I love everything about drag racing. The cars, the engines, and most of all, the break-neck speed. As someone who has owned several muscle cars and has had the occasional quarter-mile experience, I know the importance of good suspension. A reasonably controversial subject is airbag suspension and, I wondered if you can drag race with airbag suspension?
You can drag race with airbag suspension. This would apply to a non-professional drag race. Airbag suspension for professionals is not permitted according to the NHRA rules. In street drag racing, you have no limitations set out against it. It is, however, not recommended for installation on the front end of the car.
Where I come from, drag racing is almost strictly illegal street events where there are no rules other than don’t get caught. None of the high-intensity, adrenaline-filled competitions I have only watched online. In my thinking, a stiff suspension would be what you aim for in a drag race. You’re going straight and fast, after all. Let’s explore the airbag suspension in drag racing further.
What Is Airbag Suspension?
When looking at typical suspension variants, airbag suspension is not something you come across every day, so what is it? Is it the same as air suspension? I had a look, and this is what I found;
Airbag suspension comprises polyurethane and rubber airbags that act as a replacement for coil springs and leaf suspension. It is powered by a compressor that pumps air into these flexible bellows. They are pumped to a certain PSI in order to behave like springs. The hydropneumatic suspension is pressurized by a liquid instead of air.
Airbag suspension’s main aim is to give you a smoother ride in a commercial vehicle setup, or in the case of heavy-duty trucks, it assists with load-bearing and weight distribution.
Although airbag suspension is not a new concept, it was originally dedicated to aviation after WW2; in the automotive industry, it is still considered to be a more after-market installation product. Only a few mainstream manufacturers use air suspension on their heavier SUVs and sedans.
Is Airbag Suspension Legal In Drag Racing?
In NASCAR, airbag suspension has been used for over sixty years. Not only could some of the drivers hone their skills on the oval, but they also implemented the newfound suspension system to run moonshine as a side job. To reduce breakages while transporting the moonshine, they decided to install the stock cars with airbag suspension systems and naturally used them in NASCAR racing.
In drag racing, however, the rules are much stricter. According to the NHRA drag racing rules, only full automotive-type front suspension is permitted, and all adjustable suspension and rigid mounted suspension are prohibited. For professional drag racing, there are no allocations made in the rules for airbag suspension. The rules are unambiguous on what is allowed; the rules on the suspension types do not differ much across the different divisions.
There are no rule books that prohibit you from installing an after-market airbag suspension system in street drag racing. There are a few different suspension systems to choose from, and that will mainly depend on what car you use for drag racing. If you are participating in drag racing on a non-professional level, you would already be forfeiting the car manufacturer’s warranty. Installing an after-market airbag suspension system would make sense.
Is Airbag Suspension Safe On A Drag Racing Car?
Now the most important part of the information to know. Is it really safe to install airbag suspension in a drag racing car? Airbag suspension systems are very safe.
If you maintain this system well, it can last longer than conventional suspension systems. Probably the biggest advocate for airbag suspension in a production streetcar would be Todd Fullford’s 1000hp Hellcat that runs a 9.8 on a quarter-mile on the strip.
This suspension system’s safety is well documented and tested, so you can have one installed with confidence. Always make sure you get it fitted by a specialist, this way, you will have a guarantee on the system, and you have documented safety ratings you can rely on.
Benefits VS Drawbacks Of Airbag Suspension
Like with most things that have been tried, tested, and tested again, why fix what works right? The suspension system on your drag racing car will firstly be a safety choice and, secondly, be a speed choice. After reading the facts, what will be the deciding factor for you? Let’s look at both the benefits and potential drawbacks of airbag suspension;
- Improved ride height. Airbag suspension greatly improves the ride height, dependent on the weight and the speed of the vehicle.
- Reduces vibration. There should be significantly less wear and tear on your system due to the overall reduction in vibration.
- Comfort. You will notice an increase in driver comfort.
- Exact adjustment. You can adjust the front and back of the vehicle independently, so for drag racing, you can slightly lower the nose of the car to reduce drag and increase aerodynamics.
- Longevity. Airbag suspension has a long life if maintained properly.
- Added weight. On average, an airbag suspension kit will add an extra 100lb to your vehicle.
- Increased fuel usage. With the extra weight added on, your fuel usage will also increase as a result.
- Installation cost. Airbag suspension kits are not cheap, and I wouldn’t suggest installing a cheap set; your safety depends on it.
- Higher repair cost. If you do drag race a lot, you might need to do repairs on your system more often at a higher cost than for a leaf spring suspension system.
- Rust. If you live in coastal areas, your car and system could be more prone to rust and moisture damage.
Although there are several drawbacks, it is still a good suspension system to consider if you drag race.
But, Can It Handle More Speed And Power?
There is no doubt that airbag suspension can handle serious power. Looking again at what is known as one of the fastest Dodge Chargers in the world, Todd Fullford’s 2016 Dodge Hellcat SRT is equipped with Air Lift Performance suspension.
This car produces 950BHP on a stock standard drive train and standard 6.2L V8 engine. That’s a substantial amount of power, and the airbag suspension handles it perfectly.
On various tests done by racing professionals, it was shown that the airbag suspension system outperforms coilovers by far.
How Fast Can Drag Racing Cars Go Using Airbag Suspension?
One of the fastest recorded speeds in an airbag suspension fitted car is 138mph.
Does Airbag Suspension Improve Handling?
Generally, most people interested in cars will assume that airbag suspension is just a cosmetic modification and not necessarily practical. Nothing could be further from the truth. Usually, racing cars would be kitted with coilovers to give it great, stiff suspension and better handling in tight corners.
With the adjustment capability that airbag suspension has, you can pre-set your desired height and adjust dampening. You can control rebound speed, compression, and body movement. With the stresses on a car during a drag race, you can adjust the system’s pressure to suit the race conditions.
If your car is a little bouncy, the culprit can be your dampers. Airbag suspension kits only replace the coils and not the dampers. Always consult the manufacturer’s recommendation, but usually, they are replaced every 50 000 miles.
It is clear from the research that you can indeed drag race while having airbag suspension fitted in your car. You will not be able to race under the rules of the NHRA while having this system included, but you are not restricted in general drag racing scenarios.
A lot of care should be taken when having the system fitted as this can significantly affect your car’s safety and performance. Always speak to professionals and research the system that will suit your specific vehicle and needs. There are several airbag suspension systems you can choose from that have a track record.
We concluded that not only can it handle great power but also incredible speeds while at the same time keeping your car stable and safe.