Ride the fastest machines on earth

Amid all the noise, smoke, heat, and technological advances in drag racing over the past 50 years, one thing has stayed constant: One car wins, and one car loses. The winner goes on, and the loser goes home.

The sport has come a long way from souped-up cars racing down former airplane runways in the 1950s. Today, high-tech monsters roar down drag strips lined with grandstands filled with fans. A quarter-mile race is over in less than five seconds, with cars reaching speeds of more than 330 miles per hour. Sound impressive? Take a look at the other statistics on this page.

A brief history of drag racing

Drag racing began as a way to keep kids off the streets.

After World War II, veterans returned with time and money on their hands. They also had mechanical knowledge gained from fixing planes, tanks, and Jeeps. They bought used cars and customized them as they fixed them up.

Then contests developed to see whose car was best. These quickly turned into races - down Main Street, for example. Such races were a menace, in the public mind.

In 1951, Wally Parks started the National Hot Rod Association to give the hot-rodders (as they were called) places to race.

The first officially sanctioned NHRA drag race was held that year on April 11-12 at Pomona Speedway in California. Note: In the early days, most private 'drag strips' were former airport runways.

Hot-rod glossary

Burnout: Drivers spin their rear tires to heat them up before a race. This gives the tires better traction. Photos of dragsters with huge smoke clouds coming from their rear tires were taken during a burnout.

Christmas tree: The starting lights. Two yellow lights at the top show when the car is 'staged' - at the starting line. Three other sets of yellow lights light at half-second intervals, counting down to the green light - go! Red lights flash if one car crosses the line early. 'Red lighted' cars are disqualified.

Chute: Parachute. Each dragster has two to help it stop at the end of the race.

E.T.: Elapsed time. Your E.T. for the quarter-mile determines the winner. The current record is 4.41 seconds, with the car going 330 miles per hour at the finish.

Holeshot: The time between a green light and a dragster crossing the start line. Races are won and lost at the holeshot.

Loud pedal: Throttle or accelerator.

Nitro: Nitromethane (CH3NO2) is the most powerful racing fuel. See the O2 in the formula? That oxygen in the fuel helps it to burn.

'On the trailer': Done for the day. After a team loses, they put their car on the trailer and go home. There is no second chance, no more races to run that day.

Rail: Dragster.

Shoe: Driver. Fast drivers are sometimes called 'hot shoes.'

Slicks: Racing tires with no tread, for maximum traction on dry, flat pavement. (Drag races are postponed if it rains.)

The 'Wally': The trophy awarded to the overall winner of each event. It's an image of Wally Parks, founder of the NHRA, holding a racing helmet and rolling a giant slick.

Top Fuel: A race category for dragsters using the most powerful fuel: nitromethane.

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