If you plan to enter your vehicle in any competition sanctioned by the NHRA, your Challenger is going to have to pass a series of pre-race inspections for the required safety equipment. These requirements get more stringent as the expected horsepower and speeds increase.The SFI Foundation sets the standard for quality assurance in the vast majority of aftermarket and performance products.
The basic safety stuff for the street legal classes is pretty simple. You’ve got to have working seat belts. If you’re installing a roll bar or cage, pay the extra money for a racing harness.
Your headlights and taillights also have to be fully functional. The car’s battery must be properly secured.
Your car also must have street legal tires. This means they must have a safe amount of tread and be DOT-approved. All cars must be equipped with mufflers. If you’re running nitrous, your bottle must meet minimum 1,800 pound requirements and have the DOT stamp.
Individual Driver and Car Requirements
Every driver that enters an NHRA event must be in possession of a valid driver’s license. You must also possess the minimum level of liability insurance required by your state. Some tracks may require more, such as a driver safety class. If your car is capable of going 9.99 or less, you’re going to need an NHRA competitor’s license.
Minimum clothing requirements include long pants, socks, and shoes with closed toes. Clothing made of nylon is forbidden. You may also have to have a helmet and other safety equipment. Also, if your car meets certain engine or speed requirements, you may be required to wear a safety/flame retardant suit, gloves, neck flash protection, racing shoes, etc.
If you need a fire suit, you must first educate yourself on your individual racing class requirements. Most grassroots racing organizations accept SFI 3.2A/1 rated fire suits, while most professional organizations minimally require SFI 3.2A/5 rated suits. While a 3.2A/1 suit may be perfectly acceptable to a series, typically these suits only feature a single layer of material and only offer 3-7 seconds of protection to a second-degree burn. Comparatively, an SFI 3.2A/5 rated fire suit is usually two or three layers and offers 10-20 seconds of protection.
The NHRA requires every driver, in every class, to wear a helmet. These helmets must be approved and meet SFI or Snell safety standards.
Here are the requirements for drag racing:
7.49 second quarter mile or faster- A full face Snell SA or SFI 31.1 approved helmet is required.
9.99 second quarter mile or faster- A Snell SA or SFI 31.1 approved helmet is required. This class does not require a face shield, and permits open face helmets.
9.99 and slower- Tracks may vary slightly on rules. If you’re running in this street legal class, you may have the option of wearing an M or SA rated helmet, or SFI equivalent.
E.T. Handicap Racing
The NHRA allows every track to make its own E.T. and class titles, so each division may have different provisions for or against certain devices, like launch delays and throttle stops. Other vehicle-control devices such as counters and time displays are forbidden unless otherwise specified in the Class Requirements. Devices that are strictly forbidden include those that display or transmit track location, or provide time and/or distance data. Data recorders, except playback tachometers are allowed in Advanced E.T. and Super Pro classes, while they are prohibited in all other classes. Those tuning computers you see in movies like “The Fast and the Furious” are also strictly prohibited.
Some Safety Requirements Are the Same for All Classes
The NHRA states that any vehicle that is capable of doing 135 MPH or better has to conform to the minimum safety requirements for a car that can do the quarter on 9.99 seconds. In any licensed racing series, you’re going to need a 5-point SFI-certified safety harness. Drag racers will typically be looking for 16.1 SFI-rated harnesses.
There are two common installation types for safety harnesses- bolt-in and wraparound. Both types typically require a roll cage or roll bar for proper installation.
If you’re entering a car, you’ve got to have a single automobile engine equipped with a harmonic dampener/balancer that meets or exceeds SFI 18.1 requirements if the car is capable of running in the high 10s or better. NHRA allows competition exhaust systems, but they have to vent out the back, away from both the driver and fuel tank. These engine regulations are covered in NHRA General Regulations 1:1 while exhaust regulations are covered in Section 1:3. In older cars, the engine cooling system must be closed with an overflow receptacle that can hold at least 16 ounces. See Regulation 1:7.
