The Drag Strip: A Quarter Mile of Concrete Goodness
Hey there, race fans!
Today, we are going to talk a little bit about the drag strip. You know – that concrete goodness that provides the stage for three seconds of explosive action that is Top Fuel racing.
The drag strip is a straight, purpose-built racetrack, typically an eighth or a quarter mile long, with an additional sand/gravel based shutdown area to allow safe stopping in the event that a driver has a problem stopping after crossing the finish line.
There are several features you will typically find on the drag strip. There is a water box, where vehicles of all types do burn-outs to heat up their tires to improve traction. There is a set of lights placed at the starting line, known as a “Christmas tree,” that counts down to start time. There are also one or two return lanes on either side of the track that vehicles use to return from the end of the track to the pit area.
The starting line also comes equipped with two sets of “staging light beams” located at the starting line, one set four inches behind the other. When crossed, these beams activate a set of lights on the Christmas tree to indicate “Pre-stage” and then “Staged.” After the person with the light controller presses the GO button, the tree flashes the green lights and BOOM! The cars launch and race down the track.
Because the cars are moving at such a high speed, the track is also sprayed with a compound called VHT. This flameproof compound adds a sticky black layer of protection that essentially helps the cars “stick” to the ground during a race. Without VHT, dragsters, Funny Cars and other race cars would become loose and slide all over the track, which can be exciting but is also dangerous! Race track personnel use so much of this chemical that it will yank the shoes right off of your feet if you walk on it. For this reason, race team members are required to wear laced boots or shoes at the track.
Recently, the NHRA revised their track length rule after Scott Kalitta crashed his DHL Funny Car. While there is still some debate whether Scott died due to his car slamming head-on into the emergency shut off fence, or because of an explosion inside the cockpit from the engine, the NHRA reduced the official race length of the track and increased the length of the emergency shutdown area. This gives a driver more time to shut off the car in the event of an explosion or other sudden mishap with the car.
Funny Car driver/team owner John Force has also laid the ground work and designed additional internal safety features for these powerful cars – such as automatic parachute deployment for severe engine backfires, and technologies to address vehicle body issues during a race. These features shut the car off and close the fuel lines to eliminate fire hazards and help bring the car to a complete stop if the driver cannot.
These days, racing continues to get safer, thanks to NHRA, John Force and other drivers. The drag strip has come a long way since the days of James Dean and the old school drag race. Tracks are more competitive and drivers these days not only race to win the trophy, but to also beat the track itself. It’s all part of what makes drag racing so exciting.
About the Author:
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