08-04 "On The Road" with Luke Bogacki
The big end... The top end... The other end... The stripe... The finish line folks. It’s where bracket races are won or lost. “There are two ends to the race track,” I know each of you have heard that before. In the past few columns, we’ve discussed (1) knowledge--knowing and understanding what needs to happen in order to win a given round and (2) having an idea of your reaction time, how it corresponds to your opponent, and how to use this information to your advantage. But, neither knowledge nor quick thinking mean anything if you cannot consistently execute--and execution occurs on the finish line.
Finish line driving really cannot be taught. It’s a very vague and indefinable ability that some seem to possess almost naturally, and others cannot seem to master despite a great deal of practice. Driving the finish line is a seat of the pants deal--it’s not something you’re going to master in a weekend. It takes practice. And practice is not necessarily riding down the race track. There are plenty of racers who have raced for years who can’t (or don’t) drive the finish line. Most of these competitors either don’t understand some of the basic principles of bracket racing that we’ve covered in previous months, or lack the confidence in themselves to consistently execute. There’s only one way to build confidence--you’ve got to get out there and race. And you’ve got to pay attention to what’s going on.
The first step in learning to drive the finish line is developing the ability to relate time to distance. In other words, you have to know what .01 on the time slip looks like on the race track. People will say, .01 is about a foot, or about four feet, or whatever. The truth is that it’s different dependent solely on how fast you’re going. At 60 miles per hour, you don’t cover near the distance in .01 as you would at 160 mph. Therefore, .01 at 60 mph is a whole lot closer (in terms of distance) than it is at 160. By the same token, with a large speed difference, the slower car crossing first will make .01 finish margin a larger distance than if the faster car crossed first (because the faster car covers more ground in the same period of time). So, you’ve got to get a feel for your car (or more appropriately your speed) to really be able to correlate time and distance. Good drivers don’t need a time slip to see how the race went.
How do you do it? Take every opportunity you can to watch your opponent. Calculate speed and distance as you cross the finish line, and then compare it to the numbers on your time slip. You can do this in eliminations. You can do this in “Run for the money.” You can even do this in time trials if you’re the faster car, or you’re running an opponent that runs close to the same ET.
The majority of the most prolific bracket racers in the country watch the finish line wheel-to-wheel. In other words, they create a visual triangle between their eye, the front end of their automobile (which they really don’t need to look at--you should know where you’re at), and the front end of their opponent. They will look back and forth between the opponent’s front end and the finish line and drive accordingly. Keep in mind that finish line beams are supposed to be set 6” off the ground--so a lower sitting car will trip the beams with the front end--not the wheels. Dragsters trip with the nose, and most tube chassis door cars will trip with the front end. Take this into consideration when racing the finish line.
I actually don’t follow the same rule for driving the finish line as most successful racers. Rather than attempt to drive wheel-to-wheel, I drive by what I call the ninety-degree rule. When my opponent and I are both pre-staged (which means we‘re within a few inches in track position), I will look directly (ninety degrees) across the race track and pick out a spot on my opponents car. Keep in mind, that a racer utilizing the 90-degree method must also compensate for front end hangover (the stage beams are on the ground, triggered by wheels). If I need to take the finish line, I will need to be ahead of that predetermined spot. For me it’s easier to use the 90-degree method, because I eliminate that triangle (which in a dragster is a large triangle) and focus on one spot. This let’s me know where I’m at, and where my opponent is at in relation to me. On a good day, I won’t even have to look forward to find the finish line (amazing how 5,000 runs down a race track gives you a pretty good feel for where the finish line is!), I’ll just size up my opponent and stay a little ahead or try to get behind.
Every racer has a different method for killing ET on the finish line. Some guys rip the throttle, some ride the brakes, others use both feet, or roll the throttle, whatever. Generally, I’m playing with the right foot unless I’m trying to get behind--in which case I’ll use the brakes (on occasion I’ve been known to use them liberally). I like ripping the throttle because it kills ET, and you don’t lose as much momentum as stabbing the brakes or lifting completely off the throttle.
Keeping in mind that today’s technology is more advanced than ever, and race cars and race tracks are in better condition than ever, you’ve got to think that a new 4-link dragster should be better than any human driving it. And, at times that’s correct. There are times (tracks, days, specific runs) when your best shot to win a given round is to put an honest dial-in on and make a time run. There are also days in which you’re better off holding a second than to try to dial your car. The best racers understand the timing of each, understand the value of being unpredictable, and have good enough equipment and deep enough talent and confidence to race either way.
In addition to having the ability to consistently execute, the most successful racers in the country have the entire package. They can drive the finish line, they can focus on the starting line, and they can visualize a run as it occurs. The most successful racers in the country can manipulate their track position--in other words they make the run look different to their opponents. The best racers can make good racers look foolish. Everyone is quick to criticize a winner. If some of the critics would sit down and spectate--pay attention to some of the most successful racers in the country, they would learn a whole lot more than what I could share in 100 of these columns. Some of the guys who stand out to me immediately are Scotty Richardson, Troy Williams Jr., Gary Williams, Todd Ewing, Brian Folk, Dave Connolly, Jeff Strickland, Edmond Richardson, and there are plenty more. I’m sure there are a bunch of great racers I’ve never had the privilege of racing with or even watching compete--but the guys I mentioned above come to the top of my mind because watching them work is well worth the price of admission.
That’s it for this month. Now we’ve covered all the basics--the theory of the game, the starting line, and the finish line. Now it’s time to put it all together and execute! It makes me very happy to hear that this column is making a difference in some racers programs--I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on how some of the things we talk about here on dragraceresults.com have helped racers to become more competitive. I’ve also had some successful racers call and ask me to stop talking, because people are listening! These are the basics, and the ideas I’ve discussed are what I consider the building blocks to becoming a successful racer. In the coming months, I’ll be happy to explore certain aspects of racing more deeply. If any of you readers have a specific question or area that you’d like to improve, please e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we may explore it in a future column. Thanks for reading. See you at the track!