Determining the origin of the term "drag racing" is not the clearest quest in the world - there are as many theories as the machines that have populated its ranks for five decades. There is the original folklore of natural language: Drag your car out of the garage and race me. Natural association of physical drag racing locale: the "main drag" of a town is the main street, and is often the only one wide enough to accommodate two vehicles. And the mechanical association: to "drag" the gears meant to hold the transmission in gear longer than normal.
Original racers were little more than street cars with lightly souped-up engines and bodies alleviated of some excess metal to reduce weight. Eventually, professional drag racing chassis builders constructed purpose-built cars, bending and welding together tubing and planting the engine in the traditional front end spot. As time went on, the engines and the fuels they burned became more exotic, more powerful, and more temperamental.
Like almost all racing cars, drag racers have undergone tremendous evolution as racers have upgraded, experimented, theorized, and tested their equipment.
Rear engine placement came in the proceeding decades, starting early in the seventies. Don Garlits perfected the design after falling victim to the front-engine configuration when his transmission exploded in 1970, severing half of his right foot. The sport has not been the same since. Today's drag racing mobiles are computer-designed wonders with sleek profiles and wind-tunnel-tested rear airfoils that exert 5,000 pounds of downforce on the rear tires with minimal aerodynamic drag.
As racers became smarter, the speed barriers fell: 260 mph toppled in 1984; 270 in 1986; 280 in 1987; 290 in 1989: and the magic 300 mph barrier fell before the wheels of former Funny Car champion Kenny Bernstein on March 20, 1992. Just seven years later, Tony Schumacher became the first to top 330 mph in February 1999, in Phoenix, Ariz. Drag racing has not been the same since.