Custom car is a passenger vehicle that has been modified in either of the following two ways. First, a custom car may be altered to improve its performance, often by altering or replacing the engine and transmission. Second, a custom car may be a personal “styling” statement, making the car look unlike any car as delivered from the factory. Although the two are related, custom cars are distinct from hot rods. The extent of this difference has been the subject of debate among customizers and rodders for decades. Additionally, a street rod can be considered a custom.
Hot rods are typically American cars with large engines modified for linear speed. The origin of the term “hot rod” is unclear. One explanation is that the term is a contraction of “hot roadster,” meaning a roadster that was modified for speed. Another possible origin includes modifications to or replacement of the camshaft(s), sometimes known as a “stick” or “rod”. A camshaft designed to produce more power is sometimes called a “hot stick” or a “hot rod”. Roadsters were the cars of choice because they were light. The term became commonplace in the 1930s or 1940s as the name of a car that had been “hopped up” by modifying the engine in various ways to achieve higher performance.
There is still a vibrant hot rod culture worldwide, especially in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Sweden. The hot rod community has now been subdivided into two main groups: street rodders and hot rodders. Hot rodders build their cars using a lot of original equipment parts, whether from wrecking yards or NOS , and follow the styles that were popular from the 1940s through the 1960s. Street rodders build cars (or have them built for them) using primarily new parts.
A common factor among current owners of hot rods is to make them more noticeable. There are now many different sectors of hot rodding, some of which are:
- Street rod: a very popular branch of hot rodding. Contrary to the implications of the term hot rod, street rods are a mix of hot rods, custom cars, and modern Detroit cars. Emphasis is on high-quality custom paint jobs, comfortable interiors, and modern engines and running gear. As specified by the NSRA (National Street Rod Association), a street rod must have been manufactured prior to 1949.
- Pro-Street rod: a branch of street rodding featuring mildly customized sedan and coupe models not normally associated with hot rodding that have monster engines and huge rear tires inside the fender wells. They retain all the other luxury features of street rods.
- Billet rod: street rods featuring many items being machined from billet aluminum
- Traditional rod: built according to a particular point in time and stick to those build techniques and materials
- Rat rod: constructed to resemble an old time jalopies, although they may require more work than a show rod
- Show rods (created to compete in national car shows such as America’s Most Beautiful Roadster (AMBR), and the Detroit Autorama).
There are hundreds of local car clubs supporting the hot rod/street rod community. The National Street Rod Association (NSRA) is the largest club in the world and sponsors many local events including the Street Rod Nationals which serve as a showplaces for the majority of the hot-rodding and street-rodding world to display their cars and to find nearly any part needed to complete them. Collectively they are all referred to as Hot Rods.
Drag racing is a competition in which specially prepared automobiles or motorcycles compete, usually two at a time, to be first to cross a set finish line. The race follows a straight course from a standing start over a measured distance, mostcommonly ¼ mile (1,320 ft (400 m)) for most cars, with a shorter 1,000 ft (300 m) for some Top Fuel dragsters and funny cars. Electronic timing and speed sensing systems have been used to record race results since the 1960s.
Before each race (also known as a pass), each driver is allowed to perform a burnout, which heats the driving tires and lays rubber down at the beginning of the track, improving traction. Each driver then lines up (or stages) at the starting line. Races are started electronically by a system known as a Christmas tree. The Christmas tree consists of a column of lights for each driver/lane, one blue, then three amber, one green, and one red, connected to light beams on the track. The first, a split blue open circle, is split into two halves. When the first light beam is broken by the vehicle’s front tire(s) indicate that the driver has pre-staged (approximately 7 inches (180 mm) from the starting line), lights the first half of the blue circle, and then staged (at the starting line), which lights up the second half of the blue circle, and also the corresponding bar in the middle of that circle.
Below the blue “staged” light are three large amber lights, a green light, and a red light. When both drivers are staged, the tree is activated to start the race, which causes the three large amber lights to illuminate, followed by the green light. There are two standard light sequences: either the three amber lights flash simultaneously, followed 0.4 seconds later by the green light (a Pro tree), or the ambers light in sequence from top to bottom, 0.5 seconds apart, followed 0.5 seconds later by the green light (a Sportsman tree, or full tree). If the front tires leaves from a stage beam (stage and pre-stage lights both turned off) before the green light illuminates, the red light for that driver’s lane illuminates instead, indicating disqualification (unless a more serious violation occurs). Once a driver commits a red-light foul (also known as redlighting), the other driver can also commit a foul start by leaving the line too early but still win, having left later. The green light automatically is illuminated on the opposite side of the red-lightning driver. Should both drivers leave after the green light illuminates, the one leaving first is said to have a holeshot advantage.
The winner is the first vehicle to cross the finish line (and therefore the driver with the lowest total reaction time and elapsed time). The elapsed time is a measure of performance only; it does not necessarily determine the winner. Because elapsed time does not include reaction time and each lane is timed individually, a car with a slower elapsed time can actually win if that driver’s holeshot advantage exceeds the elapsed time difference. In heads-up racing, this is known as a holeshot win.