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The light turns green. Tires scream. Engines thunder. The driver gets his fix.

The light turns green. Tires scream. Engines thunder. The driver gets his fix.

Whether you did it purposefully or not, chances are that if you drive a vehicle, you’ve burned a little rubber along the way.

If you’ve ever seen a drag race, you might’ve noticed that drivers perform a controlled tire burnout right before they race. It’d be easy to think this was some sort of nitro-fueled act of machismo, but — like revving the engine in anticipation of peeling out — there’s actually some science involved.

In the case of the burnout, melting a little rubber onto the concrete results in a thin sheet of tacky rubber, which provides traction for an enhanced launch. As for revving the engine, race-tuned cars run on high-octane performance nitro fuel. Their valves, fuel injection component and ignition perform together with incredible synchronicity at very high RPMs. But it’s a give- and-take scenario. Getting peak output takes a lot of air. Race cars tend to run lean, which means their intake accepts much more than normal cars, sometimes causing them to stall when idling. Revving also gets oil flowing through the motor and can boost torque at takeoff.

Like the mesmerizing sight of a smoky burnout in slow motion, the stomach-rumbling throttle of a performance engine is just awesome to behold.

Cars built for drag races are designed with two things in mind: driving a quarter mile — just 1,320 feet — as fast and as safe as possible.

Modern and momentous advances in performance fuel, motor oil and other automotive fluids have helped make cars faster than ever, while mechanical and chemical engineering innovations are responsible for an array of materials that have made drivers and their cars safer than ever.

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Going 215 miles per hour, dragster Brian Gallagher’s best quarter-mile time is proudly displayed on the back of his race car: 6.43 seconds. That’s pretty fast. But if you ask him, it’s not fast enough. It never has been.

“At an early age, I got bit with the gearhead mentality and went after speed,” Gallagher says. “I have always been trying to run faster than I’ve ever run before.” Then, as the number of wheels grew, so did the speeds. “I’m 54 now and I’ve been racing cars pretty much since I was 18 —pretty much my whole adult life,” he says. “It’s in my blood.”

Gallagher’s coach is the perfect race day companion, as he’s able to both fully champion and constructively critique every run down the track. That’s because his coach is his father.

“My dad — he’s 86 — and he was a drag racer,” Gallagher says. “That definitely inspired me.”

Like any little brother, Gallagher was also heavily influenced by his older brother, who passed away just five years ago. By the time Brian was eight years old and his brother was 12, the Gallagher boys were racing BMX bicycles. It wasn’t long before they ventured into fuel-powered motocross dirt bike racing. Soon after that came souped-up cars. Gallagher thinks about his brother just about every time he races. “He’s the one who really drove me into the world of speed.”

The adrenaline is just an awesome feeling — you feel it all the way down in your stomach.

If sibling rivalry and paternal appreciation were the two things that introduced Gallagher to racing, it’s pure adrenaline that’s sustained his passion.

“When the adrenaline comes into me, it comes from deep down. The adrenaline is just an awesome feeling — you feel it all the way down in your stomach,” he says. That feeling is more important than a specific time, record or win — “That’s what we’re chasing.”

To capture that feeling, Gallagher and his team work on the car to achieve maximum power. “You need the speed, so the power of the motor is what I look for in a good race car. The second thing would be the dependability of the motor, because if it isn’t dependable, you’re in trouble. Third is the bling, you know, the flash — everybody loves to see a good burnout, and I like to go out and showboat a little bit.” But don’t lose sight of the fact that these guys are competitors. “At the end of the day, winning is the reason we come out here,” he says. “If you don’t have the drive to win, then you’re just out here to occupy some space and time — we come out to win.” Also, he’s quick to note that a driver is only as good as his car, and his car is only as good as his crew.

“You’ve got to have the crew that’ll come work those hours and do whatever it takes to make the car properly prepped to come out and race,” he says. Gallagher says every time he gets behind the wheel, he’s entrusting his crewmates with his very life.

“The guys in my crew are like brothers,” says Gallagher. “Jack’s the most meticulous craftsman. Dennis handles all the IT stuff — all the tune-ups — on the laptop. And Jason is an all-around thrasher.”

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Drag racing is all about reflexes, timing, combustion and control. It’s also about fearlessness. You’re riding a rocket as fast as you possibly can. Just a few feet away, there’s another man on another rocket whose team has engineered a performance dragster to beat your car — and the clock.

Every day, somewhere in America, fervent gearheads like Brian Gallagher and his crew are fueling up, buckling up, lining up — and burning out — for another rip down the track.

“I guess I’m part crazy and part stupid to spend all the money I do,” Gallagher says with a smile. But it’s just the adrenaline and camaraderie that keeps me coming back. My passion is to race.”