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SE-R Drag Racing Tips

red_triangle.gif (202 bytes) Pat Griffith writes:

*Disclaimer: These tips are not etched in stone -- somebody else may be doing something different that has yielded him/her success with his/her SR20-powered car at the drag strip. This is simply what has worked best for *me* with *my* car. Hopefully, SR20 pilots can find something here to help make their trips down the quarter mile a bit more enjoyable -- and faster!.

Going fast

Nothing like cutting to the chase, huh? There are several ways you can get quicker elapsed times (ETs) when drag racing your front-wheel drive Japanese econo-musclecar:

1. Rolling starts. Yes, you can actually get a rolling start when drag racing. There are a few inches (maybe 4 to 7?) of rollout on the starting line. So what I’ve always done is *carefully* inched forward enough to *barely* activate the "staged" bulbs on the "Christmas Tree." This enables me to take advantage of those few inches of rollout and get a rolling start.   Probably good for a few hundredths or a tenth or so.

2. Cool, man. Keep your engine as cool as possible between runs. There are several ways to do this (a lot of these can be used for autoxing, too):

* Keep your hood propped open when sitting in the staging lanes.

* Put bag(s) of ice on the valve cover or fuel injectors (never done any of this but have seen other SE-R pilots do this with good results). The MAF also has a nice crevice where you can put a few cubes of ice (I have done this :).

* Spray your radiator with water. (01 APR 98) I finally bought a 2-gallon water bottle (for about $20 at K-Mart) - the kind used for home & garden use to spray chemicals on weeds. I was anxious to see if spraying down the radiator between runs would help the ETs. My first time "testing" this, I did a run with a cool radiator then a run 10-15 minutes later without cooling the car. It seemed like low-end performance (the first 1/8 mile) was hampered a bit with the "hot" radiator, and the cooler radiator was good for about five hundredths. This was on a cool night (about 65-70 degrees), so maybe this would help more on a hotter day.

* Hook up your fans with a switch so you can turn them on when the engine is not running.

* When you have to put your hood down because the line in the staging lanes is moving, turn the heater on full blast to channel some of the hot air out of the engine bay (I’ve even done this when it’s 90+ degrees out :). Another little trick is to pull the fuse for the air conditioner (it’s really easy on my ‘92). Then when you turn the a/c on, the fans come on (I picked this up from Clint Fong -- see his explanation on how it works).

* [Editorial Note:  You could possibly try the A/C fuse tip]

I’ve done those runs where after getting down track, I make my way back up to the staging lanes to run again (I have some timeslips that are only five minutes or so apart). But even when doing this you can cool your engine somewhat. Pop your hood after crossing the finish line and getting down to a reasonable speed. This just gets cooler air into the engine bay -- sort of like a ram air effect.

3. No burnouts. If you’re running normal street tires, don’t do smokey burnouts. Your tires will get "greasy" and therefore won’t have as much grip when launching. When moving your car up to stage, avoid the water box and do a dry hop to spin the tires. This "cleans" them of pebbles to give you a clean tire surface.

4. SE-R lightweight. One of the SE-Rs best attributes is its light weight. So taking more dead weight out of it can only help. I usually just remove the spare tire and jack (removing these also helps minimize weight transfer to keep a bit more power on the drive wheels), and the floor mats. That’s usually it for me.  I like running with as full interior as possible -- just a personal preference.  Oh, with me in the car with about a 1/4 tank of gas and no spare tire, jack and floor mats, my SE-R weighs 2,640 pounds.

5.  Tire pressure.  It's good to lower the pressure a bit on the front tires.  This gives bit wider track, and the "spongeyness" of the lower pressure seems gives a bit more grip.  I lower my Yokohama A509s (185/60/14) to about 25 psi.  You can also pump up your rear tires by a few psi for less rolling resistance.

6.  Launching.  Again, this is what has worked best for me, with my car.  I usually take the RPMs to 3,500 and do a slip clutch launch.   Before installing my header, my launch point was bout 3,000 RPM and dropping the clutch.  This is a sort of gray area -- some people can have success launching a different way.  It comes down to what feels best to you.

(8-01-98) Manny Gonzalez has compiled info on how he launched his NOS-fed SE-R into the 12s. Click here.

7. Shift points.  With ECU/exhaust/intake, my shift points were:   shift to 2nd at 7600, shift to 3rd at 7500, and just leave it in 3rd the rest of the way -- I never hit the JWT-induced rev limiter.  With the header, I shift to 4th at 7250.  Shift points will vary a bit if you don't have the JWT ECU.  So if you don't have an upgraded ECU, just take the car to redline or pretty close to it -- our cars seem to like it up there.  Like launching, it could come down to what feels best to you.

(23MAY98)  I think my new SE-R likes a different set of shift points -- to 2nd at 7500, to third at 7250 and to 4th at 7000.  It has a bit better low end than my old car, which is why it seems to perform better (compared with using the shift points I carried over from my old car).

