James Monroe Guest Editorial
IT’S IN THE DETAILS
First I would like to thank Luke Bogacki for the privilege and honor of writing for you, the www.thisisbracketracing.com
reader. It is my sincere hope that within this editorial I offer some ideas that you can implement into your racing program to not only enhance your performance but add more enjoyment to your hobby or profession as a whole.
In this editorial I will not be discussing bracket racing “game plans”, finish line tactics or offering tips on how to be more consistent on the tree. This has been, and will continue to be, outlined by others far more qualified than myself. My focus will be on the things that any racer, whether he or she is a beginning bracket racer or a touring professional, can do to enhance their racing beginning as soon as this weekend.
Hall of Fame basketball coach, John Wooden had a saying that I came across as I prepared this editorial.
“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”
In today’s ultra-competitive drag racing scene where literally thousandths of a second separate winners and losers; the details can make all of the difference and, yes, CAN make big things happen.
I have been fortunate enough to have had some measure of success within my racing activities over the years. The compliments my competitors offer that are the most rewarding are the observations that go something like we “….never seem to make mistakes” and “….have a great race team”. This, I believe, is due to the fact that we never stop making efforts to continually improve even in the smallest ways. The goal of this editorial is help you identify areas of improvement and offer steps you can take to improve your driving, the race car, and your processes from the garage to the finish line.
PERFORM THREE ASSESSMENTS
ROUND WIN PERCENTAGE ASSESSMENT
Before you can begin improving your driving or your race car you need to first identify where improvement needs to take place. The most basic way to do this is by going back through your logbooks and calculating your overall round win percentage. I am sure that many of you have already been doing this and already know your “number”. That is a good start.
Round win percentage is a good indicator of your overall competitiveness but it doesn’t tell the story of where improvement needs to take place. To establish this you will need to dig a little deeper into the details and perform a Round Win Percentage Assessment by breaking it down into specific rounds. For example; knowing your first round win percentage and comparing it to your third round win percentage can possibly show discrepancies in your performance. We have all heard a racer say something to the effect, “I feel like I can never get past the quarterfinals.” You may have a specific round that you feel you have trouble getting past. It may seem elementary but having this real data can allow you to validate this “feeling” and begin referencing your log books to find the reasons for the inadequacy in specific rounds. Conversely you may determine that this feeling is not at all correct and your “hard to get by round” win percentage is actually in line with all of the others.
In drag racing we have to deal with failure much more than success. Setting small round win percentage gain goals and potentially reaching them can help you enjoy small successes and help maximize your enjoyment between journeys to the winner’s circle. Performing a Round Win Percentage Assessment in the past has helped me to identify that my summer-time win percentage drops off when compared to the spring and fall. After identifying this a few years ago I began breaking my seasons into three segments and setting more realistic goals for the summer months. In reaching those goals this season I have developed a confidence in myself and my car that will help going into next season.
RACE CAR RISK ASSESSMENT
Every one of us has made a pass and had something mechanically go awry on the car (either during the run itself or on the return to the trailer). This could be as minor as the tachometer not working properly or as catastrophic as a transmission or converter failure. Once back to the trailer a feverish scramble ensues to diagnose and fix the issue as quickly as possible. These situations we all face at one time or another no matter how good our equipment is. This leads me to the second assessment which happens to be the most important for my racing program. A Race Car Risk Assessment is a list of failures that can be identified and repaired while at the track; either between rounds or before the next day’s race begins. My personal Race Car Risk Assessment includes virtually anything short of complete engine expiration and is continually being updated. A few of the most common failures we experience as drag racers are listed below. You will need to compile your own list based upon your experiences and spare equipment available.
Transmission or Converter Failure
Valve Train Failure (Lifter, Pushrod or Rocker Arm)
Fuel Pump/Regulator Failure
Tire Failure (Cut Tire)
The Process Assessment requires you to be objective and identify areas of your driving or racing processes that need improvement. This is an excellent opportunity to include your crew members and/or family by asking for their ideas. If you don’t have assistance in this area you may have a racing buddy who can offer his opinions of your racing. This assessment is all-encompassing and can include everything from your red light frequency to habitually showing up to the track without all of the proper maintenance accomplished on the race car. The Process Assessment will also include examining your routines from filling the fuel and charging the batteries to your mental preparedness while you are strapped in the car. It is here that you should examine the details and pin-point areas where mistakes can either be reduced or eliminated completely.
PREPARE YOUR “PLANS OF ACTION”
Now that you have identified assessed areas where improvement can be realized it is now time to prepare your Plans of Action (POA). Having these plans in place will afford you increased confidence in your driving as well as your race car. The Race Car Risk Assessment POA’s are easiest to establish as they are fairly straight forward.
TRANSMISSION AND/OR CONVERTER FAILURE POA
Monroe Racing has what we call the “Transmission Box” in the trailer. This small plastic tool box includes every tool necessary for changing a transmission or converter. These tools are color coded and are used EXCLUSIVELY for this procedure. Think of the time that can be saved in a transmission or converter change if you can remove the search for the proper tools. This alone can be the difference in making or not making the call. Along with the tools the transmission already has the solenoid grounded, blow-back ring installed, cooler line fittings installed and is partially filled with fluid.
