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What Is Drag Racing?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 23, 2024
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Drag racing is an automobile or motorcycle competition that uses straight, level, and fairly short ¼-mile (400 meter) or ½-mile (800 meter) tracks, though distances can vary. Competitors commonly race by twos, side by side. The vehicles start the race from a dead stop, accelerating to great speeds in a short interval. The first vehicle to pass the “traps” or end of the official track wins. The track extends sufficiently beyond the traps to allow vehicles to decelerate safely.

Drag races are frequently run in “heats.” A heat is one completed race, and many take place in a single racing event. Winning a heat allows the driver to progress to the next heat. At the end of the day, the two best drivers compete against each other for the final win.

Autos and motorcycles used in drag racing have been modified in most cases, some heavily so. A vehicle is classified according to its modifications to ensure fair competition. Cars built for drag racing might be turbo charged, supercharged, or fitted with nitrous oxide systems. Bodies are made of light material to allow better power-to-weight ratios.

Among the top five professional classes of drag racing are Top Fuel Dragster, Top Fuel Funny Car, Pro Modified, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Bike for motorcycles. There are also popular classifications that fall outside professional races. Some of these are Top Alcohol Dragster, Top Alcohol Funny Car, Super Comp Quick Rod, Super Gas Super Rod, Super Street Hot Rod, Super Stock and Stock car racing. Smaller cars can also compete in the Sport Compact drag racing class.

Drag racing has a certain mystique that appeals not only to professionals, but also to adolescents coming of age. Without access to a drag strip, some teenagers with customized cars engage in street racing as an illegal and dangerous form of drag racing. Street racers find a strip of straight road and compete against each other. The movie American Graffiti (1973) featured a street racing scene, while The Fast And The Furious (2001) was based around a proposed subculture of street racers. Street racing is extremely dangerous and results in many senseless deaths each year.

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Discussion Comments
By sunnySkys — On Aug 03, 2011

@indemnifyme - I'm glad you're boyfriend came to his senses before he got seriously hurt or something. Street racing is very dangerous!

I didn't know any street racers when I was in high school, which is kind of surprising. The Fast and the Furious came out when I was in high school and I remember the movie being really popular.

I also remember my drivers ed teacher saying it was extremely irresponsible to make the movie. He thought that a lot of teenagers would be influenced to street race by that movie. In retrospect, many probably were!

By indemnifyme — On Aug 02, 2011

My boyfriend used to do illegal street racing when he was younger. He ended up with a great working knowledge of cars and a driving record that's about five pages long!

Seriously, I wouldn't recommend this to anyone. According to my boyfriend, he wasted a lot of money modifying his car. That's not counting the money his family had to pay to bail him out of jail a few times when he was arrested for driving on a suspended license. (The license was suspended for having too many speeding tickets, I might add.)

Anyway, I'm glad my boyfriend got his affinity for this dangerous hobby out of his system before we met. I don't think I would be OK dating an illegal street racer!

By ellafarris — On Aug 01, 2011

@snickerish - I can't imagine anything wrong with a police raid to stop drag raising. It happens all the time in my hometown.

I live in a pretty quiet area of town however the street I live on is exceptionally wide and ideal for drag racing.

It's been a favorite past-time for our teenagers for several years especially during the wee hours of the morning.

It's been about six months since I've heard them out here. That may be because the last race ended in a crash. A couple of high school seniors were raising another truck load of students when they lost traction and both slid off the road.

Luckily no one was seriously injured but they were all treated for minor scrapes and bruises. The tragedy of it all was that there were no charges pressed against the teen drivers. They were only given citations for speeding.

By snickerish — On Aug 01, 2011

When I went back to my hometown, I found out on the local news station that drag racing by adolescents (it seems, just as it was depicted on the movies) was becoming a trend.

They pulled out the police in full force to try and end the practice. And now on subsequent trips I have heard nothing about the drag racing.

I would imagine that this was a great accomplishment and may have saved some teens from injuries as drag racing professionally would be safer than drag racing on city streets (even though I would guess the cars would be slower)!

Has anyone else had this happen in their town? After I learned about it, it seemed it was more prevalent than initially thought.

By aLFredo — On Jul 31, 2011

I have not been to a drag car race...yet. I just went to my first NASCAR race. I was not at all into NASCAR, I just like learning about different things and trying new things.

I could not believe the roar of the engines, how many people were there and the entire spectacle of it all.

That is not even including the tailgating for miles before the race. But the race was just too long for me.

This is why I think I might see what drag races look like. I don't know if they have the same fanfare as NASCAR but I would love to see the speed of the cars!

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