8. Practice, practice, practice. Drag racing isn't as easy as it seems.  It's more than going in a straight line.  I estimate I cut three or four tenths simply because I learned to drive my car better (lauching, shifting, keeping the car going as straight as possible).


(04 APR 98) I thought I'd throw in my impressions about street tires and how they fare at the drag strips. I used Yokohama A509s in 185/60/14 for about a year. They were fairly grippy, and I could get consistent 2.25 60-foot times. They lasted more than a year with daily driver use thrown in to boot. At $50 to $60 a tire, not too shabby. Currently, I have 195/55/14 Dunlop D40M2s. An excellent choice for "upgrading." The traction is a bit better than the A509s, and I've been able to easily squeeze off 2.18 60-footers, 2.20-2.21 consistently. They're about $20 more expensive than the A509s, and I think Dunlop is going to discontinue them soon.

(21MAY98) I finally broke down and bought a pair of Nitto 555R drag radials (205/55/14 -- $100 apiece from Discount Tire Direct). After one trip to the drag strip, I am really impressed. I was doing 5K slip-clutch launches with minimal wheelspin. My best 60-foot time was a 2.10 (previous best was 2.17 with regular street tires) with a couple 2.13s and 2.15s. I think I could squeeze off a few 2.0Xs with a bit more practice. Of note, these *kick ass* on the street (they're DOT legal). I was doing 5K launches with *no* wheelspin. I suspect that the reason the launches didn't translate to the track was because the drag strip's starting line was scattered with pebbles (prominent at Md. Intern'l Raceway, where I was running) and rubber "marbles." Track officials don't baby the starting line unless your last name is Force or you have a cool nickname like "The Professor."

(23MAY98) Encountered *no wheelspin* using the Nitto drag radials with 5K launches at Virginia Motorsports Park.  All tracks are different, so I guess all starting lines are different.  However, could only still yield a best of a 2.10 on 60-foot time.  I would have tried a higher rpm for launching but gave up because my clutch began slipping.  Doh!  I guess this is a warning to some of you: Don't do 5K rpm slip-clutch launches on drag radials with the OE clutch. :(


So you want a little competition? Since the NHRA and IHRA don’t allow cars that are built by Japanese manufacturers, we’re left with the occasional import racing events or bracket night at the local track, which is what I’ll focus on. For me, bracket racing is fun because it’s mano-a-mano competition and you’re mainly going up against your usual Mustangs (it’s fun to give a stocker a handicapped start) and other assorted musclecars. But the winners in bracket racing aren’t usually the drivers who have the fastest car but who are the most consistent. Here are some tips to winning at bracket racing (these can probably apply to any car, not just an SE-R):

* Good reaction times. If you get a better reaction time, you will most likely beat your opponent. Plain and simple. Reaction time is how quickly you react to the green shining on the Christmas tree. There is half a second between the last yellow on the tree and the green, so the closer you get to a .500 reaction time, the better. If you get a .499, you’ve left too early and red lighted. Since the timer doesn’t begin until you’ve crossed the starting line, you can actually beat a faster car by getting a good jump at the line.

The secret to good reaction times: Starting to move BEFORE the green. When the last yellow flashes, let out the clutch (or let off the brake for you auto tranny drivers). Basically, it takes a bit of time for "GO!" to register from your brain to your feet, so you can counter this by saying "GO!" before it’s actually time to go. There’s also a few inches of rollout at the starting line, so the car can be moving while not breaking the staged beam.

For me, I zero in on the second yellow and leave when it goes off. It’s probably easier for most people just to start leaving when the last yellow flashes.

A quick war story: I was racing against a twin turbo Supra once with an 11.85 dial-in to my 15.10. The lights came down for me, and I took off. I got close to the 330-foot mark and saw the Supra take off in my rearviewmirror. At half track, I was thinking "Aw, he ain’t gaining on me that much." At the 1,000-foot mark, I simply thought "Uh-oh." At about a car length before the finish line, the Supra hadn’t caught me, and I hit the brakes. The Supra went by in a black blur (I think it was black -- it went by so fast, it was kinda hard to tell) and I saw the win light go up on my side. I got the timeslip, and I had cut a .518 light to the Supra’s .536.   The Supra also ran over his dial-in by about six tenths while I was off by about a tenth hitting the brakes.  No real moral of this story other than it shows how a significantly slower car can be competitive with consistency and being quick off the line.

* Consistency. As I said, consistency will win a lot of bracket races. For example if you run a best of 15.25 during time trials but are consistently running 15.35s, it’s best to dial in a 15.35. That gives you a little bit of a cushion so if you see you have the lead when closing on the finish line, you can let off the gas or hit the brakes so you don’t break out.

red_triangle.gif (202 bytes) Mike Kojima writes:

>Jay wrote: but I could still never get below a 2.1 60' time. I had lots of
>wheelspin in 1st, even after dropping the pressure to about 18, and
>burning out quite nicely.

One of the reasons that you could not get a better 60 ft time is that drag slicks do not really begin to work well until you drop the pressure into the 13 LB or so range. At 18 psi they are only twice as good as regular radials!

