Staging places your car on the actual starting line so the timing system can be activated to start the race. By staging, you are essentially saying you're ready to race. How you stage affects both your elapsed time and your reaction time, so it is important to understand the procedure.
Pre-staging and staging occurs when your front tires block the infrared beams on the starting line. This is indicated by the bulbs on the Christmas Tree. As you roll forward, the front of your tire will block the beam causing the pre-stage and then the stage lights to come on. However, the beam doesn't act like a On/Off light switch. You can actually roll forward with both the pre- and staged lights on and still be staged. This is called rollout.
By staging shallow (meaning you barely turn on the stage beam), you can get a running start at the timing clocks, which equates to free elapsed time. By staging as shallow as possible, you can run a quicker time than if you staged deeper in the lights. The actual amount can be a couple of tenths—11.99 sounds a lot better than 12.00 any day.
A Quick Note on Reaction Time
With a 0.500 starting system, there will be 0.500 (or half a second) between the last yellow and the green light. Since it takes time for your brain to signal your leg and the car to actually move forward, launching when you see the last yellow should provide the time to actually break the beam just after the green light. Consequently, the e.t. clock doesn't start counting until your car breaks the staged beam—in other words, you can sit there all day or red light and it won't affect your elapsed time.
The moment of truth has come. Your heart is pounding, your eyes are glued to the Tree, and you're waiting for those yellow bulbs to drop. Despite the urge to try and be perfect, I recommend making a few runs without thinking about it too much—just experience all that encompasses making a run. Only then will you know what to expect so you can get down to business.
Assuming you've done a nice burnout and staged shallow, you'll want to get the revs up and be ready to let out the clutch. Reaction time isn't a concern—a smooth application of power is your goal. The ultimate launch will be hard, fast, and smooth. A launch that is overly aggressive can lead to tire spin, wheelhop, and a slow e.t. Bogging isn't the worst thing when you're learning.
Start at a comfortable rpm (2,500-3,000); trade feet quickly and smoothly, but don't jerk the clutch out. And roll on the power—don't jam it. During this transition you will need maximum “feel” to know whether the car is bogging, spinning, or hooking perfectly.
The first move is to get the vehicle moving and to make it transfer weight. As the nose lifts, you can apply more power and release the clutch all the way. If you do it right, the car will launch out, then bog a little, then go hard. The perfect street-tire launch will have the tires on the verge of spinning, and they will make the eeek, eeek, eeek sound.
The beauty of drag racing is that you get a timeslip immediately and there can be lots of practice. I recommend taking notes—recording tire pressure, track conditions, launch rpm, shift points, and so on. From this point, it's about gathering feel and experience.
Kickin' and Stickin'
Another make-or-break piece of the go-fast puzzle is shifting. There is granny-shifting, speed-shifting, and powershifting. The difference between granny-shifting and powershifting can be two to three tenths, so buck up if you want to go fast.
Powershift is shifting with your right foot planted to the floor—that's right, you launch and never lift. Keep your right foot buried to the firewall as you kick the clutch and ram the lever through the gates. Those who can jam well gears see only a 50-100 rpm jump between shifts.
Laying down three clean powershifts brings pure bliss. You'll feel alive and oh-so much a part of the acceleration process. If you've never powershifted, try it at a low rpm. If you miss, the engine won't be all up on the rev limiter. If you are all over the limiter and hitting gears, back down your shift rpm or time your shifts better.