12/8/2009 - This week's question comes from TIBR subscriber RJK350s10, who asks:
"I struggle with being able to watch the stripe and my opponent. Not sure why but it seems I always make a decision to brake or not then my attention goes to the stripe. Could you share a bit of how you drive the stripe? Do you focus on your opponent the whole time and try to just hold a certain distance? How much stripe do you generally try to take? I am sure this is an upcoming lesson but I seem to really be struggling with this now. My goal is to try and pretend I have an opponent next to me at the stripe in all my future time runs and try to train my self to focus on the other lane as I cross the stripe. Just looking for some tips to work on at the same time."
This is actually a question that was presented several months ago, but I saved it until now. We’ve talked a great deal about finish line strategies in the past several months, but only touched on execution briefly. Now that we understand what it is we’re trying to accomplish, it’s time to take a closer look at how to get there.
First of all, you're on the right track: force yourself to look across the track going thru the finish line in non-elimination situations to get more comfortable and confident in doing so come elimination time. We actually do this at times in our live schools--just to get students (especially newcomers or those who have never really tried to drive the finish line) comfortable with driving down the track and not necessarily looking at where they’re going.
Remember what we‘ve talked about in recent tutorials; what you're trying to do at the finish line is two-fold: 1.) you want to cross the finish line within a certain distance of your opponent (if you determine you want to cross first, obviously the goal is to do so by as little distance as possible--if you decide to get behind you need to get far enough behind to win based on your worst reasonable reaction like we've talked about). But 2.) you want to have an idea of what ET you've killed in reference to your dial-in. The goal is to not only make the correct decision, but to also "kill" enough ET to end up dead-on, or close, to your predetermined dial-in (and, there needs to be a mental switch that you flip that says "okay, you've killed plenty--don't get cute". There's nothing worse than ringing it up .10-over the dial and giving the finish line back .002).
Which of those two objectives you put more focus on really depends on how much confidence you have in your car. If you've got a really consistent car, you can be more confident in "making it go dead on" when the race doesn't look right. When your car isn't as good, you have to put more faith in yourself, and focus on racing your opponent.
With that being said, my finish line focus kind of depends on what I'm trying to do. When chasing an opponent, generally I'll focus on them completely for the last 200-300 feet, and just try to stay a certain distance ahead. As the chaser (especially when I make the decision to cross the finish line first), I generally will not reference the finish line at all in those last few hundred feet. At that point, it doesn’t really matter where the stripe is: I’ve committed to crossing the finish line first. So, I just want to stay a little bit ahead of my opponent until it’s over (I’ll generally know it’s over because I’ll see the finish line cones go by, or my opponent will lift). By doing so, I accomplish two things. First, I maintain focus on my opponent, which allows me to do a better job of staying just ahead. And second, I’m watching him or her (and/or their car), so I should be able to do a fair job in the event that they hit the brakes (I can react to that “dump” and hit the brakes myself).
If, as the chaser, I decide to drop behind, I'll have to reference the finish line more often to pick out a spot to hit the brakes.
When getting chased, I'll generally have to reference the finish line a few more times throughout the course of the run (to determine the “closure rate“ in reference to track position). But, keep in mind, that if at some point the race doesn't look "right" and I'm confused as to whether or not to cross first (generally this only happens when I'm racing a skilled opponent who is "racing back at me"), I may completely forget about them. I'll assume that they're going to do a good job, and I'll turn my focus to hitting my "spot" and making my car go dead-on and hope for the best.
Basically, I’m going back now to the strategies that we’ve talked about the last few months. Generally speaking, I’m staging up with the ability to run faster than my dial-in. This gives me the option as the race progresses to choose between being the “driver” and the “spot dropper.” So, my finish line focus, then becomes dependent upon the option that I choose. When I elect to become the driver (again, that decision is based on reaction times and track position like we discussed), then my focus is on my opponent. My goal at this point is to cross the finish line first by as small a margin as possible; so I’m going to watch my opponent more, and reference the actual finish line as little as possible. On the other hand, when my mental calculator flips the switch to the “spot dropper” (which is again based on my interpretation of reaction time and track position), then my focus turns much more to where I’m at on the track in reference to the finish line. Sure, I still want to reference my opponent to make sure they’re not doing something I don’t expect in the other lane; but at this point my main focus is on the finish line (or more appropriately the “spot” on the track where I need to lift or hit the brakes to run my dial-in). So, as the “spot dropper,” I’m going to watch the finish line more, and reference my opponent less.
