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Fulfill your virtual quarter-mile need for speed with these drag racing mobile games

While some of the circle-track crowd has been getting their virtual kicks in iRacing events, there’s no such component for fans of our straight-line sport. Fortunately for us, there are other ways to fulfill our need for speed and the key is right in your pocket or purse: Mobile games. 
21 May 2020
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

It’s been a long dry spell for NHRA fans and racers itching for some flame-throwing, gear-shifting competition and while some of the circle-track crowd has been getting their virtual kicks in iRacing events, there’s no such component for fans of our straight-line sport.

Fortunately for us, there are other ways to fulfill our need for speed and the key is right in your pocket or purse: Mobile games. 

There are more than 30 drag racing games available to download on iOS or the Android platforms –- some great, some not so great -- and I’ll show you a few worth talking about. I’m an iGuy, so I’ll concentrate on ones I know work on iPhones and iPads.

My cred? Glad you asked. I’ve been playing video games for decades: Atari, Coleco, and Intellivision consoles of my youth gave way to computer gaming. I played competitively online in massive tournaments before eSports were a thing, mostly first-person “shooter” games but also raced everything: stock cars, IndyCars, rally cars, sprint cars, British Touring Cars, and, of course, drag racing. From marathon sessions with the blocky breakthrough Dragster game on Atari 2600 to serving as a beta tester and technical consultant on Tantrum Entertainment’s first PC version of NHRA Drag Racing and its subsequent PlayStation port, I’ve been strapped in and wheeling away for years. <end humble brag>

There is no current console game for NHRA Drag Racing (2007’s Countdown to the Championship was the last, I believe), so that’s why I’m focusing on mobile games, of which there are plenty, and they’re all free and perfect for knocking off a few passes while waiting for a haircut. Like drag racing, they’re consumable in quick bursts; no committing yourself to a 50-lap race or anything.

Dragster Mayhem |Developer: Minicades

App store User rating: 4.3 out of 5

This was the first serious, drag racing-dedicated mobile game that I remember, and, for a while, all of the cool kids from the nitro ranks like Morgan Lucas and J.R. Todd were playing it and comparing times. To me, it's held up pretty well and I play it often.

How it looks: The graphics are pretty decent and the sound is great. The default camera view is from behind the car, which works pretty well, but there are five others, including a pretty good in-car mode. I played this game for weeks before seeing a tiny, opaque camera icon on the top right of the screen to change the view. The tracks are nicely rendered and the header flames, tire smoke, and guardwall-bashing sparks all look very nice. Despite the name, there’s no real mayhem involved such as crashes and no blown engines or wounded parts.

Game modes: The game offers both single-player or multiplayer modes. Single-player pits you against computer AI opponents while multiplayer sets up real-life opponents, though finding a match can sometimes take a long time due to lack of users.

Game play: Choose between four events, which are actually difficulty levels with higher rewards going to success in the tougher levels. The player must use the on-screen throttle pedal to perform a burnout in a Top Fueler with the goal being to get as close to 100 percent as possible on the sliding scale on the side of the screen. Too hot or too cold will affect your run.

The car will then auto stage and you mash the gas when the Tree turns (psssst: go on Yello). The trick then is to steer the car down the middle of the lane by tilting your device. This can be pretty tricky as the car tends to get a little loose downtrack and sometimes it feels like a white-knuckle needle-thread.

Your reaction time, e.t. and speed are displayed after every run (though some of those e.t.s are pretty outrageous; see above), as well as the amount of money earned. Like real drag races, each race consists of a maximum of four rounds.

Leveling up: There’s no tuning per se, just a chance to continually improve your components -- chassis, engines, and tires, up to 16 levels each -- with your prize money and buy a new car and helmet paint schemes. You also can buy a one-run “blueprint” for a crucial round but it’s all pretty pricey.

In-game purchases: You can get 20,000 credits for just $2.99 and a million credits for $19.99 and many steps in-between. Like the man says, “Speed costs; how fast do you want to go?”

