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 Automotive Terms Glossary 

You can find automotive abbreviations and repair and racing vernacular in our glossary of more than 6,500 automotive terms. Click on a letter to browse the definitions alphabetically.

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 Drag Racing 

Drag Racing Made Simple   

The sport of drag racing is an acceleration contest between two cars racing from a standing start over a straight, quarter-mile course.

An NHRA PowerAde Series race is made up of a series of individual two-car races called eliminations, with competing machines divided into four categories. Class eligibility is governed by criteria that limit engine size, type of fuel, vehicle weight, allowable modifications and aerodynamics.

The main object is to get to the finish line first, which may not necessarily be the quickest time or fastest speed. Sound confusing? It really isn't.

A set of lights, commonly called a Christmas tree, is used at the starting line. There is a 0.4-second difference between the flash of all the amber lights and the flash of the green light in the pro start system. Any time a driver leaves the line before the green, the red light illuminates to signal a foul. The offending driver is disqualified.

Sometimes a driver can win despite a slower elapsed time and speed than their opponent. That's because the winning driver had a quicker reaction time to the green light at the starting line, and that advantage was greater than their opponent's performance advantage on the track. Remember, the elapsed-time clock in each lane doesn't start until the car moves.

Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle comprise the four professional categories of NHRA PowerAde Series competition.

7,000-horsepower, nitro methane-burning Top Fuel dragsters are the quickest-accelerating machines on earth. They are powered by supercharged, custom-built, 500 cubic-inch engines mounted behind the driver and are capable of covering a quarter-mile from a standing start in less than five seconds at 330-plus mph. Two parachutes, which are activated by a hand control inside the cockpit of a Top Fuel dragster, are the car's primary braking system.

Funny Cars are short-wheel based cars with a fiberglass replica of a production car body. The engines are identical to those that power Top Fuel machines, with one noticeable difference - they are located in front of the driver. Body styles allowed in competition are 2000 or newer model year two-door sports cars, two-door coupes or two-door sedan bodies of a type originally mass-produced by an automobile manufacturer - foreign or domestic.

Pro Stock cars, while retaining a close resemblance to their showroom counterparts, feature extensive engine modifications, sophisticated chassis and suspension development and a maximum 500 cubic-inch engine displacement. Pro Stock cars must be 2003 or newer two-door coupes or sedans. All cars use carburetors and burn gasoline as fuel.

Drag Racing Glossary

A Quick Reference to Drag Racing Terminology

Air box: Used primarily on Pro Stock Motorcycles, it settles "negative air" around carburetors the way a hood scoop does on a car.

Air foil: the same as a wing - a stabilizer, generally used to create downforce, which increases stability and tire-to-track adherence at high speeds.

Bang the blower: an explosion inside the supercharger caused by a flame from the combustion process accidentally re-entering the supercharger, where fuel and air are present. Generally caused by a stuck or broken intake valve that normally would be closed during the combustion sequence.

Breakout: Used only in handicap racing, "breakout" refers to a contestant running quicker than he or she "dialed" his or her vehicle (predicted how quick it would run). Unless the opponent commits a more serious foul (e.g., red-lights, crosses the centerline, or fails a post-race inspection), the driver who breaks out loses. If both drivers break out, the one who runs closest to his or her dial is the winner.

Burn down: When both cars intentionally hesitate before moving into the "Stage" position at the Christmas Tree, therefore delaying the start of the race. Drivers seek to gain a mental advantage over their opponent through this process by seeking to interrupt the other driver's normal routine.

Burned Piston: When a cylinder runs lean (too much air in the air-to-fuel mixture) and excessive heat burns or melts the piston.

Burnout: spinning the rear tires in water to heat and clean them prior to a run for better traction. A burnout precedes every run.

Christmas Tree: Also called the Tree, it is the noticeable electronic starting device between the lanes on the starting line. It displays a calibrated-light countdown for each driver.

Chromoly: Also Chrome Moly. Short for Chromium Molybdenum steel. A very strong type of steel tubing used to build the frames for many dragsters.

Clutch Can: The bell-shaped housing, or bellhousing, used to encase the clutch and flywheel.

Clutch Lockup: The progression of clutch-disc engagement controlled by an air-timer management system.

Competition license: Drivers in NHRA sanctioned events must have an NHRA competition license. To obtain a license, sportsman drivers must be at least 16 years old and have a valid state driver's license. Drivers in pro categories must be at least 18 years old or turn 18 during their first season. Sportsman drivers whose cars have an NHRA dial-in or E.T. index of 9.99 seconds or quicker and drivers from the four professional categories must also pass a physical examination and complete six licensing runs.

Deep stage: to roll a few inches farther into the beams after staging, which causes the pre-stage lights to go out. In that position, a driver is closer to the finish line but dangerously close to a foul start.

Dial-in: In handicap racing, the elapsed time selected by the driver that is usually the car's most consistent qualifying time. Having a car dialed-in generally means the driver or crew is satisfied with the car's performance. Generally, the meticulous adjustment of the machine to the performance goal.

