Drag Racing with Jim Hand – Part 4: Preparing For That First Trip to the Drag Strip
What could be simpler than taking you GTO, GP, FB, TA, 2+2, etc. out to the strip and shutting down that mouthy guy down the street with the Brand C. pile?
Maybe, if you have been there before, and your vehicle is running as well as it is capable of. However, if you are just getting started, there are some basic steps you should take before heading to the strip, and especially before you challenge anyone!
I regard drag racing as fun, and go primarily to improve my car’s performance, and to practice driving. Beating another car, or even winning a bracket, is only a secondary concern in most cases. With this approach, I don’t get upset when I lose, and if my car runs well and/or I drive OK, I consider that trip a success. I strongly recommend you make your first several trips with the same approach. Don’t go to try to beat someone; go to have fun and enjoy your car. Practice your driving skills while getting used to the performance of your Pontiac. Note the areas in which it is inconsistent, or where it sputters or bogs. Also, quietly review the performance of those other cars you would like to whip on. It makes absolutely no sense to challenge a car that is significantly quicker than your machine. You already know how the race will end! Good driving can possibly make up for some difference, but not more than a tenth of a second.
What about damage to your valuable machine caused by drag racing? Any Pontiac in reasonable Factory condition, or equivalent, can make many 1/4 mile passes with no damage to the drive train, other than some accelerated wear on the tires, providing the following conditions are met or observed.
- The car is driven intelligently – no neutral “drops”, no rolling backward and shifting to drive.
- The engine is not run at a high RPM while doing “burnouts”. Don’t come out of the water at high RPM and let the tires hook up on dry surface.
- A reasonable RPM limit is observed at all times. The factory red line or lower is a good starting point.
- Try to keep the drive train slightly loaded, or tight at all times. This is impossible to do with manual transmissions, but in that case, shift carefully and let off the accelerator between shifts. Also, operate the clutch smoothly and don’t slide your foot off sideways. The idea is to minimize drive line snap, or unloading and quickly loading the drive train in all vehicles.
- Assure your hood latches correctly and securely, and keep a window open slightly on a convertible to prevent top ballooning.
Note that none of the above cautions prevent you from running your car hard. There is a tremendous difference in driving hard and driving stupidly!
You must get your car ready During normal driving, and some full throttle spurts on a safe road, observe the following:
- Does your engine overheat fairly quickly at a stoplight, or while waiting in line at the drive-in? If it does, you can be absolutely certain that it will overheat at the drag strip. Don’t risk embarrassment or possible damage to your engine. Correct the problem!
- Does the engine stumble or bog when driving away from idle, or when the secondary of the four barrel or 3-2’s are opened? The initial acceleration from a dead stop has a major effect on the elapsed time and any kind of stumble or hesitation will destroy any chance of good ET’s.
- Does the engine cut out at the upper RPM range of any gear? This generally indicates inadequate gas supply to the carte., and fuel lines, filters, float level, and even fuel pumps should be suspected. If you are not sure of the condition of the air filter, replace it. Standard dry filters will provide the same performance as the highly advertised and overly expensive specialty air filters.
- Does the transmission shift cleanly under full throttle? It does not need to shift hard enough to rattle the windows, but any slippage or engine run-up during shifts indicates possible clutch slippage. Accelerated transmission wear will occur under these conditions, so don’t race until it is corrected. Assure that the kick-down switch is connected and operating. In addition to accessing a lower gear and/or holding the transmission in gear longer, the kick-down switch also increases oil pressure within the transmission. The increased oil pressure causes a firmer shift with less potential slippage of clutches.
- Does your car have loose or badly worn u-joints, or a very noisy rear axle? Don’t risk them at the strip. Repair as necessary, or identify the source of noise to assure that hard driving won’t cause breakage.
- Check the normal tune up items: timing, spark plugs, filters, all fluid levels. Replace the old gas that has been in the tank all winter. Fresh quality gas will make a major difference. Will race gas help? Probably not. Octane level adequate for your combination will provide optimum performance and higher octane will provide absolutely no gain in performance.
All strips require a radiator overflow can to prevent water spills on the track. If your car does not have an overflow tank, obtain a plastic quart oil bottle and temporarily mount it with a plastic tie such that the overflow hose fits in the container. Most tracks also require a helmet that meets the “Snell 85” safety criteria. Some tracks have loaner helmets, but if you want to race regularly, buy your own. Most tracks require a drive shaft loop if you run racing slicks. The helmet and loop requirements may be waived at some club or show car races, but check to make sure before attending
Remember, drag racing should be fun and not a way of settling a grudge You will find out how your car runs, and if you prepare it as suggested above, it will run much better in your car’s performance against the rigged tests reported in most older magazines. Most had cheater engines, and/or happy clocks! Most stock GTO’s actually ran in the range of 14 60 to 15.50 from the factory. Some of the HiPo GTO’s were quicker, but very few ran quicker than 13 90 Most full size performance Pontiacs ran in the range of 15 – 15 40 I was there, and both drove performance Pontiacs, and raced against them