Mopar Drag N Brag | Developer: Minicades

App Store User rating: 4.2 out of 5

Minicades took the successful engine that powered Dragster Mayhem and expanded it (with the apparent backing of Mopar) to include Funny Car, Pro Stock, three fast Pro Mod-style doorslammer classes, Super Stock, Stock, and even jet dragsters. You can earn a chance to drive Matt Hagan’s Funny Car or the Pro Stockers of Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Allen Johnson. The rub (just as in real life) is that you have to work your way through the slower classes to get access to the big guns.

How it looks: The graphics are very similar to Dragster Mayhem. The cars that are supposed to shift will bob the nose on the shift; a nice touch. The tracks are nicely rendered, including a nice version of Bandimere Speedway, home of the Mopar NHRA Mile-High Nationals. The sound varies from class to class is decent but not exceptional.

Game modes: Single-player and multiplayer. Multiplayer matching seems much stronger than Dragster Mayhem.

How it plays: Same mechanics as Dragster Mayhem with setting up and making a run. The Stock and Super Stockers are oddly sometimes harder to drive for some reason, wagging their tails. With every win, you earn credits to buy a better car or a different paint scheme within your class or ultimately move up a class.

You can turn off tilt control (though I’d advise against) and steer using on-screen arrow buttons. Unlike Dragster Mayhem, you can crash these cars, including rolling them over in a two-car collision (not that I ever did that; of course not).

The game keeps track of your career best passes as well as win and first-leave percentages.

The multiplayer mode allows you to choose an opponent across varying levels within your class so you can give or get a handicap start and also allows you to double down after a race win for a rematch or take your money and run.

Leveling up: Race win credits allow you to progress through multiple car makes and paint schemes in each eliminator and also into the quicker classes. You can upgrade your engine, tires, and supercharger (even in classes like Stock without a supercharger -– weird) but all of these require you to win a lot of races first. Round wins in some classes start as low as 20 credits (usually doubling or more for every later round) and it takes 100,000 credits, for example, to get the best Pro Stocker.

In-game purchases: Basically the same as Dragster Mayhem.

CSR Racing 2 | Developer: Natural Motion

App Store User rating: 4.7 out of 5

CSR (short for Custom Street Racing) is the “Big Daddy” of all drag racing games from a pure saturation point with more than 130 million downloads and there’s plenty of reasons why. Although this is street racing and not drag racing, I include only because it’s probably the most fully-featured of the genre. Side scrollers like this are a dime a dozen in the App Store, with a variety of flavors and features; even my favorite overall racing game, Real Racing 3, has a small drag race mode.. Some have tuning/customization elements and then it’s automatic stage, mash the gas when the Tree drops, and then it’s either hit the shift points and the nitrous (sometimes both, sometimes one, sometimes neither) but CSR has them all. He downside? It’s a huge 3.3 GB download which may be tough for those of you whose devices are filled with music and photos.

How it looks: Gorgeous on every level. The cars –- so many cars -- are beautifully rendered inside and out and look great going down the track (er, street). I wish this game was on a dragstrip instead of a street so I could throw it a double thumbs-up, but the backgrounds are nonetheless nicely rendered.

Game modes: There are a ton of modes –- too many to list here –- that allows you to race your way up a ladder, bonus events, join a team (“crew”), and competitive rankings, all of it against real people, and there are tons of them, so matchmaking is quick.

How it plays: After you choose your car and tune it, there’s some slick multi-car camera angles as the cars pull into stage. No Christmas Tree here, just a 3-2-1 countdown. You try to get your revs in the right place on the tachometer for a good leave and then nail your shift points and add your power booster.

Between races, you buy new or better parts with your rewards. The tuning menu is extensive with gear ratios, tire pressure, nitrous timings, and much more. You can even strip parts off of your cars and fuse them to make more powerful parts. You also can customize the cars with a wide range of paint (plus graphics and even custom license plates), rims, brake calipers, and interior trims, 

CSR2 has a nice AR (augmented reality) feature that allows you to virtually place your car anywhere in your real-life environment using the camera in your device. You can place that new Lamborghini in your driveway and take a photo of it that looks pretty realistic, and you can also interact with your cars in other amazing ways.

