicate procedure. Engines make much more horsepower at RPMs higher than idle, so the key here is to get your engine into that "sweet spot" where you can let the engine rev at that range before the car even starts moving. If you drive a manual shift car, basically all you need to know is the highest RPM at which you can drop the clutch without causing the tires to spin excessively.

If you drive an automatic, it's a bit more involved, but just as easy. Leave the car in "D" and hold the brake pedal down with your left foot. Hard. Then, start to very gradually press the gas pedal down until you hit the threshold of where your brakes can prevent the wheels from spinning.

If you give it too much gas, what will probably happen is the car will stay stationary but the rear wheels will start spinning (assuming your car is rear wheel drive). Congrats - you just learned out to do a burnout - and although it looks super cool to start a race this way, you definitely won't be the quickest off the line.

But if you do manage to keep the rear wheels at bay, hold both pedals where they are until the light turns green, then lift your foot off the brake. The car should launch with good amount of oomph off the line, and once you've gone, say, 50 feet - bury the throttle. Exactly when and where to give the car full throttle depends on a lot of factors - mainly the amount of traction your car can get vs. how much power it can put to the ground. Spinning the tires is bad because that it means the power is literally going up in smoke instead of pushing your car forward. So adjust the recipe to taste.

Step 3 - Know How to Shift


Image: Simnan Auto

Yeah, so here's the deal with tachometers. You know that red situation toward the upper end of the RPM range? The redline, yup, that's it. It may seem tempting to push your engine into the redline with every shift, the but the reality is, not only do you risk damaging your engine, but the engine will actually lose power as it goes into the redline range, which is why that redline range is there in the first place.

So with that in mind, know your shift points. The goal here is to keep the engine producing the maximum amount of power through each gear, which usually equates to shifting into the next gear as you hit the peak horsepower in the RPM range - usually just before the redline. If you're feeling ballsy, you can also "power shift" which simply means you don't let off the throttle between shifts. It can be dodgy though - if you miss a shift, you could be headed for drama.

Which brings me to my next point - don't miss third gear. If there's any gear change you need to be extra wary of, it's third. In fact, don't even think of power shifting into third unless you are immune to missing shifts. 

Step 4 - What to Do When You Win


Image: RacingVideoz

So against all odds, you've emerged victorious. But the glory isn't all gone yet. Once it's become obvious who won - by sheer length of distance between the cars, a checkpoint of some sort, or someone drops out because they don't have the stones to press on, it's time to proclaim victory. Let any onlookers behind you know who racked this one up by flipping on your hazard lights while you coast back down to normal speed.

Of course, if you end up on the "L" side of things, lose gracefully: nothing is lamer (and more dangerous) than poor sportsmanship on the street.