Wednesday 16th July 2003


Graham Bell goes over the basics

The first thing to mention is that in order to run your car on the drag strip you'll need a crash helmet. You'll also need a long sleeved, non synthetic jacket to cover your arms in case of the worst - fire.

Safety requirements also dictate that before your car gets near the track you'll have to present it to the organisers. Scrutineering would be too strong a word - but they will give your car the once over to make sure that it's not likely to fall apart half way up the strip.

Once your car's been given the okay you can sign on to run, for which you'll need to present your driving licence (sorry learners - full DVLA licence only) and hand over your safety pass at pit control. Then, after signing the usual "If I kill myself it's my fault" disclaimer, you'll be issued with your 'race' number.

Strictly speaking RWYBs aren't really racing - they're merely time trials to enable you to find out how quickly your car can cover a quarter-mile. It's just that there happens to be somebody else in the next lane doing the same thing at exactly the same time...

Anyway, your number should be marked on your car so that it can be clearly seen from the control tower. The traditional method of doing this is to mark the side windows with shoe white, but it's a bugger to clean off afterwards so masking tape is a useful alternative.

With that done you're ready to run! Or at least you will be once you've reached the front of the queue in the approach lanes. From there the marshals will wave you towards the start line, where you'll be confronted by the "Christmas tree".

But before you get to that you'll be confronted by the 'burnout boxes'. These are patches of concrete, usually regularly doused with water, on which you can spin up the driven wheels to clean off any stones and crap they've picked up on the way to the start line and to heat the rubber up for better traction.

This undoubtedly makes a big difference with proper drag racing machinery running slicks, though I'm not convinced it's of much benefit with ordinary road tyres so you might prefer to drive round, rather than onto, the burnout box. But being a PHer you'll probably want to burn some rubber just for the hell of it...

Christmas Tree

Right, back to the Christmas tree. This is slightly more involved than the traffic lights in your local high street so let's run through the start procedure.

The Christmas tree has a set of lights for each lane, with the topmost lights being the small amber "pre-stage" lights, which are hooked up to a light beam running across the start line. You should slowly approach the start line until you cut this light beam, whereupon the pre-stage light in your lane will come on to inform you that you're almost in position.

Ease forward a few more inches and you'll cut a second light beam, activating the next amber down. When both these small ambers are lit you are "staged" (i.e. in position on the start line) so stop.

Once the drivers in both lanes have both their small ambers lit the start sequence can begin. This illuminates the remaining ambers followed by the green for go - and you already know what to do at that point.

A quarter of a mile up the strip you'll reach the speed traps at the finish line, cutting through more light beams which will record both your elapsed time (ET) and your terminal speed.


Then it's time to get on the brakes and slow down ready to take the return road back to the pit area. Once back in the pit area you can make your way to the control office, pick up your timing ticket (for which you'll need to know your race number) and see how fast you were.

Note that your timing ticket records the time it actually took you to cover the quarter-mile. It does not, as some people think, record the time from the green light coming on to you crossing the finish line.

It might however record the time from the green coming on to you leaving the start line. This will be shown as your reaction time - and when you see it I bet you won't believe you could have been that slow!

All a bit of fun and plenty to brag about down the pub, although you may have to exaggerate a bit as most standard cars are just a tad slower than the purpose built machinery that frequent the quarter mile.

Author: Graham Bell