Basics of Drag Racing

Bracket, or ET, racing is a great way to get into the sport of drag racing.  You don't need a lot of money or special equipment to get started, but it helps to know "the basics."

What is a Drag Race?

In basic terms, a drag race is an acceleration contest from a standing start between two vehicles over a measured distance.  The accepted standard for that distance is a quarter-mile  These contests are started by means of an electronic device commonly called a "Tree" (or sometimes "Christmas Tree").  Upon leaving the starting line, each contestant activates a timer which is, in turn, stopped when the same vehicle reaches the finish line.  The start-to-finish clocking is the vehicle's ET (elapsed time), which serves to measure performance and often serves to determine handicaps during competition. 

What is a Bracket Race?

A bracket race is a straight-line acceleration contest between two cars, bikes, sleds, trucks, etc., usually starting at different times, from a standing start over a specified distance, usually a quarter-mile or an eighth-mile.  Racers line up in front of a countdown device called a Christmas Tree.  When they leave the starting line, timers record how long it takes them to reach the finish line.  This is called elapsed time, or ET For short.  Top speed is also recorded.

Getting Started

The best way to get your feet wet is to go to a "test and tune" session at your local track.  You can practice your starting line procedure, learn how the car reacts to tuning changes, and make passes down the track without the pressure of racing against someone.

You should also take time to watch how other racers do things, and most importantly, ask questions.  Most racers will be happy to give you pointers on improving your technique.


When you're ready to race against other people, you can compete in your track's weekly series.  Your car will be put in a category or class, based on the elapsed time of your car.  Top speed is not a factor in bracket racing.

You will need to determine how quick you think your car will be.  This is called a dial-in.  When you are matched up with another car, the dial-ins are compared and the slower car is given a head start equal to the difference between the two.  To win, you want to run as close to your dial-in as possible without going faster, or "breaking out".

You can also win if both cars run faster than the dial-ins (called running under) and you are the closest to your dial in.  If both of you get down the track exactly at your dial-in or have the same break-out, the driver who reacted quickest to the Christmas Tree -- called raction time or RT -- wins the race. 

Here are possible outcomes for a race between Car A with a 14.50 dial-in and Car B with a 15.25 dial-in:

Car A runs 14.55 seconds, Car B runs 15.35 seconds
Car A wins (runs closest tothe dial-in without breaking out)

Car A runs 14.40 seconds, Car B runs 15.20 seconds
Car B wins (both cars run under, Car B runs closest to the dial-in)

Car A runs 14.50 seconds with a .010 RT
Car B runs 15.25 seconds with a .050 RT
Car A wins (runs at dial-in, has better reaction time (RT)

Who Can Drag Race?

Virtually anyone can compete in drag racing.  Drivers MUST have a valid state-or-government issued driver's license beyond a learner's-permit level or, in some cases, an NHRA competition license and must be capable of the safe operation of the vehicle.  The vehicle must meet basic safety criteria (brakes, seat belts, etc.).  This applies to most street vehicles.  Faster, all-out race cars, must meet more stringent requirements as outlined throughout the NHRA Rulebook. 

Where Can I Race

Come out to Rock Falls Raceway!!  We are a NHRA sanctioned 1/4 mile drag racing facility located approx. 6 miles southwest of Eau Claire, WI near Caryville.  We are approx. 80 from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.  You can contact us for further information by calling (715) 858-0170 or check out our website at !!

Further Information about Drag Racing:


Burnout Box
Small depressions in the track surface just before the starting line which are sprayed down with water.  You pull the car forward until the rear tires are just at the edge of the water, then do a quick burnout to warm up the tires and get rid of any debris lodged in the tread.

60-Foot Timer
Measures the time it takes the car to cross the first 60 feet of the quarter-mile.  This shows you how well the car launches, which effects your elapsed times.  Most street-tired cars have 60-foot times around 2 seconds.

660-Foot Timer
The 660-foot mark is the halfway point of a quarter-mile track.  Your elapsed time is recorded.  At some tracks, speed (in miles per hour) is also recorded.  Some tracks also have 330 and 1,000 foot intervals.  Rock Falls Raceway has all of these timed intervals.

Mile Per Hour Timer
Also known as the speed trap, this timer is located 66 feet before the finish line.  It records the car's average speed between it and the finish line.  This is the  mile per hour figure on your timeslip.

Finish Line
When you cross the light beam at the end of the quarter-mile, you stop the ET clock.  The amount of time (in seconds) between the timer was activated and when it stopped is the ET figure on the timeslip.

