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Did You Know that Burnouts Actually Serve a Purpose for Drag Racers?


There is a common perception that burnouts are performed only to look cool or to perform a small act of rebellion. Of course, there may be some truth to this in certain settings—teenagers squealing out of their school’s parking lot in their old Civics are probably mostly focused on the aesthetics and putting on a show.

However, burnouts actually can serve a beneficial purpose in drag racing. A feature article from the March 2011 issue of Car and Driver discusses some of the purposes of burnouts for racing that car enthusiasts may or may not be familiar with.

Burnouts can help remove unwanted debris

First, it is important to say that yes, burnouts are a lot of fun, and look cool. It’s impossible to deny this.

But in the world of drag racing, they also can be beneficial for tires. Performing a burnout can help to remove any foreign matter or unwanted debris that may have collected on the tires before the race, particularly if the vehicle was coming from the pits. The smoke that arises from the burnout is a combination of steam resulting from moisture in the area meeting the heat that forms during the burnout with chemicals from the tire tread that get vaporized in the process.

Crews will actually attempt to standardize their burnouts before races to make sure the tires are free of foreign matter before the race begins. In the Car and Driver article, former NHRA Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson discusses his burnout strategy, saying he tries to perform burnouts between 7,000 and 8,000 RPM, then release the line lock. This can vary a bit based on the weather conditions or the characteristics of the racetrack.

Once the burnout is complete, the temperature of the tires will drop down significantly before the car is staged for the race. Anderson said there is no set temperature his team shoots for in that time, but usually the tire temperature will be in the range of 120 to 140 degrees by the time the race starts.

While Drag racing looks cool, in time it will hurt your pocketbook
While drag racing smoke looks cool, in time it will hurt your pocketbook

Burnouts heat up the tires to provide more friction

With the understanding that burnouts are performed to remove debris and other foreign matter before races, it’s also good to understand why that is beneficial for racers.

Performance racing tires are designed quite a bit differently than standard tires you’d put on your daily driver. When you perform a burnout on street tires, it will just make a lot of smoke, remove some rubber and do nothing other than damage your tires. Sure, it may look cool, but you’re really just hurting your own pocketbook.

But with performance racing tires, performing a burnout gets the tires warmed up for the race. Warmer tires are softer than cool tires, which means they will provide better grip and friction where they meet the asphalt. More grip can help provide a competitive advantage during a race; with less friction, it becomes easier for the driver to lose control over the vehicle during the race.

So now you know—burnouts don’t just look cool, but in a racing environment will also provide some important benefits to the tires to give drivers a competitive advantage.

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