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At its heart, drag racing has a simple premise – go when the green light comes on and then beat the other vehicle to the finish line. In reality, drag racing is a complex and very technical sport, with a dizzying array of jargon.

A race down the dragstrip is called a ‘run’ or a ‘pass’. There are three different types of racing:

  • Practice (also called time trials or grudge racing): This is where vehicles race each other in no particular order. The result of the race doesn’t matter for the official meeting results but often has ‘bragging rights’ for the drivers, which is why it is sometimes called grudge racing. There is no handicap in the starting system used for practice. Often two vehicles of different performance levels will race and one will finish well before the other one. Towards the end of the meeting, practice is used to fill the spaces between the rounds of elimination.
  • Qualifying: Similar to practice as there is no handicap in the start system and vehicles race each other in no particular order. Unlike practice, qualifying is always grouped by vehicle category, and the results do matter! The elimination seedings are generated from qualifying, and racers try to qualify number one, as this entitles them to the first scheduled bye (if any). Most lower categories (Super Street, Modified Bike, Super Sedan, Modified, and Junior Dragster) qualify by the best non-red reaction time. Most other categories qualify by the quickest ET. Some elimination categories are only open to a limited number of cars, so qualifying is used to determine which cars are in the field. During eliminations, the non-qualifiers will run as practice, or they may be transferred to a lower category field. Qualifying is usually run on Saturday.
  • Eliminations: This is the business end of racing. Eliminations are usually held on Sunday and are run ‘Tournament style’. The highest seeded vehicle will race the lowest and the loser of each pairing is eliminated and is finished racing – there is no room for mistakes. There are several rounds of racing, culminating in the final. The number of rounds is dictated by the number of entrants in the field. If there is time the losers may participate in grudge racing later in the day.


Yes, we usually have EFTPOS. Many of the stalls do not, so it is best to also have cash.


Racing is usually underway by 10am on Saturday, and 9am on Sunday.


The public gates open at 8am. Racing normally finishes about 5pm on Saturday. The finals are usually run about 3.30pm on Sunday.


Yes. Your own food and drink is allowed. Absolutely no alcohol to be consumed in the pits until all racing is completed for the day.


Unfortunately we can not predict the weather. We’ll do our best to update any schedule changes due to weather on the day via our Facebook page. You can also check out one of the many local Masterton weather reports.


It depends how far through the meeting we’ve gone. Rain often clears up, and we will resume racing after the track dries but this can often take up to 30 minutes after the rain stops. If the day’s racing is called off, we will announce this over the speakers.


No. Camping facilities are available for racers and crew only.


The “Christmas tree” is the starting mechanism for the race

  • The top white lights are called the “pre stage lights”. These come on when the front of the car/bike’s front tyre is 175mm (7 inches) from the stage beam
  • The second white lights are called the “stage lights”. These come on when the front of the car/bike’s front tyre is at the stage beam
  • The three yellow lights only come on when the system starts the race. For handicapped races they come on one at a time for 0.4 seconds each. This is called a “full tree”. For the top categories that are not handicapped (called “heads up”) all three flash on at the same time, also for 0.4 seconds. This is called a “pro tree”
  • The green light comes on 0.4 seconds after the last yellow light comes on. This means the race has started
  • The red light comes on either: 1) if the car/bike leaves the start line before the green light is on; or 2) if there is no car in that lane.


A burnout has two specific purposes. Firstly, it heats the tyre rubber making it softer and stickier, giving more traction. Secondly for competition vehicles that have slicks it deposits a thin layer of hot sticky rubber on the race track surface. When the car/bike backs up, the crew attempt to get the racer to line the car/bike up so that the hot sticky tyres are directly on the thin layer of hot sticky rubber they have just laid, to give the maximum traction at the start. The job of the person at the front of the car is to direct the racer to back the vehicle in the freshly laid rubber, when they wave they are signaling the racer to steer so that this happens.


There is a win light for each lane in the bottom corner closest to the track, of the timing display boards. The light for the winning lane is lit for a few seconds before the next race is set up in the timing system. Additionally, the lights on the Christmas tree flash for the winning lane, but sometimes this is hard to see unless you are quite a way down the track so can see both sides of the Christmas tree.