Without rimscrews and inner tubes you can safely go to about 12psi pretty conservatively. Beware of below that, the tire could spin on the rim. You also need to remember that the tire pressure will increase by about 3 psi on your first run and a little more after that for the next two runs.

Because of this you have to bleed some air out every round to keep the pressure consistent.

Burn out until you can see some smoke and continue to burn out through the water pit. That way you can be sure that there is no residual water on the tires. Do a dry hop on your way to the x-mas tree. This cleans off any water that may be still on your tires.

When everything is right the slicks will make a ripping sound when you dry hop.

Stage as early as possible and leave on the last amber. Rev the motor to 5000-5500 if you have a stock flywheel or 6000-6500 with a light one. Let the clutch out until right before the clutch catches and hold the car on the line with your parking brake so you don't creep while finding the right pedal spot. This really improves your r/t.

When you launch. dump the clutch and punch it. No feathering or fancy stuff. The slicks will spin but you will rocket away.

By doing this you can expect 1.8-1.9 60 ft times.

red_triangle.gif (202 bytes) Jay Hassinger writes:

I came from a strong domestic drag racing backround and now that I'm racing imports I can see it from both sides of the fence. From the domestic guys viewpoint the import guys are a big pain in the ass. I'll list some of the reasons as an effort to help us be more "track friendly" to them.

A. Import guys do not know the "unwritten rules" of the track like: If your car breaks PULL OFF TO THE SIDE. 99.9% of the import guys will spill antifreeze, oil and motor parts for 3/4 of the track making for not only one hell of a clean up job while the rest of us sit in the staging lanes, but it makes for a dangerous track as well. Yes they can clean up the mess, but the track is left impared. When you have 500+hp and are turning sub 12 second times this is dangerous and can be the cause of a crash in the big end if the car gets loose for a split second.

B. DO NOT BURNOUT OUTSIDE OF THE STAGING AREA. If you are going to avoid the waterbox and still want to lightly heat the tires, make sure your front wheels are ON the track surface. The officials work hard to prepare the track and doing burnouts outside of the track surface ruins the tarmac and appearance of the place. This will piss off the people who own/run the track. You will see 90% of the RWD street tire domestic guys pull onto the track surface, back up near the waterbox and then do their thing if they are not in the waterbox.

C. Read the NHRA rule book and follow it. When you "tech" they can not spend 30 minutes inspecting your car. They only look for the major things. A lot of import guys in the haste of choping whatever they can off the car for weight savings forget things like a radiator catch can. Great, now we get super slick antifreeze dripping on the launch pad, and Joe Blow puts his $30,000 race car into the wall.

Also Have your Tech card filled out BEFORE you pull into tech lane. We don't want to sit behind you and watch you fill it out while ours are done.

D. This one we can't help, but it's a problem non the less. FWD cars pull water from the waterbox into the launch pad with the rear wheels. There is no cure except that the official can "wipe" the surface, but this still impairs the racing surface. The RWD domestic guys don't apreciate it.

E. LEARN HOW TO STAGE BEFORE YOU GET THERE. This one pisses me off to no end. 2 out of three cars, try to stage with the rear wheels, blow right past the beams as the stage lights blink, don't come foward far enough, etc etc. This happens ALL THE TIME at the import events. The tree guy was getting pissed as hell because he has to walk over to the car, bang on the window, hold your hand and line you up at the tree. Now a 5 second affair becomes a 30 second event. Mulitply that by 100cars and the time adds up along with the frustration level.

F. DON'T SPEED ON THE RETURN ROAD This is a major issue! Guys come down the F'n return road about 50mph!

G. If you are in the lane opposite the exit to the return road, wait for the car in the other lane near the exit to turn in, unless he is very very far back. A lot of accidents have been caused by this as the cars in the far lane cut off the other cars in the near lane to the exit.

H. When your car is in the staging lanes, waiting for your class's next run, don't abandon it to go "mac" with your "crew". How many times have we had to back up 13 cars to try and get around the guy who left his car in the lanes and is nowhere to be found.

I. Attitude. Most of the "import racers" are young guys with attitudes, or at least a percieved attitude.. I witnessed a guy argue with an official over some thing that was HIS FAULT, next to the waterbox, then get in his car and do a childish "power brake" near the admin box, then drive off on the return road banging gears. That is very immature and does not look good at all for us. Oh and do yourself a favor and don't "challenge" the guy in the 8 second Stang because you heard on the internet that "Domestics are all slow". That car would rip you a new one in no time flat. Try giving the guy a compliment, you would be surprised at what you can learn from him.

Bottom line is have some respect and it will be returned. While you may not have done any of this personally it DOES happen a lot. Englistown is getting better with it, and now that there are a group of "hardcore" import guys who show on a regular basis and "respect" the place they are changing attititudes a bit. You will now hear the announcer try to "educate" the import crowd on what to do when something happens and whatnot. They have also started a "beginners day" at the track to help show people the right way to race.