I wrote this in case someone new to drag racing, like me, trips over it and thinks to themselves, “Gee, maybe I’ll give that a try!”
I’ve never thought I’d be drag racing a car. Least of all, a brand new car that is three times more expensive than any car I have ever owned before. Well, last Saturday, I took my new 2011 392 Dodge Challenger to the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA. With no prior drag racing experience and armed only with just some friendly advice from my fellow West Coast Challengers car club members and some ChallengerTalk.com members, I took my car drag racing.
Now, my car is completely stock with the exception of a new Zoomers cat-back exhaust system (which sounds so damn good even if I don’t drive it as well as deserved). After complaining on ChallengerTalk that I couldn’t find a decent place in in the Los Angeles area to make a wide open throttle pass so that I could video tape the car and the sound of my new cat-back system, another forum member quipped, “That’s what 1/4 mile tracks are for.” Fast forward a few months and some fellow car club members, Bill aka CrankCase, Larry aka raVenX and Rob aka RobF on the forums, decided to go to the track.
First thing I noticed when I got in line for tech inspection was all of the cool cars there. Bill met me in the tech line and helped me get checked in. I was given the number 1253.
First course of business was getting some painter’s tape on the rear quarter panel to protect it from any melted rubber and debris that I spin and splatter up it’s way — damn little in my case. Thanks to Bill for the tip and the painter’s tape!
All checked in and ready to race, we waited until they called our group by number. Tick tock, tick tock. I was growing more nervous by the minute. Finally, after I didn’t think my nerves could take it any more, they finally our group to the staging lines. I was nervous as hell. I had told myself that it was no big deal. I’m just going fast for what amounts to a few city blocks, just over 100 mph probably. Heck, I’ve done THAT on the freeway — and I wasn’t even wearing a helmet then, so what’s to worry about? Then I watched the cars ahead of us do controlled burnouts in the water box. As the smoke plume that had enveloped the those cars cleared, I knew I’d entered a brand new world. I was signaled into position in the water box and told to close my windows. I complied but them immediately thought to myself, “With my windows up, how will I be able to ask all my questions?” It was then that I realized, there would be no questions that the men wearing NASCAR headsets would hear or understand, like “What in the hell am I doing?” I also realized that with the windows up, no one can hear me scream — so that was a good thing. I did my best to muster a warm up spinning of the tires but instead sputtered in less than spectacular form for a few seconds. Now it was time to pull up to the staging position. Once I had rolled far enough forward to trigger the staging lights, and then got them to illuminate correctly telling me I was staged and ready to go, I was ready for the Christmas tree. Briefly looking down that 1/4 mile stretch of asphalt is probably the closest I will ever come to what a student pilot must feel like the first time he looks down a runway and the instructor tells him, “Go ahead, fly this thing.”
The Christmas tree then becomes a glow. On you mark, get set — I launched on the third amber light while at 3,500 RPM, then flooring it quite quickly. Instant wheel hop! Holy crap! “I’ll break the car!” I thought to myself. “How will I get to work tomorrow?” So, I backed off the throttle immediately, regained some traction and accelerated once again, this time to proceed down the track in a brisk but humbled manner. A total stumble of a start to my drag racing career. I crossed the finish line in a dismal 15.378 seconds.
My first run turned out to be a total bust. I finished slower than an old punch buggy! After picking up my time slip and heading back into the pits, I realized that my car was fine and that I would just have to launch more carefully until I knew what the heck I was doing. Each run got better than the one before it. Here are some photo highlights of the day:
Bill and I in the “pit” waiting for our group to be called. Hoods up. Have to let those engines cool down for optimal times!
In the end, I did a total of 7 runs. My last run was, of course, my best run. My 1/4 mile time was 13.490 @ 107.68 mph.
What seemed to work for me was lowering rear tire pressure to 25 PSI, no more than a 1/4 tank of gas (because, as Larry pointed out, gas weighs in at a little over 6 lbs. a gallon). In the water box, I would rev to about 5,500 RPMs and drop the clutch for a quick burn out lasting maybe 3 seconds with the accelerator floored, the rear sliding out to one side before it would start to grab, then immediately push in on the clutch peddle. I would launch about 2,500 RPM slipping the clutch so a little bit of a rolling start to avoid spin and dreaded wheel hop, as I’d steadily press the accelerator to the floor. Not an instant press, but about 2 to 3 seconds so I would be full out near 4,500 – 5,000 rpm in first gear. Shifts were as fast as possible just before the limiter with pedal to the metal as soon as I came off the clutch.Windows up, air off, ESP full off. So far, that’s my recipe. Drag radials will help a lot, as would a Hop Not kit, and a line lock. I’m liking the Hoosier 28/10/17 slicks, but first I need more info about whether my drive train and axles are strong enough to handle them.
Part of the fun was I “won” 5 out of my 7 races down the track. I know “winning” doesn’t really mean much in these line ups since it’s rarely a race between equal cars, but it’s still damn fun to cross that finish line first, especially if you have to catch a guy who hooked up on launch. I sure gave a lot of late 1990’s and early 2000’s Camaros, Trans Ams and Z28s hell. LOL! These 392s are freight trains. Bill got a 13.02 with his 392 Deep Water Blue 6-speed manual Dodge Challenger with drag radials, and much more experience. His trick was to NOT race. Disregarding the Christmas tree altogether, he’d let the car next to him go and not worry about his recorded reaction time. Just concentrate on his launch and run. I tried that, but I just couldn’t give up the thrill of the chase!
All in all it was a blast! A few things I liked most about it were that there were soooo many awesome vintage cars in incredible condition that it was like going to a Barrett Jackson auction, but wayyyy better because these cars not only looked great, but then we got to watch them blast down the track. Easily, the fastest cars there for the most part, and the ONLY thing that sounded better than my Zoomers exhaust system. Another thing was, how accessible and friendly the whole place is. Everyone helps each other out. The only time everyone takes off their “nice” hat is during grudge matches, but your windows are rolled up, so no one really knows what anyone is saying. Actually, even the grudge matches were all in fun. Hard to believe the whole thing only costs you $20.00. And of course, it was great hanging out with my friends and meeting new ones. I’m definitely hooked on drag racing now.
See you at the track!
— Jon aka Thingfish
2011 Dodge Challenger 392 Inaugural Edition #119, White with Blue Stripes
392 Hemi V8, 6-speed manual transmission
LS1Speed skip shift eliminator (from Speedlogix)
MOPAR Front Strut Tower Brace
Zoomers Cat-Back Exhaust System