Each lane has two boards. Before a race starts, the bottom board displays the handicap (see Why do the cars leave the start line at different times? below). For practice and qualifying there is usually no handicap, so it shows “0.00”.

Once the race starts, the top board shows the reaction time, in thousandths of a second. “000” is a perfect reaction (see What is reaction time? further down the page). If the vehicle leaves too soon, the reaction time will be negative. Reaction times are never displayed during eliminations to ensure the drivers do not know if each other’s reaction is good or not.

After the race ends, the top board shows the elapsed time (ET) in seconds. Because reaction time is also taken into account (see What is a ‘holeshot win’, ‘driving around’ and a ‘win at both ends’ further down the page), and DYO breakout rules, the quicker ET does not always win the race. The bottom board shows the vehicle speed at the finish line, in miles per hour (MPH).

On the bottom corner (of the bottom board) closest to the track is a win light. This will illuminate for the lane that wins the race.


During qualifying (usually all racing on Saturday is “qualifying”) the cars are not racing each other, they are trying to get their best elapsed time, or best reaction (depending on the category) to qualify as high as they can. This may mean that the racing appears to be mismatched and one car will often be much quicker than the other one. When actual eliminations start, handicapping is used and the cars are often very close at the finish line.


To ensure both racers have a fair chance of winning during eliminations, most racing uses a handicap to give the slower car/bike a head start. There are two types of handicapping.


Most handicapping uses a system called “Dial Your Own” (DYO). In this system each racer chooses their own handicap, and the slower vehicle gets a head start that is the difference between the two DYOs. The racer usually chooses a DYO that is slightly quicker than their vehicle is capable of going. To ensure racers don’t get an unfair advantage by choosing a DYO that is slower than their vehicle is capable of, if the racer goes quicker than their DYO they are disqualified – this is called a “Breakout”


In index racing, the handicap is chosen for you by the national governing body. The index the same for all vehicles in the same class, and is usually a bit lower (called “softer”) than the current national record for the class. If the national record is broken, then the index for that class is reset for the next race meeting, but the car/bike that broke the national record will get an advantage for the rest of the race meeting because they can go much quicker than their index. Unlike DYO, there is no “breakout” for index racing so if you can go a little bit quicker than the index without breaking the national record, you should be able to win your races, all else being equal!


A class is a specific specification for a car/bike, including its body style, engine type/size and its weight. A class designation (such as A/D) is made up of two parts. The first (the ‘A’ in this example) is its power to weight ratio with the lower the letter, the heavier or less powerful it is – ‘A’ being the lightest most powerful combination, and H being the heaviest least powerful combination. A powerful engine in a heavy car/bike will have a lower letter than the same engine in a lighter car. If the letter is a double (eg AA) this means the engine has a “power adder” such as a supercharger, turbocharger(s) or NOS. The second part (the ‘D’ in this example) is the body style. A is an altered, D is a dragster, FC is a funny car, TS is a top street car (street appearing), DB is a dragbike, PCB is a pushrod bike (like an old style Triumph or Harley). There are a few exceptions, and there are differences in the way different governing bodies make up the classes. Each class has its own national record for ET and for speed (mph)

A category or bracket is a group of vehicles that race together to produce one winner. Some categories are predetermined by the national governing body for example “Super Sedan” A category can have cars that are classified (have a class) or that are specially build for the category. Specially built cars also have an identification system but this is much simpler. For super sedan there is SS/A for v8 cars, SS/B for six cylinder cars, and SS/C for four cylinder cars. Categories pre-determined by the NZDRA are Junior Dragster (for dragsters and Funny Cars, drivers between 7 – 18 years old), Super Street (for registered and warranted cars slower than 11.00 seconds), Modified (for Altereds, Dragsters and Funny Cars), Super Sedan (for street appearing cars) Supercharged Outlaws (for supercharged dragsters, altereds, funny cars, and cars) and Modified Bike (for street appearing bikes).

For some race meetings, Masterton Motorplex will create its own categories. For example, we often have “Import Street” for registered/warranted Japanese based street cars), Dragstalgia Hot Rod for hot rods older than 1948, Dragstalgia Muscle Car for muscle cars from 1948 to 1972.

All categories are assigned a number so the computer system can manage the racing, which is why you will sometimes hear phrases such as “C8” (which is Super Street). A list of the categories being run at the meeting is always attached to the pit control office (in the pits, just behind the VIP stand).

