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Track night – burning up the 1/4 mile

August 9th, 2008 · 2 Comments · Personal

I’m sitting here in my chair smelling of rubber. That’s the smell that has permeated my very being after standing on the sidelines and watching dozens of cars tear up their tires as they drag down the 1/4 mile strip at Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ. The track is about 30 minutes from my house, very easily accessible and every Wednesday and Friday nights are Track Nights. On Wednesdays though they don’t time you, and on Fridays you can pay $24 for three runs on the strip. Not too shabby if you ask me.

The Drag Strip

I went with my friend Andrew, who owns a Mazda 6, and his friend Devon, who also owns a Mazda 6. Both their cars are modified (Devon’s moreso than Andrew’s) above stock, whereas my 2003 350Z is baseline trim and completely stock. Not that I really cared, I still have 287hp backing me up and it will be nice to have a base reading of my stock performance when I finally start tweaking the engine on this car.

So we got to the racetrack about 15 minutes before the gates opened, in a torrential downpour thanks to a passing thunderstorm. Luckily the storm blew through in a matter of minutes and while they got started drying the track ASAP we sat in line to get through the gates and past the tech inspection – which was rather pointless for us, having street-legal cars. So about half an hour later we were parked in our lanes. Andrew was staging in Lane 1 while Devon and I were in Lane 2. There are 15 lanes total and lanes 1-7 were for time trials, lanes 11-12 were for 8.50s cars (yowzers!!), lanes 13-14 were for the Mean Street elimination competition, and lane 15 was for the bikes (awesome).

Keeping the engine cool

Right so, we chilled in our lanes for a good while, I’d say about another 30 mins or so – then all of the sudden it was “quick! to your cars!” and we all piled in and Lanes 1 & 2 both pulled out and around to the back of the stadium, where we entered into the main staging area. You would pick an open lane (left or right) and pull up to the first guy, who would check your helmet, lights and seatbelt – all on. Then he’d pass you up to the water pit, but as I’m in a street car I would just detour around it. Finally they would give you the thumbs up to proceed to the lights, where you nudge forward until the second double-amber light glows. A second later you’d get the 3-2-1 single amber lights and then GREEN!!! GO GO GO!!

I’m proud that I kept my cool and didn’t stall out my start or sit there and do nothing but spin my tires. However, this is mainly due to talking with another Z owner with drag experience prior to my first run, he told me that even though the light goes green, the timer doesn’t start until you actually move. So that removed a lot of the stress I was feeling on nailing the light and gave it a good smooth start and flew down the strip until I passed the billboards displaying the time/speed and then I was like – ok now what?? So I followed the car that had raced next to me off the track and got my very first ever time slip:

Temp: 73F
R/T (green-light reaction time): 1.275
60′: 2.299
330: 6.227
1/8: 9.470
MPH: 76.39
1000: 12.218
1/4: 14.541
MPH: 96.80

Not too shabby for my first run. My buddies in the Mazdas both missed gears and timed in over 15s. A white 06 Z with 300hp also came in with a mid-15s time, which we all found surprising considering it out-powers me (we found out later the guy didn’t know to turn off his traction control). I was pumped and ready for my second run, but that was a long time in coming. About two hours, in fact. Yea, they kept racing the Mean Street and 8.50 cars because they were in for money so they got priority. Also, there were a number of engine blowouts, stalls, and even one almost-crash where a 70’s Camero SS spun out barely 100yds down the track and nicked the wall. In those cases, the track had to be cleared before racing could resume. In the Camero case, they actually had to re-surface the track which took forever. But it was cool seeing a jet turbine being used to dry the track surface.

Doh!! Luckily it was only a scratch

A Zamboni for drag strips?? Who knew?!

That’s right. A jet turbine. Awesome.

Finally around 8:45pm we got in our second run. This time around I tried pushing a bit too far and topped out of fourth gear, hitting my rev limiter and delaying my shift into 5th. Still, I managed to chop a few more tenths/hundredths of a second off my times:

Temp: N/A
R/T: .734
60′: 2.270
330: 6.170
1/8: 9.359
MPH: 78.00
1000: 12.089
1/4: 14.429
MPH: 97.69

Luckily the third and final run wasn’t long in coming compared to the gap between runs 1 and 2. The third run I managed to improve my times even more, as I came smooth off the line and shifted smooth all the way through to 5th gear (no way I’m making it to 6th :P). I almost managed to hit 100mph as well.

Temp: 69F
R/T: .740
60′: 2.238
330: 6.163
1/8: 9.327
MPH: 78.36
1000: 12.036
1/4: 14.317
MPH: 99.03

So, I obviously need to improve my launch, because when I stopped to think about it, I should not be shifting out of 4th gear at all. I know can hit 105mph in 4th gear before I’m in any danger of red-lining, so the fact that I’m redlining 4th at around 93mph means I’m losing some speed in 1st or 2nd due to wheel spin. I also know I should be moving faster thanks to, where this timeslip was the fastest stock ’03 Z listed. I wish they had included the temperature as well – I raced my last run in 69 degrees, and the colder air (4 degrees cooler than my first run!) no doubt helped boost my horsepower as well.

I’ll definetly be working to shave that half-second off my 1/4 mile time in the coming months, as I do indeed plan to head back to the track for some more dragging, because it was fun. And not just the driving, but standing on the side as the 8.50 cars spooled up and spun out their tires (hence me reeking of rubber) before taking to the starting line and then wheelieing halfway down the dragstrip. Awesome. The sounds too – man those are some serious engines!

if you have a sports car, I’d definitely recommend taking it to the track with some buddies. Just remember to be gentle – it’s still your daily driver! Slip that clutch nice and smooth and no dumping!

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