Drag races aren't just about squeezing as much power from an engine as possible, they're also about successfully transmitting that power to the ground. A successful drag car is a complete package that can reliably turn engine power into actual acceleration down the drag strip. To accomplish this, your car must have a transmission that can survive the output of the engine without tearing itself to shreds and tires that are up to the task of doing more than turning that output into a huge cloud of smoke. Of course, there's one more component that's often overlooked: your suspension.

Without a suspension properly built and tuned for drag racing, wheel hop is an inevitability. Wheel hop is the result of your car's wheels moving more freely than they should within the wheel wells, resulting in them failing to stay in perfect contact with the ground. This results in a jerky, sometimes violent motion as you attempt to launch your car. Not only does this cost you seconds down the quarter mile, but it can even result in damage to drivetrain components.

The Underlying Causes of Wheel Hop

While wheel hop is fundamentally an issue of traction, its most common root cause lies with the suspension. Often, wheel hop is caused as the bushings in the wheel or at the differential deflect too much, allowing the wheel to move forward and backward. This creates a situation where the tire momentarily loses contact with the road surface entirely before suddenly hooking up again, creating the rough and violent feel that is commonly associated with wheel hop.

Wheel hop can happen in any situation where you are suddenly launching a high-powered vehicle, but it is usually seen on drag strips when a car's suspension has not been adequately tuned for its power output. Aside from slowing your car down and feeling terrible, wheel hop can cause damage. The rapid traction loss and recovery puts a huge amount of stress on your vehicle's axles and can lead to failures if the wheel hop is serious or happens often. It also pushes additional wear on motor mounts and the bushings that are deflecting.

Dealing with Wheel Hop

Luckily, wheel hop isn't something that you need to live with. If you routinely bring your car to the drag strip, then you will want to select suspension components and tuning specifically intended to reduce or eliminate the amount of wheel hop that you experience. The first step is identifying the cause of your hopping tires, and in most cases, it is safe to start with either the subframe bushings or the rear differential bushings in a rear-wheel drive vehicle. In both cases, the factory bushings on your vehicle are designed to provide a compromise between stiffness and a smooth ride.

Upgrading these parts of your rear suspension to stiffer bushings can be a good way to significantly minimize wheel hop. You may also sacrifice some amount of ride quality, making this an upgrade that is mostly useful for cars that spend a significant amount of time at the track. The upgraded bushings are useful outside of the strip as well since reducing wheel hop will also help your car keep traction when accelerating out of a turn.

Going beyond this will often depend on your specific vehicle and the specific situations that it is used in. Everything from your vertical links to the actual bracing of your subframe can result in wheel hop when your car is attempting to put a sufficient amount of power to the track. If basic suspension improvements do not improve your wheel hop situation, then it is likely time to begin investigating more major upgrades to your tires' suspension.