1/4-mile Starter Pack: How To Improve your 1/4-Mile Performance


2014 Shelby GT500

You pull into your lane, entering the burnout box; with your feet in position over the brake and the throttle, the engine begins to scream as you heat up your rear tires, sending out creamy white smoke into the air. As you take position at the line, you glance over at the car next to you before locking your gaze on the tree. The sound of the revs holding in anticipation of the green light become almost mute in the moments before, like the calm before a storm. As the final yellow light flashes, time slows down as you grow even more anxious for the final light.

In a few brief motions and a mash of the throttle, you blast off from the starting line as you are thrown back into your seat. The engine howls as your wheels spin going into second and continue to spin going into third. As you fight to get traction you slowly fall into second place. By the time your tires finally grip the track you’re more than a car behind and defeat is inevitable. While you trapped a high mph in the 1/4, your time doesn’t reflect that; what went wrong? To put it simply, your Mustang is not adequately set up to run in the 1/4-mile.

There are few experiences in life as raw, visceral, and enjoyable as drag racing. The smell of race gas mixed with freshly burnt rubber hangs in the air at the track while the sounds of engines blasting down the 1/4 mile completely overtake your senses. One of the quickest ways to ruin a drag racing experience is by not having your car set up properly to maximize performance.

Without having the right mods, a night of drag racing just turns into frustration. While the immediate desire for more power fuels the decisions on what mods we make next, this often results in having a dyno champ that can put down impressive numbers, but cannot put that power down to the ground. Without expanding the focus of your mods outside of the engine bay, you in turn limit the potential of your Mustang.

How To Mod Your Mustang: Stop, Turn, GO

Let’s say you have a bone stock Mustang, V6 or GT, and you want to begin modding it with the goal of it being a 1/4-mile track star; where do you start modding first? A tried and true modification formula that is followed religiously by seasoned racers is “stop, turn, go” which can be translated to brakes, handling, power. When modifying any vehicle for performance focused competition, regardless of what that competition may be, upgrading your brakes, then suspension, and finally power is a recipe for success.

Improving Braking Performance

To reframe this a different way, upgrading your brakes allows you to safely stop and reign in the power mods you add later. By upgrading your suspension and certain drivetrain components, you will be able to more efficiently apply and use the power you already have as well as additional power you add in the future. Once you have laid the foundation to your build in the form of handling and braking modifications, the added power that comes in the final stages of your build will be all the more rewarding and impressive; especially at the track.

While the braking performance of older hot rods required racers to immediately upgrade the brakes on their vehicle, newer Mustangs do not face the same barriers; OEM factory brakes have come a long way, with Brembo Brakes being a common factory option on a lot of Mustangs. Worth considering, depending upon your frequency at the track, is upgrading the brake pads on non-Brembo equipped cars to Hawk pads to avoid brake fade after making a night of passes down the track.

Adjusting The Suspenion

What is the greatest benefit for some racers is the greatest detriment to others: their suspension. The stock suspension setup on the Mustang leaves a lot to be desired when pushed to its limits and will really hurt your 60 ft times as well as the time you run in the 1/4-mile. Upgrading the upper and lower control arms on your Mustang will allow you to really dial in how your Mustang hooks up and will eliminate the much dreaded wheel hop.

Upper control arms keep the rear axle from moving side to side while the lower control arms keep the axle from moving forward and backward. Adjustable upper and lower control arms, like those offered by Whiteline Suspension, allow you to fine tune your traction unlike a non-adjustable control arm.

Upgrading your Mustang’s shocks, struts and springs will also help to keep your Mustang planted, especially under hard acceleration. A set of lowering springs will lower your Mustang’s center of gravity, while Koni Shocks and Struts will help to put your power to the ground.

Getting Grip With Your Mustang

One of the most important components to a dragstrip-ready Mustang is having a good tire and wheel setup. Having a tire that is made for the track along with a lightweight wheel to spin it will really improve your 1/4-mile experience. Racestar Drag Wheels are an excellent option for the track with their lightweight, yet strong design. Paired with a Mickey Thompson Drag Radial, you will get the grip you need off the line and the time you want on your slip.

While it does not neatly fall into the “stop, turn, go” formula, upgrading your Mustang’s drivetrain will benefit you in the long run as well as your next 1/4-mile pass. Going to a one-piece aluminum or carbon fiber driveshaft, like those offered by The Driveshaft Shop, will reduce rotating mass and reduce drivetrain loss. With an upgraded driveshaft, you will be able to safely put your power down and also shave some time off each pass.

Cranking up The Power

With the foundation of your Mustang finally built up, it is time to add more power. A gear and tuner combo kit is a great first mod for a 1/4-mile car. A set of steeper gears, such as 3.73 or 4.10, will allow you to get off the line quicker and harder than your stock 3.55 or 3.31 gears. With a set of upgraded gears you will have to adjust your speedometer and a Bama Performance X4/SF4 will allow you do that. A Bama tuner and tune will allow you to adjust your speedometer, and will also net you a large increase in power and performance. As you continue to add power to your build you can receive updated tunes with Bama’s Free Tunes for Life program, giving you the most out of each modification. With every additional mod you make, you can have your tune updated to support your new parts.

A limiting factor in performance is not being able to feed your Mustang the air it needs and not being able to scavenge the exhaust properly. Ditching the factory airbox for an aftermarket cold air intake, such as a C&L, will give you a bump in horsepower and torque and allow your Mustang to suck in all the cold air it needs.

After your Mustang is fed all of this air, it needs to be able to efficiently expel it after it is used. A set of long tube headers will allow those exhaust gases to be more effectively cycled than the factory exhaust system, which ultimately means more power. A set of Stainless Works or Kooks long tube headers will greatly improve your Mustang’s performance and make your ‘Stang sound like a true drag car.

There is no pavement that the Mustang is more acquainted with than the pavement at the drag strip. Making the sacred journey with your Mustang to your local strip is one that every owner should make at least once; chances are it won’t be your last time there, especially if you applied the modification formula to your build.

3 comments

  1. I’m a little late to this post but I bought a ’14 GT500 in February 2016. At 662hp I really don’t think the car needs more power but it could use a better 1/4 mile time. Although it’s advertised in the 11s it seems 12s are more common.

    What I’ve been thinking is that the rear end is geared to do 200 mph but who ever sees that?? So would it make sense to change the rear end gears for a quicker 1/4 rather than caring about it’s ability to hit 200?

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    1. Congrats on the GT500! That car is a handful and nothing to be messed with. Honestly what is really holding the GT500 back from quicker quarter-mile times is the tires. Going to a fatter, stickier tire will help put all the power down and get you down the 1320 quicker. A good set of drag radials or slicks on ’13/’14 GT500 will help you trap low 11’s.

      To address your question on the gearing, the gearing is set to allow it to hit 200 MPH, but also to allow you to get the most out of the supercharger’s boost and allow you to get traction. Stepping up the gearing to a higher ratio will make it more difficult to get traction and will shorten the amount of time you are in boost making peak power. It’s a tough decision, but one that requires a lot of thought. I would recommend reaching out to some folks on forums and see what their experience is with changing the gearing on their Shelbys.

      -Zach

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      1. Thanks for the reply. Yeah I think perhaps some serious tires would be the best place to start, probably followed by a brake upgrade. lol

        The car is definitely a handful and you can’t let your guard down (as all the cars and coffee videos prove). If you get too casual with the pedal mashing the tail will kick out when you least expect it. Right now with the temps dropping here in Ontario the factory tires get zero grip. It’s just spin, shift, spin, shift, spin. haha

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