What to expect on your first trip to the drag strip.


Nitrous Junkie
So you want to go to the drag strip and make a few passes, but you want to know what to expect? I'm going to attempt to cover all you ever wanted to know about your first trip to the drag strip but were afraid to ask. I'm going to assume you've never been to the strip and watched any cars run.

Find your nearest drag strip, whether it be 1/8 or 1/4 mile, it doesn't matter, especially for the first trip. You will likely be better off going to an 1/8 strip as a first trip. The 1/8 tracks are usually less packed, especially if they are near a popular 1/4 strip. You'll likely get more runs at the 1/8 vs he 1/4, and you may be more comfortable with less people watching in the stands.

Visit the website for, or call the chosen track to find out on what day they have Test and Tune, as well as what rules they have concerning helmets, drinks/food, entry fees, and fees to run (as well as any other concerns you may have). Some tracks require a helmet no matter what, some require them at certain times or trap speeds, while others could care less. You want to know beforehand whether you need a helmet or not. Showing up without one at a track that requires one would certainly ruin the entire day for you.

Make sure your car is ready. Check that your brakes work well, tires are not dry rotted or bald, lug nuts are tight, oil is at proper level, etc. Basically give the car a quick look over. If your car would pass a state safety inspection, its likely okay to hit the strip. Anything that is not up to par, fix it before going. One major thing to check for is leaks. If your car drips any fluids, you will be pulled off the track.

Keep in mind that unless you have friends to watch what you bring, you will have to leave it alone as you run, which can be minutes up to an hour or two on a busy day. For a first trip, you really don't need much of anything other than yourself and the car. Be sure you have enough gas, of course, and if you can bring a cooler with drinks and food/snacks, that's always a good idea to save some cash. A small set of tools to fix some minor problems may be a good idea as well. A tire pressure gauge if you want to try and adjust your air pressure, which probably won't make much of any difference on a first trip. The list goes on, but again, on a first trip, just you and the car should be sufficient.

Make the trip to the track, getting there early. At the gate, as you pay the entry fee, be sure to ask where the pit area is at, though it may be obvious. Once in the pits, if you want, pop your hood to let the engine cool, but since its your first trip, you likely won't see much if any difference cold vs hot. You mainly want to just get a feel for everything on the first trip.

Sit in the stands and watch a few cars make passes. Pay attention to how the cars line up in the staging lanes, who signals them to come forward, who signals the burnout, and take note of how they line up at the starting line. There will be a box on the pavement with holes in the sides, roughly 20-30' from the tree. This is where you will be lining up. The first hole will light the prestage light at the top of the tree. The middle hole will light the staging light, and signifies you are ready to go.

When lining up it is considered good etiquette to prestage and wait for the other car to prestage before staging. At this point, and since it is a test and tune, you can ignore that, but it would be a good idea to courtesy stage as you get more experience.

After both cars stage, notice that the starting sequence begins. Different tracks run different starting sequences for Test and Tune events. Most will run a .500 sportsman tree, where the three yellows count down .5 seconds apart, then the green will light. On this tree, you will leave when you see the last yellow light up. You may feel like you will red light, but if you SEE the yellow, not anticipate it, you will be fine. The other main type of tree used is a pro tree, which is either .400 or .500 seconds. In this starting sequence, all three yellows light at once, then the green lights. If this is used, go as soon as you see yellow, and don't be upset if you have as high as a 2 second reaction time. Pro trees take a good amount of practice to start getting good reaction times. Remeber, reaction time isn't factored into the run at all. A 15 second run will still be a 15 second run if the reaction time is .000 or 2.250.

Now watch a few cars after they finish the run. You may need to move around in the stands to see, but watch where they go. They will turn off to the left or to the right at the end of the track. Here is another place that safety needs to be followed. If you are the first to the end of the track, but need to cross the other lane to get to the return lane, you should wait for the other car to turn off first. If you don't, and that car's brakes go out...well, it wouldn't be pretty for either of you.

After heading down the return lane, you should see the car stop and pick up a time slip from the time shack. Some tracks may not have a time shack, and in which case, you will go to the timing tower if you want to pickup your time slip. Once you get the slip, head back to the pits.

Do not run the AC while in the staging lanes! It will cause condensation and can drip on the track, which will cause the starter or water box guy to pull you off the run. Usually, in the staging lanes, you will just follow the person in front of you up until you are next for the burnout box. Roll up your windows, buckle up, put on your helmet if required, and calm your nerves. At this point you should see someone who will flag you forward when it is your turn. Don't move until they wave you up, and after watching a few people run from the stands, you should know about where you will be headed and when they will wave you forward.

When called forward, try to go around the water box, assuming you are running street tires. At some tracks you can, others you cannot. In general, if you can stay on pavement and go around the water, it is ok. Some tracks, especially 1/8 mile are so narrow, going around the water will put you in the grass or dirt/mud. Do NOT go around at these tracks.

If you made it around the water, you can do a brief spin if you want when signaled (usually with the pointer finger making a circular motion), but it won't really make any difference on most street tires. If you were unable to go around the water, pull through it, stopping just past the water on dry pavement. If you went through the water, do a brief spin just to dry the tires.

After the "burnout", head slowly towards the tree. Keep in mind you are not lining up at the tree, but at the box you saw earlier while watching other cars run. Usually, cones are setup near the prestage beam to help you line up. Roll very slowly up until you see the prestage light comes on. At this point you are inches from lighting the stage beam as well. When you are ready to go, slowly inch up until the stage beam comes on and prepare to make your run.

Since you are not concerned with beating the person in the other lane, there is no reason to be in a huge rush to go at the start. If you want, wait until you see the green to go, as this will eliminate a lot of the head games running beside another car can cause, especially if its an obviously much faster and louder car. I still do this from time to time when trying new combos, or a different car.

At the end of the run, head down the return lane, being sure to follow proper safety as to when you can cross the other lane if necessary, and drive to the timing shack to get the time slip. Now return to the pits, or head back to the staging lanes if you're ready for another go.

On your timeslip will be a bunch of numbers. Your main concerns at this point are 60' ET, 1/8 or 1/4 ET and 1/8 or 1/4 trap speeds. 330', 1000' and anything else will be useful to you as you make more and more runs, but at this point will likely mean nothing.

The 60' ET is the time it took you to get the car going up to the 60' timer. It is a good indication of how well you got the car to start off the line. Anything near 2.0 seconds would be excellent for a first timer, 2.3 or higher needs some practice, and leaves some time on the table, usually from spinning.

The 1/8 or 1/4 ET is of course the time it took you to make the complete run, and the trap speed is the speed at which you finished your run. These are the numbers you ultimately want to improve. Improving the 60' is the best place to get these numbers looking better. Naturally you'll want to always lower ET and raise trap speed.

I've written this off the top of my head, so I'm sure I've missed some things. If you have any specific questions, just reply and I'll edit as needed. More advanced stuff doesn't belong here, this is simply for questions and concerns about first trips to the drag strip and what to expect.