As for me personally, and how much stripe I try to take on a regular basis... In an optimum situation; and when I say optimum for driving the finish line, I mean racing an opponent that I'm chasing by 20 mph or less, or who is chasing me by 15 mph or less, and an opponent who will either A.) give me a "clean wheel" by holding the throttle to the floor thru the finish line or B.) do exactly what I expect them to do (hit the brakes or lift at a certain, predictable spot), I expect to take between .003 and .009 every run. .005 is what I'm shooting for. Closer than .003 is a little tight, and more than .010 is unacceptable. Keep in mind, this is in a fast car: say 140-180 mph. Obviously, the faster the car, the more distance you cover in those thousandths of a second, so taking .005 at 180 mph is actually easier than taking .005 at 100 mph. But .005 is my goal in the dragster: probably more realistically .007 in the Vega or the Stocker (at 110-125).
That comfortable margin obviously grows as the speed discrepancy grows (I don’t expect to take .010 or less consistently when there’s a 40 mph difference in speeds; whether I’m the faster car or the slower car). But, in those instances I generally try to formulate a game plan that takes the burden of driving the finish line off of me: I trust the car a lot more and just trust myself to make the obvious decisions at the stripe.
Excellent topic, one that we’ll deal with more in the future. Thanks again for the question, I hope my explanation helps to some extent!
11/24/2009 - This week's question comes from TIBR Subscriber JRob4184, who asks:
I just got finished reading the "Monster" and I have a few questions. How much does being the slower car play into the decision making of what option to use? Does that limit my chances on any of the three or should I not use say the driver because I am 20 MPH slower than my opp. if I know he is a dialer? My car runs 5.0's the 1/8 and I know that is great for cars that run 4.9's and faster but what would be the best game plan for me?
I feel like you need to able to implement any of the three strategies, regardless of your speed. However, the implementation and execution of each strategy differs slightly according to the speed difference.
As the Dialer: There’s really no different approach here according to speed. Generally speaking, you don’t want to be the dialer unless you’re A.) extremely confident you can make a better run than your opponent or B.) the speed difference is so great that you don’t feel like your opponent can do a good job of judging the finish line even though you’re going to give him a “clean wheel” by making a wide open run. Outside of those two examples, the only reason to be the "dialer" is for the sole purpose of deception (once your opponents expect you to be "holding" every run).
As the Spot Dropper: The spot dropper shouldn’t be greatly affected by the speed difference, but there is one thing to keep in mind. Like I mentioned above in the “Dialer” theory… If you are so much faster or so much slower than your opponent that you don’t feel like they can do a good job of judging the finish line to begin with, there really isn’t any reason to implement the “spot dropper” strategy. You’re trying to manipulate track position against someone who you don’t feel like can accurately gauge your speed to begin with. So, in essence, all you’re really accomplishing is to give yourself another opportunity to make a mistake (by missing your spot). In these instances, I think you’re better off to be the “dialer” and challenge that much faster or much slower opponent to make a better run than you do.
As the “driver”: Here, as you mentioned, is where things get a little tricky. When and why to implement the driver method is very much dependent on your confidence in yourself vs. your confidence in your car. Let’s say that you’re dialed 5.05 and your opponent is going to dial 4.50. You’re going to deal with roughly a 15 mph difference, which isn’t terrible but it’s tough (especially in a dragster where your backward visibility is limited). You have to ask yourself two questions. 1.) How confident am I that I can run within x of my dial-in? 2.) How confident am I that I can take x at the finish line? And you go with the lower variable.