Leveling up: Like pretty much every other game in the genre, winning races gives you gold and/or cash that you can use to buy new parts or new cars. There are some pretty good rewards and making progress early is easy, but the curve steepens if you’re going for one of the exotic supercars the game offers.

In-game purchases: You can buy a “Handful of gold” for $2.99 or a "Pallet of gold" for $99.99 and many levels between, or “Pocket change” worth of cash for $2.99 to "Stacks of cash" for $19.99. To keep your kids from bankrupting you when you're not looking, there’s a handy feature to turn off in-app purchases.

Doorslammers 2 |Developer: Virtual Dyno

App Store User Rating: 4.1 out of 5

I have to admit that this one took me by surprise. As I mentioned earlier, there are dozens of “drag racing games” to be downloaded –- too many for me to sample them all -– so I took a stab at this one, despite (or maybe because of) the screenshot that made it appear to not be a high-dollar development. Maybe I just got lucky, but this one is gold. This game feels like it was made by racers for racers.

How it looks: The cars are decently rendered and every race I did was at a night track. The cars look great but jaw-dropping, especially in base mode, but the lighting is cool, the tire smoke realistic, and the flashing win-light guardwalls are a great touch. There are five camera angles, from follow to aerial to side to in-car (actually, in-helmet, complete with seeing the top and bottom of the helmet) and there’s also a replay mode. The default is Close follow, very similar to Dragster Mayhem and Drag N Brag that works very well. All very cool.

Game modes: Practice, single-player vs. the computer, or multiplayer against real opponents.  Within both racing modes are numerous tournaments (based on performance and mods, like wheelie bars and delay boxes) and challenges, as well as a “license test” you need to pass to get to the faster classes.

How it plays: You get $10,000 cash to buy your first car, which is going to be $8,000 in the lowest of tiers that go from Builder to Restored to Turn Key. You can do some basic mods with your leftover cash and eventually upgrade the engine block, heads, intake, ignition, exhaust, and power adders; I was able to go from 250 hp to 420 hp pretty easy. Be sure to create an account right away or your data and upgrades may not be saved. I saw a lot of comments on this.

Like in real drag racing, the best place to start in bracket racing so you’re not blown out of the water by experienced players with tons of upgrades. You can do some test and tune hits to get your e.t., then enter it as your dial-in -– just like real life. Even with a 12-second machine, I was able to get win lights -– and the cash rewards -– over guys with six- and seven-second machines using well-known bracket-racing techniques. You can deep stage, dump guys, or run them out.

You get a detailed time slip at the end of the run and info on the left side of the screen that explains what you did right or offers some tips to improve your skills if you lost.

As cool as all of that is, the absolute best part of this game is that you have to do everything a real driver does. Do the burnout and heat the tires just right as they’ll cool down in the staging process. If you cross the starting line on the burnout, you have to hit the shifter to go into reverse, and then hit it again to go into 1st gear. You can bump into staging or just coast, you can do dry hops –- you name it. At the other end of the track, you have to get the car safely stopped, either with the brakes or with a parachute (if so equipped) but don’t brake too hard or you can lose it. Although tilt steering is active, there’s no real need for it until you nail the binders too hard and start sliding (not that I ever did that; of course not).

Leveling up: Again, cash and gold are the currencies of the kingdom. Cash will get you the parts but you’ll sometimes need gold for nitrous refills and other performance perks. I’m not that far into the game to be savvy on all of it yet but you can get a lot of cash pretty easily with some wins and start hot-rodding your ride.

In-app purchases: You can buy gold for as little as $1.99 (10 gold) to $19.99 (500 gold).

So there you have it, a good collection of games to while away your lockdown. These are just a handful of what’s available and my opinions here are sometimes based on just an hour or two with a game, so take that into account before you start hanging me in effigy at the Christmas Tree. If you have any tips on these or other mobile drag racing games, shoot me an email (pburgess@nhra.com) and I’ll check them out. Maybe there’s a Part 2 to this.