A bracket is another name for a category, but is often used to refer to categories that are based on ET. For example, there may be a series of brackets set at 7.5, 8.5, 9.5, 10.5 etc. In each bracket race cars that are slower than the bracket name but quicker than the next bracket name. For example in the 7.50 bracket are cars that are slower than 7.50 but quicker than 8.50


The sole purpose of drag racing is to get to the finish line before the other racer (without breaking out). This is all about acceleration – the “G-force”. The time taken to get from the start line to the finish line is called the “elapsed time” or “ET”, and the timing system calculates this to six decimal places! Because the ET is about time, not speed, the ET is how “quick” the car/bike goes and the winner is the “quickest”. Although speed is not used to determine the outcome of the race, we also measure the speed the racer is going at the finish line. As drag racing is an American sport, this is usually in miles per hour, and racers have speed personal bests as well as ET personal bests. Speed is how “fast” the racer is going, and so is different from how “quick” (which is the ET). Most street cars/bikes have ETs in the range of 11.00 to 15.00 seconds and speeds in the range of 90 mph (145 km/h) to 120 mph (195 km/h). Only the top cars can go quicker than 7 seconds and faster than 200 mph as this takes over 2000 horsepower (1500 kW).


Reaction time is the time (in thousandths of a second) between the green light coming on and the front of the front wheel going past the start line. A “perfect” reaction time is 0.000, and anything between 0.000 and 0.050 is very good. Reaction time is important because the race doesn’t start until the vehicle has left the start line. If the reaction time is poor (higher than 0.150) then the vehicle in the other lane is already racing and moving down the track before the vehicle with the poor reaction time has even left the start line!

Because it takes time for the racer’s body to react to the green light, then even more time for the vehicle to move past the start line, racers usually start when they see the bottom (third) yellow light. This means the car/bike actually starts to move before the green light comes on (but does not go past the start line). If the front of the front wheel goes past the start line before the green light comes on, then the racer is disqualified, and the red light comes on. This is called “popping a cherry” or “red-lighting”.


A holeshot win is when the winning racer has a worse ET but still reaches the finish line first (and therefore wins the race) because they had a better reaction time

Driving around is when the winning racer had a worse reaction time (i.e they left the start line last) but had a quicker ET to ‘drive around’ the other racer to reach the finish line first

A win at both ends is when the winning racer has both a better reaction time and a quicker ET, (i.e. the won at the start line and at the finish line – a comprehensive win!)


These are all types of fuel used to power the cars/bikes.

  • Gas is ordinary petrol, the same as you buy from a petrol station
  • Avgas is a high octane petrol used to power propeller type aeroplanes. It is illegal to use avgas on the road. Used for engines up to approximately 400 – 500 horsepower
  • C16 (and C12, C14 and several other designations) are purpose made high octane fuel based on petrol for high compression engines that are so “hotted up” they cannot run on petrol or avgas. The higher the engine compression, the higher number fuel needed. Used for engines from 400 horsepower to approximately 1200 horsepower. Some types of this fuel (usually with a ‘Q’ designation) includes chemicals that break down to supply extra oxygen in the engine
  • Nitrous (or nitrous oxide) is a compressed liquid (it is a gas when it is uncompressed). It is the same “laughing gas” that dentists use. Nitrous is not an engine fuel on its own, but is injected into a petrol (or avgas or C16) engine as a liquid along with additional fuel. Under compression it breaks down into nitrogen and oxygen, so it is like pouring liquid oxygen into the engine, allowing the extra fuel to be used and gives lots of extra horsepower. “NOS” is a brand name for one of the companies that make nitrous injection systems
  • Alcohol is methanol (methyl alcohol). An engine needs to be specially built to run on alcohol, but it is much cheaper than C16. Alcohol has a cooling effect in the cylinders, so allows higher compression to be run without causing detonation, especially if the engine has a supercharger. Used for engines from 500 horsepower up to 4,000 horsepower
  • Nitro (also called top fuel or fuel) is nitromethane, a type of rocket fuel. It will not burn in its natural state, but once compressed, it will explode, producing engine outputs of over 11,000 horsepower. Nitro can be very difficult to tune and if the crew chief gets it wrong, the resulting engine explosions can be spectacular


Are we missing something? Please, let us know!