If you feel like you can comfortably take .020 finish margin on this fast car, and your car has moved around to the point that you’re not confident you can run between 5.050 and 5.070, then you’re better off being the driver. If you feel like .030 is about as tight as you can knowingly make it at the finish line, and you’re very confident you can run between 5.050 and 5.080, then you’re better off being the “dialer.” The same is true as the faster car, although, as we’ve covered, you’ve got the added crutch of being able to dial-up to create a tighter closure rate (less speed difference) as you approach the finish line. As the slower car, the more you dial up the more speed difference you create approaching the finish line, so you don’t have that added option.
It’s all math--and you have to look at your odds. You want to think through each round and consistently give yourself the best opportunity to win each and every round.
Hope that helps, thanks again!
10/20/2009 - This week's question comes from TIBR subscriber Chip Mitchell, who asks:
In your experience what is the mathematical value to various time scrubbing techniques? Lets assume we are running a typical fast swing arm dragster that weights 1950 lbs and has the standard high quality drivetrain with a big cube BBC. For instance, a full off / on throttle burp versus a quick brake stab, what values in time reductions do you assume for such top end maneuvers?
Thank you for your interest in ThisIsBracketRacing.com and for presenting a topic for the JEGS Q&A forum. Your question is one that is very difficult to answer, simply because everyone’s interpretation of a throttle “burp” and a brake “stab” is going to be somewhat different. Obviously, what we’re trying to accomplish on the finish line is two-fold: 1.) to cross the finish line either in front of or behind a given opponent (as based on our pre-determined strategy, our estimate of reaction times, and the way the race unfolds) putting a mathematical value on the finish line margin, and 2.) to have an idea of what we’ve “killed” so as to end up dead-on or above our dial-in. The only way to get comfortable with both is to practice. Keep in mind, as Danny Waters, Jr. mentioned in his guest tutorial, that you don’t have to be in an elimination setting to practice “killing” ET. You can pick spots on time runs, and play either with your right foot or your left (or both) and see the direct effect certain options have on ET.
With that being said, for me, I’ve got a couple regular moves that I’m pretty comfortable with. Generally speaking, I drive the finish line with my right foot: I won’t say that “ripping” the throttle is a better or more efficient or consistent way to kill ET than scrubbing the brakes, it’s just what I grew up doing, so it’s natural for me. Usually, I won’t use the brakes at all unless I’m A.) trying to get behind, B.) trying to catch a drop from my opponent, or C.) Panic against a car of a lot different speed (where I can’t make a decision until late).
For me, a quick “rip” of the throttle kills a certain amount of ET, but the amount is very much dependent on track position, and the speed of your car. A quick, complete, On/Off/On with the throttle pedal can kill as little as .005 late in the run (between the cones), and it can kill .02 or more early in the run (say just past the 330’). With the exception of a “brake rub” in the middle of the track (which is a play I’ll use only occasionally against GREAT racers for the sole purpose of deception), generally I won’t get on the binders until late in the run. For me, the comfortable “spot” is roughly 20 feet past the MPH cone; there I’ll roll out of the throttle and hit the brakes fairly hard: and that’s generally good for roughly .02 in a dragster going 4.80 or so (obviously it has a greater effect on ET the slower you‘re going).
I hope that helps answer your question. Thanks again!
10/1/2009 - This weeks question comes from TIBR subscriber Joe Davis, who asks:
Ok, I have a question. At the Immokalee IHRA event (2/09), you lost to Steve Muller in the semi-finals. You were .011 and went 5.723 (I'm assuming you dumped). Your oppoent was .000 and went 5.715 for the win.
I know you only had .004 to play with and I know you are a numbers and percentages guy, but could you or should you have tightened it up more and tried to push Muller out? The reason I ask is, it looks like everyone could run under. Muller and yourself had just run under the round before.
I'm definitely not saying I could have tightened it up better than you. I'm just asking, if you know that the guy you're racing is holding should you try to push him out if you are behind on the tree?
