What is motorcycle drag racing?

motorcycle drag racing

Published on 17 January 2018 by Robert Drane

Drag racing is essentially an acceleration contest between two riders, so it depends on quick reaction times, hard acceleration and terminal straight line speed.

The track (‘strip’) is usually a quarter of a mile long, in some cases one eighth of a mile, with two competitors racing side by side. Both vehicles compete from a standing start and the contest is run after qualifying in tournament-style eliminations, the loser being eliminated and the winner progressing until there is one rider left.

The race is started by a ‘Christmas Tree’; a traffic light system in the centre of the track by the start line. Sensors at the start and finish lines activate individual time and speed clocks for each lane.

The lights on the Christmas Tree count down through amber to green at specific intervals – the race is then on, with the first to the finish line winning unless a red light shows in that lane, meaning automatic disqualification, or unless the centre line is crossed.

In certain classes competitors run on a set time (9.5 or 8.5 seconds); too quick and you are disqualified, too slow and you lose. Handicap racing allows slower vehicles to compete with quicker machines by being given a calculated head start. The win usually goes to the person with the best reaction time away from the Christmas Tree. The reaction time is shown as plus or minus 0.000, with the triple zero being perfect reaction time. Time and speed appear on the finish line scoreboards and the winning lane is lit up.

Drag racing originated in the USA during the prohibition era of the 1920s when ‘moonshine boys’ would outrun the authorities by making their seemingly ordinary vehicles faster with highly tuned engines – the birth of the ‘hot rod’. After prohibition ended, town roads were used to settle the ‘who is fastest’ debate, racing down the main drag from one set of lights to the other. Drag racing took off in the UK during the 1960s when many of the old disused airstrips around the country were converted to drag strips.

motorcycle drag launch 


Where can you see motorcycle drag racing in the UK?

Santa Pod Raceway

North west Bedfordshire is the unlikely location of the most famous drag racing track outside America, Santa Pod, based on the now disused WWII Podington airfield. In 1966 the airfield became a drag racing complex with the main runway becoming the drag strip and was named after the Santa Ana strip in America, combined with the name of the local village of Podington. Today Santa Pod hosts events throughout the year including the FIA European Drag Racing Championships and ‘Run What You Brung’ (RWYB) events where anyone with a valid driving licence can put their own vehicles and skills to the test.



Shakespeare County Raceway

Drag racing has long been a part of the activities at Shakespeare County Raceway, based at Long Marston in Warwickshire, with drag races held here since 1973, and with unofficial quarter-mile and half-mile sprints taking place since 1956. Shakespeare County Raceway hosts events throughout the summer featuring national championship rounds, hot rod meets, themed events and Run What You Brung events.




How do you get started racing?

Surprisingly, drag racing is one of the easiest forms of motorsport to get involved with; you can start at age eight with Junior Drag Bike and 17 with adult drag racing. A Run What You Brung session is the logical place to start learning basic skills. You will need a bike, a valid UK driving licence (a race licence is not required), entry fee (around £20) and decent gear (one-piece leathers, helmet, boots). The strip can provide you with a print out of your reaction times and 1/4 mile time and your top speed, so you can check your improvements.

The next step is to apply for a competition licence and enter a proper drag race meeting. If you’ve done Run What You Brung and aim to start with a road bike then ‘9.50 Bike’ is the logical place to start.

Good luck!

Rolling burn out


Drag Racing Classes

There are many classes of race bike and eligibility is based on various requirements and specifications including vehicle type, engine size, fuel, vehicle weight and allowed modifications.


Top Fuel – Top Fuel bikes are capable of running low 6 seconds at 220mph plus, with around 1,000hp on tap. They are capable of out-accelerating all vehicles from a standing start including F1 cars.

Funny Bike – Must resemble a road-going bike but there are no engine or fuel restrictions, including twin engines. Can run high 6s at around 200mph.

Super Twin Top Gas – Anything goes, so long as there are only two cylinders. Nitromethane, fuel injection and supercharging are allowed and sub-8s performances are usual.

Super Twin ET – Primarily road legal bikes with road tyres and no wheelie bars, designed as an introduction to higher categories.

Pro Stock Bike – The ultimate class for naturally aspirated race bikes. Regulations ensure that the emphasis is on rider skill and tuning expertise, giving mid to high 7s ETs and ultracompetitive racing.

Super Street Bike – Stretched-out bikes with turbos or nitrous with no wheelie bars and treaded tyres, often making over 600hp.

Competition Bike – Almost anything goes in this class, race fuel methanol or nitro methane allowed so no limitations apart from 10-inch rear tyre – generally running 7s and 8s.

8.50 Bike – Highly-modified street bikes running to the 8.50 elapsed time index – 10-inch rear slicks allowed, plus wheelie bars, turbos and superchargers OK as well as nitrous oxide.

9.50 Bike – Most popular class for entry level racing, these bikes are ridden to a 9.50s index. Street tyres (no slicks) and no wheelie bars but bikes can run nitrous, turbos and superchargers.


Riders from all over Europe take part in the FIM European Drag Bike Championships in Pro Stock, SuperTwin and Top Fuel. The FIM Europe Championship is campaigned across Europe with two rounds at the Santa Pod Raceway.




Top image: By Markus Rantala (Makele-90) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Middle image: [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Bottom image: By Piero at Dutch Wikipedia(Original text: Peter Sterken) (Peter Sterken) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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