IGNITION FAILURE POA
Does it do any good to have a spare ignition in the trailer if it takes you over an hour to install it? One of the most common issues at the track is of the electrical variety. I am fortunate enough to be unable to recall the last ignition related problem that we experienced. That being said, there is still a spare ignition, coil and crank trigger pick-up in the trailer. You might say, “That’s no big deal a lot of racers have those items.” The Monroe Racing Ignition Failure POA calls for weather pack ends already installed on these items so that they can be changed in a matter of minutes. The POA also calls for all three main items replaced (ignition, coil and crank trigger pick-up). We will address which part was faulty at a later date when time permits.
VALVE TRAIN POA
Do not think that there isn’t a “Valve Train Box” in our trailer that has all of the parts necessary to replace a rocker arm or pushrod, or the tools needed to “fish out” a lifter and replace. Your POA list can be as exhaustive as your budget will allow and will end when you have reached the end of your Risk Assessment list.
Now that you have an understanding of the Race Car Risk Assessment POA’s it is time to move to the Process Assessment POA’s. As you will recall the Process Assessment required you to identify areas within your driving, routines and maintenance that can use improvement. The most obvious (as Shawn Langdon touched on) is to have finished all of the maintenance to your vehicle before you arrive at the track so you can focus on the things necessary to win rounds.
WEEKLY MAINTENANCE POA
Set-up a weekly maintenance schedule that is adhered to each week. Even if you have a busy work, schedule, family responsibilities and other hobbies you need to make time for, at least, the critical maintenance. My weekly routine begins with a complete body and rear slick removal. Once this is accomplished the car is cleaned and inspected thoroughly from front to back. “Maintenance Tuesday” is the day where we perform any needed fluid changes and parts inspections. Parts inspections include cleaning and checking all electrical connections as our race cars a very electrical dependent and it is imperative that everything is verified to be in good working order. Also on Tuesday I try and single out one spare part and double check that it is ready to be installed on short notice. As discussed earlier, this also includes ANY and ALL tools necessary to make this change. These tools are almost as important as the part itself when in a time crunch.
BETWEEN PASS POA
In my opinion, routines are as critical in the pits as they are in the cockpit. Always doing things the same such as connecting the battery charger and filling the fuel as soon as you return from a run can make a big difference. Many reading this will say, “Come on, I have never forgotten to fill the fuel between passes.” While this may very well be the case, I’ll bet you have (while one pair from the water box) retraced your steps mentally to ensure that you had accomplished this task. Those 15-20 seconds you mentally used confirming these actions most certainly took away from your concentration and focus needed to win that round.
IN CAR POA
Many who are familiar with my racing team are aware that I have excellent assistance in my father (Mike) and brother (Brock). I am very blessed to have this help and would surely not win near the rounds I do without them. That in mind, one task they accomplish that is of the most value is my father’s position as I pull into the water box and stage the car. His positioning as I back up from the burnout and ultimately prepare for staging is to the outside of the track, over my shoulder safely away from the car. He maintains constant visual contact of my cockpit. Should I need him for anything it is a matter of only raising my hand.
This policy may seem a little extreme but it was the difference in winning or losing a round earlier in the season in a race that we eventually won. In that instance, the nitrous bottle was not turned on before the pass and when I went to purge the line I had nothing. Being that this positioning policy was in place the crisis was quickly averted and the round was won. As a side note there is now a POA to ensure that the nitrous bottle is turned on at the appropriate time. Some will say it was “lucky” that we were able to negotiate through this round, I disagree. This scenario was assessed and we were prepared for the situation. To take that one step further, at virtually every race we have won this season there was an issue with the car that needed to be addressed. The planning, although it may seem obsessive, can be the difference between an average season and a great season.
For the last, most broad, Plan of Action I would like to regress to the original assessment that focused on round win percentage. I hope that you will be able to do this assessment and make it as detailed as possible (round versus round comparisons, track versus track comparisons, night versus daytime racing comparisons and so on). As you do this and come across areas that could use improvement you should set small and realistic goals for improvement. I would like you to bear the below scenario in mind as I will show you what only a 2-4% round win percentage improvement can do for you.
For this example let’s assume that every race was a no buyback event with 64 entries (6 rounds). This means that the winner of the event will need to post six round wins in a row for the top prize. Let’s go on to say that our fictitious, very average racer, who goes by the name of “Mort Wartenson” enters 25 races per season and sports a very average round win percentage of 50%. Mort’s likelihood of winning this event is 1 in 64 or 1.5%. You can count on Mort to win once every 2.5 seasons. We all know this guy; but hopefully not too well. At that same track Mort’s cousin, who goes by the name Junior, is a very competitive multi-time track champion and has a sporty 75% round win percentage. Junior’s likelihood of winning this event is about 18% or nearly one win every fifth or sixth race. You can count on Junior winning 4.5 races this season and winning 11 times before Mort wins again. This may or may not be a comfortable situation at family functions for Mort and Junior but it does show the discrepancy of winner’s circle visits for a local average racer and the track champion.
Let’s say that you, as the reader, operate somewhere between Mort and Junior with a 66% round win percentage. This means that you are winning right at two races per season or 8% of the events you enter. If you can enhance your round winning percentage by only 2% you will win an extra race every two years. If you can step up 2% MORE you can expect to win three races each season and your competitors will begin to take notice of a marked improvement.
One of my favorite sayings of all time goes something like the following:
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
The reason I believe this phrase to be important in our sport is due to the fact that luck alone will not get you to the winner’s circle. Continually improving your driving skills, having a well maintained race car and preparing for as many scenarios as possible will allow you to make your own “luck” when the opportunity arises.