On paper, the textbook play in this case is to drop and get at least .012 behind, which I did. It’s a heads-up race, so we should both know that he is ahead on the tree. The highest percentage play for me at that point is to get behind and hope for a breakout on his end. So, in essence, I made the textbook decision and it didn’t work out. However, stepping away from the black and white end of things, let’s talk about how the race developed. In doing so, we’ll see that I made a couple of mistakes; one in game planning and one in execution, that may have altered the outcome of the round. Secondarily, we’ll look at how great a job my opponent did; both in game planning and execution to secure victory in this round (and ultimately the event).
What the timeslip doesn't show in this case is how good a job Muller did of making the race look "stupid," and forcing me to make a mistake. Generally, I like to think I'm on the other side of this, but he had me confused all the way down the track and coaxed me into making an error.
Our cars are very similar in terms of performance: we're both running the 5.70 index at roughly 143 mph. We left (my .011 to his .000), and I honestly thought I wrecked the tree, and couldn't tell that he had moved on me. My initial thought was that I wanted to cross the finish line in front.
I was set up on 5.68, and didn't expect him to be set up any faster than that.
We kicked off the stop, and immediately I had to change my game plan and I questioned everything I initially thought. When we went wide open, he was half a car ahead and I'm not gaining any ground. Plus, rather than rip into me, he just stayed way ahead all the way down the track, as I said, making the race look "stupid" on my end. By doing so, he took control of the race and forced me to re-think my entire game plan. Now, I'm thinking "did he tree me?" "did my car slow down?" "Is he going way fast?" and it's hard to pick one correct theory.
What I'm SUPPOSED to do in that situation is quit looking at him, because he's obviously doing something crazy in an attempt to force a mistake on my part. At this point, my theory needs to become that of the “spot-dropper.“ I feel like I’m going 5.68, so I should just drive to my spot, drop to 5.70, and hope for the best. What I did was get confused and rush to judgment that he must be going way fast, and at least matched me on the tree (if not left on me). I figure I need to get behind, and I hit the brakes too early. He had driven way out in front, and hit the brakes real hard probably just before I did, and actually tightened me up to .019 (If I remember correctly he went 125 mph, and I went 130 or so). I still got far enough behind to win (.011 reaction difference, .019 mov), but I gave up too much room dropping to 5.72.
In the aftermath, I can see that he did have the tree, and was actually going about 5.66--and he did a great job of taking control of the race. Had I had the discipline to actually drive to my spot and drop to 5.70 there is a slim chance of victory on my end (5.700 to 5.704). I was so far behind and he dropped so hard that I don't think there is any way I could've "taken" .004 or less on purpose--had I won it would've been from simply hitting my spot and killing what I was holding, and getting lucky that it rang up low 5.70.
I’ve explained my mistake, and what I could have done differently to possibly effect the outcome. Now, let’s take a moment to look at this race from the other lane. Coming into the round, Muller can assume that I’m going to be set up fast (I would bet he figures me to be going quicker than 5.68, and certainly not slower), and he can assume that I’ll have a competitive reaction time. He probably also knows that I don’t expect him to be set up real fast (as I said, I came into the round expecting him to be going 5.68, and in an 1/8th mile heads-up race with two solid drivers I expect the race to be decided at the tree). He has to put me on the theory of “the driver” (my normal heads up game plan). So, his best bet strategically is usually going to be to implement the strategy of the “spot-dropper.” He’ll try to lay down a strong package, and the manipulation of track position gives him some “outs” if he isn’t great on the tree. By setting up faster than I expect (and implementing a .04-.05 “spot drop,” he throws a kink into that game plan that I wasn’t prepared for). He did an excellent job, both in strategy and execution: he laid down a solid run, and did so in a manner that is very difficult to race against (and obviously in this instance induced a mistake on my part, giving him plenty of room to safely win the round).
I hope that answers your question and makes sense. The bottom line was that he induced a mistake on my part--but in the process he laid down a very solid run, so even if I drive the perfect race, I may very well have been beaten anyhow.
Thanks for the question--if you don't mind I may use it in an upcoming "question of the week".
