Willowbank Raceway - Go Drag Racing

Go Drag Racing

Willowbank Raceway Invites you to GO DRAG RACING

 Newcomers to the quarter mile sport sometimes find it all a little bewildering, pre-stage and stage lights, red light starts, reaction times, handicap displays, break-outs, double break-outs & so on. But as you know, nothing is confusing once you understand it. And that's the purpose of "GO DRAG RACING".

By the time you finish this booklet, you will be an expert on just what makes drag racing tick. We can't make you an expert racer - that will only come with time and experience. But at least we can give you a head start!

As well we will also detail the various formats of racing at Willowbank Raceway and just how simple it is to get involved.

So, welcome to the world of drag racing at Willowbank. You may find after reading this booklet and racing a few times, that you will be hooked on drag racing... and that's how we've planned it! 

Types of Racing

Before you decide on the direction of your drag racing involvement, a brief explanation of the various formats of racing at Willowbank is needed.

The Test n Tune's are the most basic and are for competitors to bring their cars to the track and run against the clocks. There are no organised eliminations.

The next form is the Street Series which is conducted on a handicap system known as “Dial-your-own” racing. Roughly 90% of drag racing uses this system and if you are a newcomer to drag racing this is all you probably need to know to start with.

"Dial-your-own" simply means that you nominate your own handicap time. This gives the slower vehicle of a race a physical head start, which is programmed electronically into our Compulink Timing system. In this mode the 3 amber start lights are activated one at a time at 0.4 second intervals which gives the competitor a short time to pre-empt the illumination of the green light.

To stop someone nominating a time they can run a lot faster than, thus giving an unfair advantage, a "breakout" rule is applied. Put simply, if you nominated 14.00 seconds for your "dial-in" and ran 13.99 or faster in racing you lose the race. But if your opposition does the same thing a “Double Breakout” situation arises, and the timers award the win automatically to the person "breaking out" by the least amount.

"Dial-your-own" racing is a very fair form of racing that provides close, competitive racing for even the first timer. In fact, some competitors have won a trophy at their first attempt.

The second type of handicap racing is class index racing, whereby you race on a fixed handicap based on the index for your class. With this form of racing, to be competitive, one needs to have their car or bike capable of running close to or under the index of the class. Eliminators using this format are Competition, Super Stock, Super Compact & Competition Bike. These brackets are run at selected events at Willowbank. This form of racing also uses the 3 amber starting format.

The final form of racing conducted at Willowbank is "heads up" racing, where both vehicles leave the start line at the same time. These are Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Alcohol, Pro Slammer, Pro Stock, Top Bike & Pro Bike and Super Gas. All amber lights come on at once for the start, this is known as a "Pro Start". 

Staging Lanes

Test n Tune

At the Test n Tune you pay your entry at the gate. Your entry admits the entrant only, all other people with you will pay spectator admission.

Only a few requirements are needed to compete at Test n Tunes. If your car runs slower than 9.99 you will need an approved helmet, long sleeves, long pants, covered shoes and socks. If your vehicle runs quicker than 10.00 you will need to comply with the relevant IHRA licence and safety requirements.

Bikes running slower than 9.49 need an approved helmet, leather jacket (or equivalent standard) long pants, boots and gloves as a minimum. Bikes running quicker than 9.50 will need to comply with the relevant IHRA licence and safety requirements.

After you pay your entry fee and collect your entry form, take your vehicle and entry form to the rear of the staging lanes where a Track Official will take your completed entry form, check your helmet and relevant safety items and write a number on your vehicle. Lane 1 is for bikes, lane 2 for vehicles with permanent IHRA numbers and lanes 3, 4,5,6, and 7 are for any on-day numbered vehicles.

Officials take an equal number of cars and bikes from each lane. If you get to the track when the gates open, you should have time to do several runs during the night. This is governed by the number of entries on the day. 

Street Series

Entering a Street Series event at Willowbank is where the majority get their first taste of elimination drag racing.

