Troy Williams, Jr. Guest Editorial
Let me start this out by thanking Luke and the ThisIsBracketRacing.com staff for allowing me to be a part of this site and share some of my racing strategies and ideas with you. Racing has been a huge part of my life, and the sport has been very, very good to me; I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t involved in racing. This column, in my mind, is a small way that I can give a little bit back to the sport. Hopefully each of you can find something in the coming pages that benefits your racing program. As with any of the columns on ThisIsBracketRacing.com, if I don’t do a great job of clarifying any of my points, please send us a question via the JEGS Q&A forum. Luke or myself will do our best to answer your questions promptly and accurately. Finally, I want to say thank you to each of you for reading and taking a few minutes of your time to see if I can offer some tidbits that may improve your game.
I’m sure a lot of this will be old hat for loyal Thisisbracketracing.com subscribers. What I’m going to cover in the coming pages isn’t anything that you probably haven’t heard or read before, but I want to concentrate on a few things I think slip some people’s minds. Almost all of the guest writers talked about how important staging is and it is the most important, most fundamental thing you can do in your race car. Staging is the key to almost every race suggest many successful competitors. You cannot set your delay box to be .00x on the tree when you don't stage within .010. Staging has an equally large impact on your ET. You can never be too careful staging your car!
The importance of developing a positive routine has also been covered in depth on this website, and I agree that the value of such a routine cannot be underestimated. As such, I have a few habits that I’ve developed that I believe have helped me to retain focus and build consistency throughout my racing career. One of those habits takes place during the staging process. Over the years I have heard a lot of people question or ask what a driver is looking at after he stages because he or she appears to be looking down . This is a concentration ritual that really helps me focus on the starting line. It's not a natural action to blink when your head is tilted down and you’re 0Alooking up. Go ahead and try it now while no one is watching: tilt your head down slightly, and look “thru your eyelids,“ so to speak. Now, try to blink. It’s almost painful, isn’t it? So if you have ever had trouble blinking when looking at the tree that’s a little ritual that you may want to try .
Having the car warmed up consistently is very important also. I like to run my car a little hotter than some people. For me, 150 or 160 is where I like to pull out at simply because in the early rounds it’s easy to maintain those 130-140 degree temperatures, but in the later rounds it’s going to be difficult to keep the car that cool. And, the subsequent heat will usually create a discrepancy in ET (and sometimes reaction time as well). So, by keeping more heat in the car earlier in the day, I’ll have an easier time maintaining that constant temperature late in the event. Keep in mind that just because your water temp is right doesn’t mean your car is warm. Your oil, trans and your other fluid temps are very important also. If your car picks up on your second run of the day a lot of time that is due to your oil and other fluids not being warm or as warm as they are after a run or two. An Auto Meter oil and trans temp gauge is very helpful. So, now that we have our car warmed up and we have staged very carefully, we can move on to the actual run. Here is where getting into a positive routine will help you maintain consistency throughout the day. Regardless of how minute the detail, preparation is a huge factor. Tire pressure, temperatures, dial in and delay settings are key to preparation before your run.
A lot of people get misdirected by the term “time run” . Think of it as a practice run. There is no reason to make 2 or 3 runs wide open to the finish line if you plan on hitting the brakes or dialing soft during eliminations. So I would say get a run, see what you can go then practice a "drop spot "… something you feel you can repeat during competition. See what you “kill” (the discrepancy in your time trial ET, and the ET on the run where you hit the brakes/lifted off the throttle early/etc.) hitting the brakes or letting off at a point on the track and when the round or the opponent dictates it dial up that amount and execute. At this point, the goal is to implement that plan that you’ve already “practiced,” with the idea being that you know exactly what you’re about to do, but your opponent does not. So many people dial up trying to hold and have no idea how much E.T. to get rid of (or how to go about “killing“ that E.T.). So remember, time runs are practice runs, and if you plan on trying any of the strategies discussed on here, or just want to try something crafty on your own, practice it before an actual round of competition. Many people are shocked by how much or how little ET they kill lifting or using the brakes at a given point so I would always suggest that you try it before it really counts .