9/9/2009 - This weeks question comes from TIBR member Aaron, who asks:
When bottom bulb racing how do you change your reaction time? What difference does front and back tire pressure make? What about launch RPM?
Thanks for your interest in ThisIsBracketRacing.com and for contributing to the JEGS Q&A forum. Obviously, each combination is different; but I’ll share some basic information that I personally use to adjust reaction time. Obviously, in bottom bulb competition we’re more dependent on mechanical adjustability than electronic aids, so there are a number of things we can do to effect vehicle reaction time and bring the car into our “comfort” zone.
Launch RPM: On both my Vega and Bryan’s Stock Eliminator car, I figure launch rpm at roughly .004 per 100 rpm. This varies with how high or low you go in reference to your converter, but that’s what I figure on as a general rule. I generally adjust my reaction times strictly by moving the launch rpm: on both cars I have an MSD “launch control” that is basically an adjustable starting line chip, so I can make an RPM adjustment at any point.
Front Tire PSI: I think most bottom bulb racers put way too much emphasis on front tire pressure. You can actually measure this in terms of rollout. You have to make a monumental change in air pressure to see much difference at all in rollout. In my opinion, front tire pressure settings are so minute that I rarely adjust them; but I’d say that you’d have to move the tires at least 15 lbs. to see .005 difference in reaction time, and I think that’s stretching it. Granted, the air pressure adjustment on a 29” front runner will be more measurable than a similar adjustment on a 24” tire.
To actually achieve a significant rollout difference, I do have multiple sets of front tires. Generally speaking, a 2” difference in front tire height (ex. From 26” to 28”) is worth .01-.015 (and you can’t make the rollout of a 24” tire move that much from 10 lbs. of air to 50--which is more evidence that front air psi is a very minor adjustment).
Rear Tire PSI: You only have so much flexibility here, as most cars have a fairly small window on rear tire pressure to work consistently. This adjustment is also very dependent on your combination and how hard the car plants the tires. As a general rule, I feel like I can effect reaction time roughly .005 with each pound of rear air pressure adjustment (the more air pressure, the quicker the reaction time). This too hits diminishing returns. If you’ve already got so much air psi that you’re not wrinkling the tire, you can’t expect to gain much react in going from 14 pounds to 16.
Obviously in No Box competition (not pure “Footbrake”) an adjustable button gives you more adjustability in terms of controlling reaction times. I have found that the adjustable buttons don’t generally have as much adjustment as they’re advertised (I use a “.03” button that when hooked to a practice tree is worth .017-.020 at full adjustment). But, by playing with the adjustment on the practice tree you can determine some very precise adjustments in reaction time.
Also, if you don’t block the other side of the tree already, you can close one eye and it will have some effect. For me, I pick up .01 with both eyes open; lose .01 when I just use my dominant eye.
Hope that helps; thanks again!
8/24/2009 - This week's question comes from TIBR member Rookie, who asks:
Luke, how do you drive the finish line different in the Vega when being the slower opponent and how do you judge an opponent with a +30mph advantage?
Thanks for your interest in ThisIsBracketRacing.com and for presenting a topic for the JEGS Q&A forum. That’s a great question, and I do approach finish line racing a lot differently in the Vega than I do in a dragster (in a standard Super Pro competition), whether it be 1/8th mile or ¼ mile.
In the dragster, as I’ve said, I use the 90 degree method against cars dialed close to my speed. I feel very confident in my abilities to race against my opponent; to know their tendencies, anticipate their next move, etc. In the Vega, let’s say I’m running 6.10’s, and most opponents (at big dollar bracket events) are dialed in the 4-second range. At this point, the speed difference is too great for me to feel like I can accurately roll them thru consistently assuming they’re holding it wide open beside me; and I certainly can’t expect to react to much that they may do in the other lane should they hit the breaks or kill some ET. In the Vega, I’m a lot more “spot” dependent.
