When Car Craft editor John McGann took notice of the no-prep drag racing scene in 2015, Discovery’s Street Outlaws had already launched the no-prep drag racing scene into a much larger public profile, but the street-based, no-rules form of drag racing had long been a staple of local drag racers across the country—all it needed was the right catalyst to put it in the public eye. Today, no-prep drag racing has become so popular that even the RC hobby has gotten into the action with 1:10-scale no-prep RC drag racing with a league of their own. No form of motorsports has grown at such a breakneck speed. So, what’s all the hype about?
At its heart, drag racing is a sport as old as time itself. Two Neolithic cavemen run from a hungry bear; one gets eaten, one lives to run another day. Neither caveman nor bear needs to send a check for $9.95 to get the official rulebook to research legal loincloth length, caveman club weight, or bear claw count. There’s just one rule: eat or be eaten. In modern times, no-prep drag racing is the purest form of human competition outside of a footrace, and for this reason no-prep drag racing has near-universal appeal.
Why Is No-Prep Drag Racing so Popular?
What’s the short answer as to why no-prep drag racing is so popular? Besides the fact that it’s super simple, the cars do big wheelies, and it’s on TV. (Shameless plug alert: it’s also on MotorTrend+, sign up for a free trial today!) Unlike stick-and-ball sports, it’s easy to understand without any explanation. Where other forms of drag racing require a rule book and a period of indoctrination to be understood and fully appreciated, no-prep drag racing is as simple as it gets. A three-year-old with a couple of Hot Wheels can reenact the whole thing for you in vivid detail—but I get paid to do that, so step aside, junior. If we set aside the “no-prep” adjective for the time being, the name of the game is for your car to arrive at the finish line first.
The “no-prep” part refers to the fact that the race surface is not prepared ahead of time like it is in most forms of drag racing. In this regard, the no-prep track resembles an actual street. In a normal “prep” race, debris is swept off the track, dust is blown off the racing groove, small rocks and debris are dragged off the racing groove with rubber cleats, then the track is sprayed with a sticky traction compound (photo above). Traction compounds such as VP Racing’s Lane Choice, Jeg’s Maximum Traction Compound, Rocket Track Glue, Pimp Juice, and PJ1 Track Bite (formerly VHT) are considered trackside staples for maximizing performance, but they take a significant amount of time to apply and the cost is not insignificant to racers, track operators, and promoters. Races billed as “no-prep”—which dispense with the products and processes mentioned above—tend to run at a faster pace with less downtime, allowing more races to run each night. Spectators and racers appreciate the faster pace of racing without long periods of track-prep, but the no-prep approach does have its detractors, mostly among pro racers who cite safety and consistency as a concern (and, truthfully, the question of safety is marginally valid).
What Is the Point of No-Prep Drag Racing?
Like the cast of Street Outlaws is fond of saying, almost to the point of annoyance, “A to B.” The point of any race is to finish first, and with no-prep drag racing that means going from point A, the starting line, to point B, the finish line, with as little drama as possible. The big key with no-prep racing is the “B” is not a gimme, not by a long shot. A more stoic interpretation of the purpose of no-prep drag racing: The track surface itself becomes a player in the outcome, and a driver’s ability to compensate for the track is paramount to winning. Sports fans love an underdog, and in no-prep drag racing the lane condition and how a team tunes for it becomes a spoiler the likes of which aren’t seen in any other sport. Can you imagine an NFL game with one side of the field outdoors in the mud and snow while the other side is indoors with artificial turf, and because it’s not obvious, each has to figure out what side it’s playing on? That’s no-prep racing. From the spectator’s point of view, no-prep drag racing has a lot of unknowns that really amp-up the curiosity quotient, and it’s driven by the desire to recreate an illicit street race in a safe environment.
What’s the Difference Between No-Time and No-Prep Racing?
No-prep racing eliminates the effort of track-prep and speeds up the pace of racing, whereas no-time racing turns off the scoreboard timers. In no-time racing, competitors place the letters “NT” on their cars (if it’s not understood by the track in advance), signaling the control tower to turn off the scoreboard timer displays. When you see a no-time race go down, it’s because the competitors want to keep the true performance of their cars hidden, and usually that’s because there’s money on the line, or there will be at some point. If there’s any confusion between no-time racing and no-prep racing it’s because these two conditions always come together in an illegal street race, but no-time races do happen when excellent track-prep is present. A good example of a premier no-time race that attracts some of the fastest prep racers is the Outlaw Street Car Association’s Small-Tire N/T class. OSCA’s N/T class has virtually no rules and a .400 pro-Tree start (tire size is limited to 20×10.5-inch non-W or 275/60, no minimum weight, no wheelie bars) making it one of the most exciting no-time classes out there; no wheelie bars, excellent traction, and a pro Tree all add up to some of the most exciting drag racing you will ever witness.
What Is Grudge Racing?