Fuel System Safety
NHRA Safety Regulations state that any fuel filler neck that is located inside the vehicle’s trunk must vent to the outside of the vehicle. Vented caps are also prohibited as they allow gas fumes out, which can cause a fire. Ideally, impact resistant polyethylene fuel cells are preferable over stock tanks.
Many racers these days put special batteries, fuel lines, pumps, and more in the trunk to help balance the front-rear weight distribution. This requires installing a complete bulkhead, of at least .024 inch steel or 0.32 inch aluminum, to isolate the driver compartment from the trunk. Under no circumstances may a fuel line run through the driver compartment. See General Regulations 1:5.
Fuel Induction Systems
According to Regulation 9:1, blown, turbocharged, dual turbos, superchargers, or any combination of fuel induction system are legal. If you have a fuel injection system, it must be a closed-loop OEM-type system. The monitoring of any performance parameters, such as wheel speed, driveshaft speed, and acceleration is also strictly prohibited. An OEM open-loop EFI system is permitted. Lower level classes and brackets prohibit the use of nitromethane, but they do allow water-methanol injection systems. An aftermarket injection system can be installed on older car, as long as it is on the list of approved EFI systems.
Transmission, Driveline, and Rear-End
Clutches and flywheels on cars running 11.49 sec. or better must meet SFI Spec 1.1 (Single-disc) or 1.2 (two disc max) requirements. These requirements, as well as those for flywheel shields and bell housings are covered in Regulations 2:3, 2:5, 2:6, and 2:10. General Regulation 2:4 covers drivelines. If your car is capable of turning 13.99 sec. or better with slicks (111.49 mph. or slower with street tires) the driveline must have a loop to keep it in place. All-wheel drive factory cars are okay,but you can’t retrofit with one.
This is also true for all cars equipped with locker diffs. In addition, if your car weighs more than 2,000 pounds and is equipped with an independent rear, but without upper and lower control arms, you’re going to have to replace it with a standard housing assembly- one similar to what you find in a 63-82 Corvette. If your car has both upper and lower controls, you can keep the swing-arm rear. However, General Regulation 2:11 states that both axles must be equipped with retention loops.
Brakes, Suspension, and Steering
All cars must be equipped with hydraulic brakes. Brake regulations are covered in 3:1. Steering systems are covered in Regulations 3:3 and 4:1.
Cars that are stock-bodied must be equipped with a full automotive suspension system. There has to be at least one hydraulic shock on each sprung wheel. You may not lighten or otherwise compromise any stock suspension components. Rigid mounted suspensions are also strictly forbidden. Regulations 3:2, 3:4, and 3:5 cover these items, while 3:6 states you can have non-metallic wheelie bars.
Regulation 4:2 states that you can ballast your frame. General Regulation 4:5 covers ground clearance and states that you’ve got to have a minimum ground clearance of three inches in from the front of the car to 12 inches behind the front axle’s center line. Except for the oil pan and headers, the rest of the car can have two inches of clearance. According to 4:8, if your car can top 150 mph., you must have a parachute.
If your car is capable of running between 11.0 and 11.49 seconds, it has to have a roll bar. Any convertible running between 11 sec. and 134.49 mph. must also have a roll bar.
Certain cars are going to require a roll cage. Certified roll cages are mandatory for any car either running 10.99 sec. or quicker or capable of exceeding 135 mph. There are many more requirements covering roll cages, roll bars, and their associated (and required) padding. These are found in 4:10, 4:11, and 10:6.
Regulation 6:2 covers seats and states that they must be properly braced and framed. Seats must also be supported and constructed of fiberglass, double-layer poly, steel, aluminum or carbon fiber (preferable).
Any full-bodied car that runs 135 mph. or faster or can turn 7.5 to 9.99 sec. must have a nylon window net.