NHRA Handicapping Permits Safely Drag Racing Mom's Wagon
Anson, Mike, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
You just turned 16. A brand-new license to drive is carefully stored in your wallet. It's Saturday night and you have been accorded the privilege of using the family station wagon for the evening.
You promise to drive carefully, and you intend to. You pick up your buddies and, obeying the posted speed limits, drive directly to the local drag strip. Once inside, it's time for a few temporary modifications to the family grocery getter.
First you turn the top of the air cleaner upside down and cinch it down with the wing nut - instant ram air. That's got to be worth an extra 5 horsepower. Next, the front tire pressure goes up to 40 psi - less rolling resistance.
Finally, the rear tire pressure goes up to 35 psi - for better grip. Low tire pressures only work for racing slicks; you're running on Mom's skinny stock tires. Now comes the moment of truth.
Driving a stock-appearing station wagon and wearing a helmet, you ease up to the starting line. With a sharp eye on the Christmas tree starting lights, you roll forward until the small yellow light on top comes on. You're pre-staged.
Now, very slowly, you move forward inch by inch until the second yellow light glows. That's it, you're staged and ready to head down the quarter-mile drag strip as fast as Mom's station wagon will go.
Only now do you look into the other lane and notice your opponent. Good grief, it's a modified Camaro with two carburetors sticking out of the hood. How can Mom's station wagon possibly beat a tricked-out Camaro?
Because this drag race is handicapped, that's how. You need about 15 seconds to cover the quarter-mile. The Camaro needs only 12. With that handicap programmed into the starting lights, you get a three-second head start to make it a fair race.
In the blink of an eye, the three yellow lights on your side of the Christmas tree flash on and then you get the green light. You mash the throttle pedal to the floor and the big station wagon lurches forward.
You hold the gearshift lever in L until it seems the engine wants to explode. Then you move the lever to D and instantly slam it back into L. This is a little trick you learned reading Hot Rod Magazine that will keep the automatic transmission in second gear until you move the lever to D.
The instant the station wagon quits accelerating in second gear, you slam the gear lever into D and head for the finish line. You had forgotten about the Camaro until now. But there he is, a flash in the mirror that keeps getting bigger and bigger.
At the finish line he beats you by half a car length. Drat! Still, it wasn't so bad. Mom's wagon survived and you and your buddies had a story to tell your friends. Of course there could have been a different version of this story with a much more tragic outcome.
The race could have occurred on a public road and involved injury and death. …