No-time and no-prep racing originates from street racers who practice at local tracks on what is commonly referred to as “grudge night” or “test-and-tune.” These programs are a permanent fixture of drag strips around the country and are held on a weekly or monthly basis. Moreover, these grudge night programs act as internal feeders for homespun quick-eight/quick-sixteen street-car events that pit the fastest local street cars against one another. The phenomenon is largely self-organized, and local tracks usually have no problem renting out the track for a small group of racers on an off-night. An official grudge night, however, is usually held on an off-night when it doesn’t conflict with a regular “prepped-track” bracket program, special event, or regional points race. Bracket, pro, and index racers require the track to be well-prepped, and since those programs normally run on a Saturday/Sunday schedule, grudge night is often held on a weekday. (Wednesdays and Fridays are the most common for street-style no-prep, no-time, test-and-tune racing.)
If you have an interest in participating in no-prep Street Outlaws-style racing, there is no entry-level feeder series or class that can truly prepare you for it—there is only the street and your local track’s grudge night. One aspect of no-prep racing that only becomes apparent to the novice after turning down this path is the huge gulf in traction between the street and a non-prepped racetrack. The virgin surface of a public street is often better than an unprepped racetrack—until it isn’t. (This is often the topic of intense debate on Street Outlaws, and despite what critics’ decry as scripted, is 100-percent authentic.) We’ll dig into the specifics of getting more involved in no-prep racing in a minute, but know that starting out with your street car on grudge night is the only way you’re going to get good at traction-limited street-style racing, so plan to start small at your local track’s grudge night.
What Are the Rules for No-Prep Drag Racing?
There are two types of rules for no-prep drag racing: safety regulations (set out by the track and/or the track’s sanctioning organization), and competition rules (the allowed performance modifications). As you become more active in the local drag racing scene, you will become intimately aware of the safety rules for your track (i.e., requirements for a roll bar or cage, harnesses, fire suit, helmet, driveshaft retaining loop, coolant overflow reservoirs, etc. ). Competition rules are different, and these tell the racer how the car may be modified. The size of the engine, the type and quantity of power-adders (supercharger, nitrous, turbo), tire size and type (usually “275,” 28-inch, or big tire), fuel type (gasoline, methanol, additives), allowable chassis modifications (stock-type suspension, back-halved, or full tube-frame chassis), wheelbase, weight, engine set-back, and allowable body panel construction (steel, fiberglass, carbon fiber). Since many race promoters prefer cars to have a street-type appearance, sometimes street equipment will be required (lights, horn, glass, interior, full exhaust). Fortunately, many tracks like to run no-prep races so there is a high degree of rules commonality as to allow the greatest number of cars to compete (check out the latest competition rules for No Prep Kings racing here.)
How Do You Start No-Prep Drag Racing?
With so many promoters and racetracks running so many no-prep drag races, the smart folks behind the scenes realized that instead of competing with one another, it made sense to pool promotional efforts into one clearinghouse for no-prep racing at noprep.com. All the big-time races like “Street Outlaws No-Prep Kings” are listed, as well as the bigger independent events and even most of the small-town track events. (Any track or promo
ter can add a no-prep event to the noprep.com calendar.) If you like your no-prep racing OG-style, the leader is Outlaw Armageddon, which runs out of the Thunder Valley Raceway Park in Noble, Oklahoma, with purses of $20,000 to win in both small-tire and big-tire classes. There’s also True Street (a race class invented by the author in 1992) with a $5,000 purse. If you’re more of a social media hound, try the No-Prep Racing Association Facebook page for the most up-to-date news in the no-prep drag racing world. If you are just starting out, noprep.com is more of a deep-dive fan page with a schedule of events and links to different racing groups. You’ll also find racer profiles and no-prep racing news, but if you’re looking for the entry-level grassroots knowledge to start your own no-prep race effort, your best bet is the local track and grudge race night.
At your local grudge night, you’ll learn the basics of drag racing, like learning how to do a burnout, and proper staging-lane etiquette. Best of all, don’t look for the track to squander hundreds of dollars on traction compound—grudge night at the track is designed for street cars with street tires. There’s a steep learning curve with lots of losing at first, but every loss you rack up will teach you something important, and at this stage, losing won’t cost much except some damage to your pride. If you’re smart, you’ll help lend a hand to other more experienced racers, you’ll learn what crew of racers you fit in best with, and eventually like-minded racers will give you advice and perhaps even a helping hand. When the right time comes, you’ll learn all the secrets to getting grip on a gripless surface, like maximizing front suspension travel, ramping in your nitrous or boost with a controller, and moving weight in your car to where it does the most good. The idea is to start small, have few expectations, and not get too far over your skis. Yeah, you’ll lose a lot, but that will work in your favor eventually when you start surprising others by winning and taking their money. Most important, race at a level you can financially sustain. You’ll want to start out with a small-tire, small-block car on street-legal tires, then move up gradually. Most likely, your local track will have a street-style no-prep event for you to try out, and the rules will steer you toward your first set of serious performance modifications. Once you get a taste of success, you’ll then have the confidence to strike out to one of the bigger no-prep events.
Watch! Fastest Cars in the Dirty South: Behind-the-Scenes Photo Shoot
In 2019, Car Craft’s Jesse Kiser spent some time in Alabama with the season 1 cast of Fastest Cars in the Dirty South. Check out this behind-the-scenes footage from Car Craft’s cover photo shoot and get all the details of the cars here.