Entry to the event is done on the day by paying as you go in the gate. Your entry fee at a Street Series event admits the entrant only, all other people with you will pay spectator admission. Unless you have work to do on your vehicle, it is advisable to get into the lanes to have your entry and vehicle checked. This is done at the back of the staging lanes. Only a few requirements are needed to compete at Street Series meets. If your car runs slower than 10.50, a three point lap sash belt (as minimum), an approved helmet, long sleeves, long pants, covered shoes and socks. If your vehicle runs quicker than 10.50 you will not be able to compete in the street series, but are more than welcome to test your vehicle.

Bikes running slower than 9.50 need an approved helmet, leather jacket (or equivalent standard) long pants, boots and gloves as a minimum. If your Bike runs quicker than 9.50 you will not be able to compete in the street series, but are more than welcome to test your vehicle.

If you don't hold an IHRA licence you will need an Willowbank Drag Racing day licence, available at the track for $5 (at time of print). This is valid for the day of issue only.

After handing in your completed entry form and having a race number allocated, line up in the staging lanes. Lane 1 (nearest the corporate building) is for bikes, Lane 2 is for vehicles doing test runs only, and lanes 3 to 7 are for remaining Street Series entrants. Pick the shortest lane.

Officials take an equal number of cars and bikes from each lane. If you get to the track when the gates open, you should have time to do your 3 qualifying runs before racing begins. 

Start Line

When it's your turn, proceed towards the start line. Willowbank officials will hold you in the burnout area and indicate when it is time for you to move forward. For those doing burnouts, the only place you can do this is in this area.

As you approach the start, there is a yellow line painted on each side of the lane showing the actual start beam. Under the shroud at the start line there are three sets of sensor beams in each lane. The first is the PRE STAGE beam, which controls the white lights at the top of the Xmas tree. This does nothing more than let you know you have eight inches to go to the STAGE BEAM, the second light on the tree. The race cannot be started until this light is on. It doesn’t matter if the pre stage lights go out again as you move into stage, as the stage lights are the only ones which activate the timing system. This is known as deep staging. The final beam is the GUARD BEAM which starts the timers if the vehicle moves but the stage beam has not been reconnected this can be caused when the beam is interrupted by low body work, etc.

When your vehicle is properly staged, you're ready for the race to start.

Under the pre-stage and stage beams are three amber lights which count down to a green GO light and a red FOUL light. When the stage light is on, your front tyre is interrupting the stage beam across the track. If that beam is re-connected before the green light comes on, the red FOUL light comes on. While this doesn't matter in trials, in racing it means "you lose!"

The finish line has two sets of sensor beams. The first is 66 feet before the finish line. The second is the finish line itself. The speed is calculated as an average of your speed between the first and second beams. The second beam also stops the ET clocks and provides the elapsed time for the run. NOTE the scoreboards are not the finish line. The finish line is identified by the yellow floodlights and painted panels on the track walls just past the scoreboards.

After completing the run, take the corner to the left at the end of the concrete barrier. If you have a problem and cannot stop, don't try to take the corner at high speed - continue straight ahead towards the sand trap.

Having completed the run, pick up your time slip from the box at the base of the tower. All details of the run are shown - reaction time, incremental times (including half-track speed in mph and kph), elapsed time, and speed in mph and kph and in racing, the amount from your dial-in. Both lanes are shown on the time slip, and if you are the winner of the race, "Winner" will show at the bottom of your time card with arrows pointing to the winner.

We will explain about reaction times a little later in the section "WORKING THE LIGHTS" 


At Street Series events, after a short break to assemble the brackets, the real racing is about to begin. Competition in drag racing is most commonly referred to as "eliminations".

In dial-your-own racing, vehicles are handicapped according to a "dial-in" time nominated by you. A good rule of thumb is to use your fastest trial as a guide, bearing in mind that at night meets, the cooler night air will usually improve your times over runs done in the heat of day.

Track officials will mark your "dial-in" on the side window of cars and take a note of the bike "dial in" in paperwork to go to the tower.

Now its time for your first round of eliminations. For example, let’s say you have dialled-in at 16.10 seconds and your competition dialled-in a time of 15.50. With the handicap system, you have a .60 head start. Before moving into stage, confirm that the handicap is correct by checking the displays on the scoreboards at the finish line. Make sure you know your opponents "dial-in". If you have a question about the handicap, you must advise the starter before you stage. Once you stage, you have accepted the handicap and the race result will stand.

