All drag racers spin their wheels in a burnout before every race. The burnouts may seem to be pure show-boating, but there are real reasons behind all the smoke and noise.
Burnouts before a drag race serve to heat the tires of the car, softening the rubber, providing more traction for the start of the race. The burnout also removes any debris from the tires. Spinning the wheels leaves a layer of rubber on the road surface, providing better traction in the future.
The burnout is crucial for every drag race for many reasons, but here are the three main ones:
Heat the Tires
The burnout that every drag racer does before a race is for the primary reason of heating the back tires of the car to improve their traction for the race.
When the driver spins the wheels of his car, the tires rub aggressively against the surface of the road or track, heating the rubber, making the tires softer and stickier, ensuring that the most amount of power from the engine is transferred to the road for the start of the race.
If drag racing tires are left cold, they have very little grip at all, but when they are heated and soft, they provide an incredible amount of traction.
Drag racing tires are also known as slicks because they have little or no tread grooves in them. This means that if the tires are very smooth and become heated, the rubber becomes soft and sticky, providing more traction than treaded tires could.
Clean the Tires
The burnout that occurs when drag racers spin their wheels not only heats the tires but also removes any foreign debris from the rubber.
When drag race tires are used, they are very sticky from being heated, which means that they collect a lot of debris on the way to the starting line.
Debris in or on the tires prevents uniform traction. The burnout helps to fling off any foreign materials that have adhered to the tire, allowing the tire to heat evenly during the burnout and ensuring that it has even traction before the race.
Removing debris from the tires also helps the tires last longer and reduces the risk of blowouts and damage.
Leave Rubber on Starting Line
When the wheels of a car are spun during the pre-race burnout, the tires leave behind a small amount of rubber. The rubber literally melts from the tires during a burnout, and as multiple burnouts are done over the same area, the rubber from the tires builds up on the road.
Street drag racers use this aspect of burnouts to lay a good area of traction on a road surface that they frequently use for drag races. These areas of good traction allow the racers to achieve even higher launch speeds than just doing burnouts alone.
Do Burnouts Really Make A Difference?
A well-executed burnout can be the difference between winning and losing a drag race.
Drag races are short, straight, and incredibly fast. This means that the most important moments of a drag race happen at the start. The more power from the engine that can be transferred to the road, the faster the car will launch from the line, the more quickly the car will reach its top speed, increasing its chances of winning the race.
Tires that are made for drag racing, like Hoosiers and Mickey Thompsons, are not much good if they are cold due to their lack of tread, but as the tires are heated, their traction increases drastically.
The pre-race burnout is incredibly important and makes a very significant difference toward the outcome of the race. The cars would simply not be able to launch efficiently without a well-executed burnout just before the race.
Do Burnouts Always Work?
While burnouts are very important for every drag race, and there may not be much of a race without them, there are some instances where burnouts may not be very effective or may even hinder a drag car.
Burnouts are only effective for drag racing tires. Normal road tires will only be slightly heated by the act of a burnout, but it will not be as effective. This is why many amateur drag races do not start with a burnout. They will, instead, take a hot lap around a track or around the block to heat the tires before the race.
Burnouts must be done carefully, even when they are done with racing slicks. If a burnout is held for too long, it may damage the tires, even if they are made for drag racing, and this will hinder the car’s performance rather than improving it.
What Is a Water Box?
Drag race tracks sometimes use a specially-reserved wet-surface area known as the "water box", because water is poured onto a certain area to reduce the friction to initiate the burnout.
Wet tires make the burn out process much easier so that you do not burn up your transmission or clutch and it helps remove any dirt from the tire prior to burnout.
How you enter the water box is important. If you have "pizza cutters" then you can drive straight through the box. If you have any version of a street tire with treads, you should either avoid the water box or drive around it and then back into it. When you drive straight through the box it gets your front tires wet. This leaves a trail of water to the starting line. This not only messes things up for you but for those behind you as well.
If you choose to use a water box, here is the basic procedure:
1. Back into the box far enough to get your back tires wet, but not getting any water on your fronts.
2. Pull forward until your back tire is at the outside edge of the water box- not the inside edge.
3. Do not do your burn out in the box. This only splashes water up in your fender wells and while you sit on the starting line the water drips on the track and your tires. You may also see people enter the box and do a quick spin of the tires to get them wet then pull forward to do the burn out. This also splashes water and should be avoided.
4. Put the transmission in first gear, foot on the brake, gas it to get the tires spinning. Once the tires are spinning bump it up into second gear and let your foot off the brake. Let the car move forward a few feet then let off the gas. (Note- You do not need to do a John Force burnout. If you are on street tires, you want to get a nice puff off of the tires). If you are on et's or slicks then you want to produce a nice white color smoke.
5. Be sure to put the transmission back into first if you plan to manual shift or into drive.
6. The main thing you want to do is develop a pattern. You want to do the same thing every time.
Serious drag racers, with high-powered race cars, use burnout liquids to get their slicks super sticky.
These products are formulated to improve 60 foot times, and reduce et’s up to 2-tenths, so the tires run much cooler. They also help to extend tire life up to 40% and allows you to reduce your burnout by up to 50%, while still providing optimum traction. Two of the more prominent brands are Pro-Blend Drag Racing Tire Treatment and JR Race Car Drag Racing Tire Treatment.