Shutdown Area
Beyond the finish line is the shutdown area, usually a quarter-mile or more in length, where you can safetly slow the car down to take the turn off that takes you to the timeslip booth.  If something goes wrong and you can't stop the car, most tracks have a sand trap, net or other setup at the end of the shutdown to stop you.  Rock Falls Raceway has two turn offs as well as a sand trap at the end of of the shutdown area.


Essentially, drag racing is a pairing of two vehicles against one another in a race through a straighaway course.  Hence, the start is the key to its uniqueness, because all races start from a standstill.  Today's modern starting system, commonly referred to as the "Tree", is a product of continued development, designed to provide each competitor withthe fairest start possible.  The system features a vertical series of lights, displaying a visual countdown for each driver.  Most drivers try to make their move between the last amber light going off and the green light coming on.  Technique in staging and starting is one of the most vital skills and E.T. Handicap drag racer can develop, since a majority of races are won or lost at the starting line.  Close observation and lot of practice pays off.

Two separate performances are monitored for each run:  the elapsed time and the speed.  On an elapsed time run, the vehicle leaves the starting line "breaking" the light beam which activates the electronic timer.  As the vehicle continues through the course, the timer records the elapsed seconds and fractions of seconds until the vehicle breaks the finish line beam and stops the timer.  Top speed is determined by the vehicle tires breaking two additional light beams, at the finish line. 

Getting a good reaction time at the starting line (better known as cutting a light) all starts with the Christmas Tree.  A "good light" will give you a big advantage over your opponent, especially if you are running the slower car. 

In simple terms, the Tree is a set of vertical lights that gives the driver a visual countdown to the start of a race. 

Pre-Stage Indicator Lights
Round yellow bulbs that warn you when you are getting close to the starting line and the "staged" (ready to race) position.

Stage Indicator Lights
Second set of round yellow bulbs that tell you when you are on the starting line and ready to race.  The bulbs light up when the front wheels of the car cross a beam of light that goes to a set of photo cells.  These cells trigger the timer when the car leaves the light beam.

Countdown Lights
Round amber floodlights that count down to the green "go" light.  There are two types of countdowns, or starts.  The pro start flashes all three light simultaneously, with a .400 second difference between the amber and green lights.  This is called a Pro or .400 tree.  The bracket start flashes one light at a time, with a .500 second difference between the last amber and the green light.  This is known as a .500 or Sportsman Tree.  All races held at Rock Falls Raceway are run using the .500 or Sportsman Tree.

Green Light
This is the one you're waiting for.  When the green light flashes, it means you're free to mash the gas pedal and make a run.  This is called the launch.

Red Light
If this bottom bulb flashes, you're out.  The red light will go off when you leave the starting line before the green light is activated, resulting in disqualification.  Known as redlighting, this action automatically gives the win to your opponent.

Most drivers try to begin their launch just as the last of the three amber lights goes off.  That puts the car in motion when the green light activates.  This is where most bracket races are won or lost, so time practicing your staging and launching techniques is time well spent.

After you make a run, the guys in the little booth at the end of the track will hand you a piece of paper with numbers all over it.  This paper is called a timeslip.

The timeslip provides a wealth of information about a run.  It tells you how well you launched, how quick and fas you went at various points on the track, and what your final ET and mile per hour were.  And if you were racing against an opponent, the timeslip tells you how he did, too.

Shows which lane you are in

Car Number
Cars are assigned numbers at the races to determine who is who

Marked if running in an official race. Not used for "test and tune" sessions.

This is the elapsed time you think your car will run

Reaction Time (R/T)
This tells you how quickly you reacted to the green light on the Christmas Tree.  In most cases at the Rock, it is set as a .500 second or Sportsman Tree.  You want your R/T to be at or as close to .000 as possible.  If you react faster than that, you've just redlighted.

60', 330', 660' or 1/8, MPH and 1000' ET and MPH Times
These figures give you the elapsed times at the 60 foot, 330 foot, 660 foot or eighth mile, and 1,000 foot marks.  You also get the mile per hour figure at the 660 fot mark, which is half-track.

1/4 and MPH Quarter-Mile ET And MPH
These are your finishing elapsed time and mile per hour numbers.  When it comes to bragging rights, these are the ones that count!!

For further information about drag racing please feel free to contact Jennifer Anderson at (715) 858-0170 or by email at with any further questions you may have.

We hope this helped and we look forward to meeting and seeing you at Rock Falls Raceway!!!

Last Updated:  12/28/08.