drag racing is form of motor racing that originated in the United States and in which two contestants race from a standing start side by side on a drag strip—a flat, straight course, most commonly 1/4 mile (0.4 km) long. Both elapsed time (in seconds) and final speed (in miles per hour; mph) are recorded, although for most events the winner is simply the first to cross the finish line.
Contestants line up in parallel lanes with an electronic starting device known as a Christmas Tree between the lanes. Each driver interrupts a pair of infrared beams on his approach to the starting line; the first turns on the pre-staging light and the second turns on the staging light at the top of the Tree. Typically, when all four lights are lit and both vehicles are stationary, a starter flips a switch and a sequence of lights comes down the Tree at 0.5 second intervals (0.4 for professionals). On each driver’s side three amber lights come on and then a green “go” light—leaving prematurely turns on a disqualifying red light. Each driver’s elapsed time begins when his staging light goes out (after moving away from the starting line)—not when the green lights come on—and ends when he interrupts a beam at the finish line. Another pair of beams, usually 66 or 132 feet before the finish line, are used to calculate final speed
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Typically, tournament competitors race in elimination matches by special categories. However, mixed category races, known as bracket racing, exist under a handicap system where slower vehicles get a head start. The introduction of bracket racing reopened the sport to those without great wealth or corporate sponsorship and accounts for much of the present proliferation of the sport.
Drag racing as an organized sport began in the 1930s on dry lake beds in southern California, and it gained greater respectability after Wally Parks helped organize the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) in 1938. World War II brought a temporary hiatus to activities but gave California “hot rodders” the opportunity to proselytize fellow servicemen, and these new converts returned home with hot rod “fever.
In 1950 the first commercial drag strip was opened in Santa Ana, California, and in that same year Parks, as the editor of Hot Rod magazine, urged various local hot rod clubs to join together with the SCTA in a larger national organization to promote safety and sanctioned racing meets. In 1951 he became the first president of the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), now in Glendora, California. Under Parks’s leadership, the NHRA grew to encompass some 144 race tracks hosting nearly 4,000 events annually, with more than 85,000 members. Among the most prestigious drag racing events are the NHRA-sponsored Winter Nationals and the U.S. Nationals.
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