In recent and coming columns, Luke has and will continue to go into great detail about the need to become proficient in using various race strategies and the importance of being able to adapt to certain situations and capitalize on the tendencies and/or weaknesses of certain opponents. But even once you’re comfortable executing various different strategies, how can you know the right club to pull out of the bag at the right time? One thing that is helpful in choosing a strategy to use against a given opponent is to know what they have been running and what lane they prefer. Obviously, you can’t watch everyone so what I do is chose 6 or 7 people that you have a good chance of running in the later rounds; competitor’s that win maybe a little more than others and watch their dial, tendencies, and lane preference, if any. If knowledge is power, then I suggest you pay attention all the time. So much can be gained from watching a race, even after you’re eliminated, to get an idea of how individual racers approach certain rounds. Everyone has tendencies, and once you can get a feel for your opponents tendencies, you can use that information to your advantage.
Any form of sport requires concentration to be successful. It could be argued focus and concentration are even more relevant in bracket racing. Concentration on the starting line is key, but in my opinion it takes a stronger commitment of focus and concentration to successfully drive the finish line. I have never felt a driver could wait to look over and find his opponent until 100 feet before the finish line and be able to judge his/her closure rate . You need to find your opponent as soon as possible in the run. This is more important if your are being chased than chasing. I for one am not very good at looking 90 degrees and judging. I try to gauge momentum to drive the finish line and then apply what we call wheel racing. As soon as you feel you can safely look back, you must do so! The sooner you can determine the rate of closure, the earlier you can determine who’s going to cross first (if both hold it wide open). This also allows you more time to execute the proper decision.
Another topic I would like to talk a little about is holding numbers. Some call it "sandbagging" and although that term comes off a bit negative, it is a vital strategy. Why? I try to emphasize that the “reason” to hold isn’t to make the race easier for you (it‘d be “easier“ to dial hard and hold it on the rug), it’s to make it harder for your opponent. Holding gives you a chance at winning when you miss the tree. It allows you to "show up" in the race so that while I may be behind on the tree, I can hopefully "appear" involved in the race and maybe force my opponent into making a mistake while I can drop what I am holding and opponent sails under (hopefully!). Had I been dialed honest, the picture looks different and my opponent sees he is getting there by a wide margin and can lift to cover the dial. Having the discipline to kill l what you’re holding, even if it means not taking the stripe is something many racers struggle with. This is a numbers game and it doesn't increase your odds of winning any more or less because you cross a line on the track ahead of the person you’re running . It is a very advanced strategy to hold numbers, but it is not going to help if you do not kill what you are holding. Ultimately, seat time and practice will allow this strategy to become a very important weapon in your arsenal.
Now that we have established that holding can be a very beneficial strategy, what factors can we assume dictate what we are holding and what we are going to do to apply the strategy effectively? One major factor is physical ability to drive the car. On a time run, one can assume these are going to be the easiest runs to maintain a perfect, in the groove pass. With all focus being inherently on the run itself, it is easy to see why these runs are perhaps the perfect base to dial off of. As an example, let’s say you had two run’s that resulted in a 4.894 and followed up with a 4.902. Here we have two runs separated by .008. Dialing a 4.92 first round does not automatically result in holding .018. Let’s assume you are being chased by a 4.65 dialed opponent. Now you are in a position to look back at your opponent. Are you going to be sure you are going to make the perfect, straight as an arrow pass down the track? Are you the type of racer who likes to move toward the centerline to “get a better gander”? Maybe you are the type of racer who likes to move away from the centerline to create a slight difficulty in your opponent’s judging ability. What if you just happen to slide out of the groove as you are trying to gauge your opponent? Now it’s possible that instead of actually holding .018, you are now, in reality, going high dead on or .010 over. In your head, you assume you have to kill .018 and do so and now your ET becomes a high .010 over run or .020 over and opening a window you surely cannot give up in this day and age of bracket racing.
My point is simple. It is easy to suggest that driving in a straight line is simple yet in reality any slight adjustment to track position affects your ET. The general “feel” for driving the car is as important as any factor associated with a successful racer. When you can detect slight variables in how the car is being driven down the track, and better yet you at the races!!! Any habits that you have, good or bad, can help you better control the race when holding.
I cannot stress enough that seat time is essential to these strategies. For them to be successful, they must be practiced. The sacrifice may be some frustrating losses along the way, but in the long run can pay huge dividends. I hope this column was helpful. I wish all the TIBR subscriber's lots of luck and I’ll see you at the races.