Tommy Phillips Guest Editorial
Staying In Your Lane
As I read some of the articles written by previous guest instructors, I find myself marveling at their wisdom and understanding a little better why the win light in their lane comes on so often. I am both honored to be a part of TIBR and humbled by the company that I find myself in as a guest author for this group. I also must thank Luke for inviting me to be a part of TIBR and the opportunity to share my views of how to find that ever-elusive winners circle.
First, I must say that I am a very technical and analytical person by nature, so not surprisingly I dissect every number on my time slip and each round like it was rocket science! Much like Jeg Coughlin described in his article, I always predict before my run what my car will do, and perhaps more importantly what I will do. Since I hardly ever hit either prediction right on the money, I have an acceptable window of variance from that prediction that I describe as my “lane.”
It sounds somewhat silly, but there is a reason I call that variance from what I am trying to accomplish my “lane.” When I first started racing and was leaving for a race, my grandmother (who knew virtually nothing about drag racing) would always tell me to “stay in my lane.” I always thought it was the dumbest thing and laughed as I walked out the door, but I have long since adapted her advice to guide my racing endeavors.
You see, I look at every aspect of a run imaginable, who my opponent is going to be, what their tendencies are, weather changes, track conditions, and possibly what I had for breakfast! I do all of that run after run, but then I take that information and use it only within the parameters of what my strongest abilities are. The philosophy is simple and works in every aspect of your life…maximize and cater to your strengths while minimizing and defending your weaknesses. In order to do that, you must of course know your strengths and weaknesses. Knowing this starts long before getting to the racetrack.
My advice is to have a hand held practice tree, tabletop version, and a full size tree so that you can practice 300-400 times a day in all different conditions. This sounds ridiculous, but I have all three and find myself using each of them for various reasons. I use the small one partly because it is always lying close by, but mainly because the bulbs are so small that I really have to concentrate to have any sort of good reaction times. I use the tabletop version because it has LED bulbs and is a little easier to see, but still requires extreme focus. The full size tree I use because it is closest to what you will actually see at the track. I also constantly switch from .400 pro tree, to .500 full tree, and practice on the top bulb with delay as well as the bottom bulb. Why? Because too many people practice on the same setting for 20 or 30 hits in a row and get in a rhythm rather than developing their natural reactions. In addition, randomly altering the tree keeps you more disciplined and stops many of the “flinching” problems associated with anticipating the light coming on.
The practice trees are great tools because you can log your data and figure out what your average variance in reaction time is as well as percentage or red lights, how light conditions affect you, whether your left/right eye dominance is a factor, etc… For instance, try hitting the tree 100 times (not in a row, but two or three times every minute or so) with 1.100 delay on a full tree. Let us say your average reaction time is .510 with 13 red lights scattered in. Look at how bad the red lights are and adjust your delay accordingly. If eight of them were by .002 or .001, three by .003-.005, and two by .006-.009, then you should definitely roll your delay to 1.102. The reason you would do this is that you probably will change your average light by less than .001, but will change your red light percentage from 13% of the time to 5%. You are simply learning your natural variations and applying them to your strengths and weaknesses. For me, I cannot set up any tighter than .007 on a full tree and .009 on a pro tree, because my natural variance with no external changes is .007 and .009 respectively. Setting for those lights, I can still be red about 1.1% of the time.
Another thing that you need to know about yourself is where your comfort zone is as far as how you race your car. In other words, do you like to depend on your car and dial it exactly what you think it will run, or do you like holding .01, .03, or even more? Do you like a dragster or a door car better? Do you like having a fast car and leaving last or a slower car that might be easier to dial? There are no right or wrong answers here, but do a little self analysis while you’re racing and find out if your lights are better in the left or right lane, if you see better at the finish line in one lane or the other, and if you are more comfortable letting out of the gas rather than hitting the brakes. These are simple things we all do during a run, but figure out what you are best at and most comfortable doing. You will need to pay close attention to your wins and losses, and how they occurred. This means making written notes in your logbook and reading it week after week. I guarantee if you do that, you will soon see a pattern you can adjust to.
For me, I like to be in the left lane, have a car that is fast, and dial fairly honest in an 1/8 mile bracket race. This requires a really good car that does not vary much, so it is important to constantly work on making your combination better, as well as more consistent. Since I like to work on my car and try different things, I usually find knowing my car is an asset to predicting what it will do in a given situation.
The last and most important thing I believe valuable in this self-analysis process is trusting your information and playing your hand according to the odds, not the stakes. Sound like a poker hand instead of a drag race? In some ways, the two correlate. You have to understand that the situation cannot alter the information you know to be true. If you have been .010, .009, and .010 the last three rounds, but know your reaction variance is .007, you CANNOT roll out .005 just because you have Pete Biondo or it is the final round of the Million Dollar Race. Whether you are drag racing or playing poker, the stakes NEVER change the odds, so don’t do something outside your strengths just to accommodate your fear of losing.
That’s my brief version of self-analysis for drag racers, which may or may not be worth reading but it has worked over the years for me. It is really simple…look at the situation, do everything you can to put the odds in your favor, execute your plan to the best of your abilities that day, and let the win lights come on when they may.
You see, I stay in my little world at the track. I constantly look at my runs, my opponents’ runs, the weather, the track, the tree, and my car. I know all of that backwards and forwards and don’t let the outside “noise” of other racers distract me from what I know. I focus on my car and me, because I know this…I’m always the most likely person to beat me at a race. Do your homework, know the information, and stay in your lane.