Find out what drag racing is all about and the basic rules of the track …
The IMI and Santa Pod Raceway offer FREE tickets to automotive student groups but do you know what it’s all about, where it came from or understand the basic rules?
Drag Racing has its origins in the USA during the 1920s. During prohibition the sellers of illegal alcohol, the Moonshine Boys, outran the authorities by making their innocuous runabout cars fast and powerful by hiding bigger and more highly tuned engines inside – the Hot Road was born! After the end of prohibition the Hot Rodders continued and all over America roads were being used to settle the ‘mine is faster than yours’ argument. Most towns had a main road running down the middle and junctions controlled by traffic lights, so the Hot Rodders would race down the main drag from one set of lights to the other – the beginning of Drag Racing.
Drag Racing took off in the UK during the 1960s when many of the old disused airstrips around the country were converted to drag strips. Podington Airfield was formerly a wartime airbase used by the USAAF during the Second World War and in 1966 permission was obtained to use the airfield as a drag racing complex, the ¾ mile main runway being used as the drag strip. The track was names Santa Pod after the Santa Ana strip in America combined with the name of the local village of Podington.
Today the raceway hosts events throughout the year including FIA European Drag Racing Championships and the ‘Run What You Brung’ (RWYB) events where anyone with a valid driving licence can have a go and put their own vehicles to the test!
In motorsport terms a drag race is purely an acceleration contest between two vehicles over a flat, straight distance of normally a quarter mile, or in some instances, an eighth-mile. Both vehicles compete from a standing start and the contest is run after qualifying in tournament style eliminations, the loser being eliminated and the winner progressing until there is one driver or rider left.
The race is started by means of the ‘Christmas Tree’, a traffic light system in the centre of the track just off the start line. The racing machines front wheels are moved into light beams across the start line that detect the vehicle, these coupled with the finish line sensors activate individual time and speed clocks for each lane. The lights on the Pro Christmas Tree count down, amber then four tenths of a second later, green. A Sportsman Tree has ambers that flash at five tenths of a second, as opposed to the Pro Tree, at four. The race is then on, first to the finish line is the winner unless a red light shows in that lane, meaning the vehicle left before the green and is automatically disqualified. Another infringement is crossing the centre line. In certain classes they run on an index, a set time (i.e. Super Gas on 9.900) if they go quicker than that, again they will be disqualified. In some cases of two competitors both causing an infringement in the same race, a ‘first or worst’ rule will apply.
There are many classes of race machine and eligibility is based on various requirements and specifications. These include vehicle type, engine size, fuel, vehicle weight and allowed modifications. Handicap racing allows slower vehicles to compete on an equal basis with the quicker machines. Having set qualifying times the slower racer gets a calculated head start on the quicker vehicle. Theoretically, they should cross the finish line together but it generally goes to the person who has the best reaction time (r.t.) away from the Christmas Tree, a 0.400 second r.t. is a perfect Pro light, 0.500 a perfect Sportsman light. To make life more understandable the reaction time is shown as plus or minus 0.000, with the triple zero being a perfect r.t. Minus is a red light! Check out the finish line scoreboards for all that information, then time and speed appears and the winning lane is lit up.
If you visit Santa Pod with the IMI you may have the opportunity to book a pit tour so you can walk through the pits with a race veteran as your guide. You’ll be amongst the race machinery, the crews, riders and drivers many of who would be quite happy to talk to you about their vehicles, their sport and their passion but do give them some space if they’re busy thrashing to make the next round!