Impromptu drag races between friends is one of the more enjoyable things to do on an ATV. You can do it on the trails, in the dunes and in the desert. While there is no wrong way to race your buddies, there are proper ATV drag races taking place all across the country.

Organized sand drag races are 300-foot races controlled by lights known as a “Christmas tree” and a computer. Just like the NHRA drags, a recording during every pass picks up reaction times, elapsed times, speed, and who won and by how much—down to the last millisecond! Don’t forget about “red lighting,” which is when someone jumps the start. It’s tough to fight that battle when you’re just racing on a back road somewhere.

On a smaller scale, some organizations still do hill-shoot races, where the winner is the first one to cross the flag at the top of the dune or end of the straightaway. Not many of these are sanctioned-type races, though—just weekend warriors or club-specific fun.


While there is not yet a nationally recognized sanctioning body that all ATV drag racers use, their rules and class structure are pretty universal. Depending on the amount of people showing up for a particular event, the classes will range from engine size and possibly by engine type (four-stroke or two-stroke). Organizers at larger events have been known to break it down by brand and even model. Modifications to frame and/or engine can also be a factor in what class you run at any given event.

 Race types can also vary between head-to-head and bracket-style racing, where racers pick a “dial-in” ET (elapsed time) from their time-trial runs, which is entered into the computer. The computer then precisely “times” the launch lights (delays one light) to benefit the slower racer with an early green-launch light. If both racers complete the run on their dial-ins, they should reach the finish line at the same instant. Consistency is key here, not necessarily speed. Frequently these races are won by just .001 of a second! A racer can go slower than his dial-in, but he can’t go even a split second faster than his dial-in. Going faster than your dial-in is called a “breakout” and an automatic loss of the race.

Most races will begin with a day of “test and tune” (T&T). T&T days are where everyone can make as many computer-timed passes down the track as they want, so they can try different tuning, gearing, tires, etc. and see the impact on their ETs.


The Christmas tree has two rows of amber staging lights at the top. The top row is pre-stage. When lit, it shows you are approaching the starting line as you roll into it. When the next row of amber bulbs go on, the racer is staged right at the starting-line laser beam. When both racers have staged and lit both rows of amber staging lights, the starter will randomly (but within two seconds) hit the start sequence, initiating the start.

Underneath the staging lights are three rows of larger yellow bulbs on top of a row of green lights. Each light will light in descending order toward the green light at intervals of .4 or .5 seconds, depending on the track (most use .4 seconds). Then the green go light will light, and both racers launch. Under a pro tree, once the racers have staged, all three amber start lights will flash simultaneously with no intervals, and then the green light comes on. If a racer jumps the start (leaves before the green light), the red light at the bottom of the tree will come on indicating that the racer is disqualified in the race. The win automatically goes to his opponent.


Our contributor, Gary “Gee” Armstrong, says possibly the biggest and best event held is in conjunction with the Dune Fest in Winchester Bay, Oregon, in late July. The Oregon Off-Road Racing Association builds the track and runs the ATV sand drags at this popular off-road event put on by the Chamber of Commerce. See

Another big draw is at the Oregon Sand Storm in Albany, Oregon. It’s an event with quads, UTVs, cars, trucks and dragsters held every Labor Day weekend. Check out www.facebook
.com/pages/Albany-Sand-Drag. Plus, the Albany Sand Drags has monthly races from May through October. See Also in Oregon, the Oregon Dunes Raceway at the Box Car Dunes in North Bend, several events per year are held. For this year’s schedule, log on to Down in Southern California, the big event is the BAKO sand drags in Bakersfield California in early March. See

Facebook and other social media sites have allowed the world of ATV drag racing to explode recently. Suddenly, cyberspace brought racers together geographically to form relationships, exchange modification ideas, parts and even advertise events. We can’t list every track, but we have put together a list of some of the more popular ones. For events and tracks in your area, search “sand drags,” along with your city, town or state on Facebook.

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