You get in a good run and hold off your opposition to record your first win. Pick up your time slip at the tower and return to the staging lane allocated for your bracket. If you are the winner, "Winner" will show under your race details at the bottom of the page.

In round two, you run a bit stronger (things like cooler air can increase your performance) and you record a 16.05 in crossing the finish line first. But this time you have lost the race, because you have run quicker than your 16.10 dial-in. The timers award the win light to your opponent and this is shown on your time slip. However, if your opponent red-lights, you then cannot lose the race and the win light comes on immediately in your lane at the finish line.

Drag racing is conducted on a tournament elimination format. If you win, return immediately to the lane you left from to continue to the next round. If you lose, you have the choice of relaxing and enjoying the rest of the meet, or heading home. However, you may have the option of doing a few extra runs by lining up in lanes 6 or 7 for "Grudge runs" against others who are also out of the racing. Officials take vehicles out of the Grudge lanes as needed, which is usually towards the final rounds of eliminations. 

Working the Lights

Before diving into an explanation of how to "cut a good light", you must remember two things. 1. Each lane is timed independently of the other, and 2. The timers do not start when the green light comes on!

To give an extreme example, if you were to sit on the start line until your opponent crossed the finish line and then leave, you may run a time much closer to your dial-in, but he would easily win the race, simply because he had a much better reaction time. In real racing this sort of thing happens all the time, except the difference between reaction times is in fractions of a second.

When you get your time slip after a run, look at your reaction time. Compare it to your opponent. Reaction times work on a simple principle. It measures the time from when the last amber comes on to when your front wheel clears the start line beam. Now, as there is exactly 4 tenths of a second between lights, it then follows that a "perfect light" will be four tenths of a second - meaning that the vehicle has cleared the stage beam at exactly the same time as the green light came on. This is shown on the time slip as 0.000. Anything less than this, means that you left too early and red lighted (fouled) and any more than this is wasted time sitting at the start line.

Most newcomers to racing leave when the green light comes on. This will give a reaction time of well over a second. For example, if you pulled a 1.12 reaction time and your opponent ran a .060, you have given away over six tenths start right at the start line. For a more graphic example, with two cars of the same performance running 100 mile an hour in the quarter mile, this .66 wasted at the start represents 96 feet or about 6 car lengths at the finish line!

So, lesson number one in cutting a good light is to forget about the green. Try leaving as soon as you see the last amber light. You'll probably be surprised to find you did not red light. And when you get your time slip, you will be amazed at the difference in your reaction time. After that it is largely up to you and your vehicle. You should try to improve your reaction times until you can run in the mid fours. Forget about running .40's every run. Only very experienced racers with well set up cars can run reactions consistently in the low fours.

If you are puzzled why you can leave before the green light comes on, without triggering the red light ...., well, it’s simple. It's to do with reaction times. Firstly, your reaction to a signal, in this case the last amber will be around .17-.20. Medical studies have pegged average human reaction times at around this time. Secondly, the reaction time of your vehicle itself - the time it takes from when you stomp on the throttle to when your front tyres move out of the stage beam. (This is called the Rollout Distance of a vehicle)

Therefore you can see that it takes almost half the time between the last amber and green to react and stand on the throttle, plus more than this time again, for your vehicle to move forward and clear the start line beam. Naturally, the slower the vehicle, the slower the "vehicle reaction" time is and the earlier you can leave on the lights.

This takes practice and varies from vehicle to vehicle. 

Getting a Licence

The International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) provides one level of Licence. While cars slower than 10.49 and bikes slower than 9.49 can use day licences issued at Street Series events, those who wish to contest major meetings must apply for an IHRA licence. This allows participation in the Track Championships and speedier processing at Street Series events. Cars running quicker that the above times require a Licence, which involves a medical and IHRA membership. You can get your application from IHRA Australia website.

...and that's it, the basics of how to go drag racing at Willowbank Raceway. We hope that by increasing your knowledge of drag racing we can improve your enjoyment of it.

So now the next step is up to you.

Are you up to the challenge?

Remember, you don’t need an expensive high performance vehicle to make an entry into the world of Drag racing. Your level of performance and experience is totally your choice.

For further information, refer to our website or contact the raceway office by phoning (07)5461 5461