Dial under: when drivers in Super Stock and Stock (handicap categories) select an elapsed time quicker than the national index. Drivers select a dial-under, or e.t., that they think their cars will run based on previous performance. The breakout rule is in effect.

Diaper: an absorbent blanket made from ballistic material, often Kevlar, that surrounds the oil pan to contain oil and parts in case of an engine explosion; required for Top Fuel, Funny Car, Top Alcohol Dragster, and Top Alcohol Funny Car.

Dropped cylinder: when a cylinder runs too rich (too much fuel in the air/fuel mixture) and prevents the spark plug(s) from firing.

Elapsed time: the time it takes a vehicle to travel from the starting line to the finish line. Also called e.t.

Eliminations: After qualifying, vehicles race two at a time, resulting in one winner from each pair. Winners continue in tournament-style competition until one remains.

Foul start: indicated by a red light on the Christmas Tree when a car has left the starting line before the green light, or starting signal.

Full Tree: used in Competition, Super Stock, and Stock, for which a handicap starting system is used to equalize competition. The three amber bulbs on the Christmas Tree flash consecutively five-tenths of a second apart, followed five-tenths later by the green starting light. A perfect reaction time on a full Tree is .000.

Header(s): a fine-tuned exhaust system that routes exhaust from the engine; replaces conventional exhaust manifolds.

Hemi: A Hemi engine has a hemispherical shaped cylinder-head combustion chamber, like a ball cut in half.

Holeshot: when a driver reacts quicker to the Christmas Tree to win a race against an opponent with a quicker e.t.

Hydraulic: when a cylinder fills with too much fuel, thus prohibiting compression by the cylinder and causing a mechanical malfunction, usually an explosive one.

Index: the expected performance for vehicles in a class as assigned by NHRA. It allows various classes of cars in the same category to race together competitively.

Interval timers: part of a secondary timing system that records elapsed times, primarily for the racers' benefit, at 60, 330, 660, and 1,000 feet.

Line-loc: Locks the front brakes to allow the car to do a burnout, as well as remain still on the starting line prior to the launch of a run.

Methanol: pure methyl alcohol produced by synthesis; used in Top Alcohol Dragsters and Top Alcohol Funny Cars.

Nitromethane: Produced specifically as a fuel for drag racing, it is the result of a chemical reaction between nitric acid and propane.

Otto cycle: The four operations of intake, compression, power and exhaust (4-cycle engine). Named for inventor Dr. Nikolaus Otto.

Pedaling: When a driver lifts off the throttle then gets back on it again, in an attempt to regain traction with the rear tires.

Pre-stage: to position the front wheels about seven inches behind the starting line so the small yellow lights atop that driver's side of the Christmas Tree are glowing. The next step is to stage and be ready to race.

Pro Tree: used in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Top Alcohol Dragster, Top Alcohol Funny Car, Super Comp, Super Gas, and Super Street, which feature heads-up competition. All three large amber lights on the Christmas Tree flash simultaneously, followed four-tenths of a second later by the green starting light.

Reaction time: the time it takes a driver to react to the green starting light on the Christmas Tree, measured in thousandths of a second. The reaction-time counter begins when the last amber light flashes on the Tree and stops when the vehicle clears the stage beam.

Shift light: In Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle, a light is activated on the dash when it is necessary for the driver to shift gears.

Shut down area: The portion of the track after the finish line that drivers use to slow their machines following a run.

Sixty-foot time: the time it takes a vehicle to cover the first 60 feet of the racetrack. It is the most accurate measure of the launch from the starting line and in most cases determines how quick the rest of the run will be.

Slider clutch: a multi-disc clutch designed to slip until a predetermined rpm is reached; decreases shock load to the drive wheels.

Speed trap: the final 66 feet to the finish line where speed is recorded.

Stage: to position the front wheels right on the starting line so the small yellow lights below the pre-stage lights are glowing. Once both drivers are staged, the calibrated countdown (see Christmas Tree) may begin.

Staging lanes: Area of race facility which leads to the racing surface, where cars are lined up and/or paired before making a run.

Supercharger: a crank-driven air/fuel-mixture compressor, also called a blower. It increases atmospheric pressure in the engine to produce more horsepower.

Teardown: Physical inspection by NHRA staff to ensure that cars meet class specifications. Teardowns are done on a random basis during eliminations; usually after a run.

Transmission blanket: A flexible wrap intended to contain parts in case of transmission disintegration.

Turbocharger: an exhaust-driven intake air compressor (see supercharger).

Wedge: an engine with a combustion chamber resembling a wedge in shape.

Weight transfer: critical to traction. Vehicles are set up to provide a desired weight transfer to the rear wheels. Upon acceleration, the front wheels lift and the weight shifts to the rear wheels, which makes them less likely to spin.

Wheelie bar(s): used to prevent excessive front-wheel lift.

Sources: NHRA Rulebook, NHRA Technical Department


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