What I mean by that is this: the advantage that I have in the Vega in this atmosphere is that I generally race 4-second dragsters every round of competition (or let’s say 80% of the time). In contrast, they may only race a car of my speed once in eliminations. So, I get a feel for what the “picture” should look like run after run. I try to be pretty uniform in my down track actions. Say, when the car shifts, I get my first look back at my opponent (from experience, I know a 4.80 car should be “here”), then I’ll get a second look back at the 330’ (again, at this point I have an idea of where my opponent “should” be). Then, I’ll reference my opponent and the finish line repeatedly to determine the closure rate--but I’ll usually have a pretty good idea of what needs to happen after those first two references. Because, having seen that same picture repeatedly, I essentially know that either a.) he’s not going to catch me, b.) he’s definitely coming by, or c.) it’s going to be very close. And I can narrow down my list of options on the finish line from there.
Now, in doing this there is always a chance that my opponent is holding, with the intention of either driving the finish line, or driving to a "spot" (almost regardless of track position in regards to me) to kill ET. But, for the most part, I don't take that into consideration. Generally speaking, the faster cars will dial more honest against me than if I were in a car of similar speed, simply because with that speed difference the driver of the faster car recognizes he's at just as much of a disadvantage (in terms of accurately "judging" the finish line) as I am.
I certainly don’t feel like I can as good a job at the finish line getting chased 30 mph as I can in a heads-up race, but using this technique I can make the obvious decisions, and assuming my car is good and consistent (having a good car can make you look better than you are on the finish line--just like fighting inconsistency can make you look like an idiot), I like to think I’m a threat in it just as much as I am in the dragster.
Thanks again--I hope that helps,
8/20/2009 - This week's Question Comes from TIBR subscriber TonyNewberry, who asks:
I guess I really have two questions for you. As you bump in from pre-stage to stage, do you focus on the stage bulb then move down to the top bulb, or do you focus on the top bulb as you bump in? I know it would probably be a preference thing but that leads to my next question. Then what point on the tree do you pick to look at to judge yours and your opponents reaction time?
Thanks again for your interest in ThisIsBracketRacing.com and for presenting a topic on this forum. I focus on the stage bulb as I’m bumping in, and don’t move my line of sight and focus to the top bulb until I’m fully staged. By doing this, my thought is that my focus is at it’s peak (on the top bulb) for roughly the same amount of time each run (thanks to auto-start). If you’re staring down the top bulb while staging, in a way you waste the advantage that auto-start gives us; while we’re not really in a rhythm so to speak, we’ve got a pretty good idea of when the bulb is going to light.
As far as judging reaction times: obviously my only concern prior to the tree lighting is letting go of the switch on time and having a good light myself. Once the top bulb comes on, and I turn loose of the button, my job is done in that regard; so I can move my focus to other things. If I’m running a slower opponent, I can watch his/her tree come down--and my focus is on their stage bulb in relation to the green. I’m watching their stage bulbs more than the tree, because I’ve kind of got the rhythm of the tree in my peripheral if that makes sense. As I’ve said, with practice, you can get pretty accurate with predicting reaction times this way. At some events the tree is blocked to the point you can’t do this at all, but at events where the tree is open or only partially blocked it can be very advantageous. Obviously all of this advice is strictly aimed at box racers. In No Box and Footbrake competition, unless it’s a very long spot, I don’t deviate my focus from my own reaction time.
On a heads-up (or close to heads-up race) I’ll try to focus on a spot between the two stage bulbs, to see which one goes out first (which tells me who left first). In this case, I’m not as worried about the rhythm of the tree--I don’t care how good a light each of us have, I just want to know which one is better.
And, when I’m the slower car, all I can really gather is my own light (which of course I try to do when I’m the faster car as well). This is easier for me, probably because I bottom bulb race so much, and make so many runs in general; but I feel like I know when the car is supposed to leave to be .00x. Here, I don’t watch my stage bulbs as much as I feel the car leave in the rhythm of the tree. Like I said, it’s kind of a black art, but if you pay attention you will get better at gathering this information with practice.
I’m actually to a point now where I put more faith in feeling my car leave in the tree than I do with my initially feeling when I let go of the button. There are times I’ll let go and think “crushed it,” but when the car leaves I know I’m .020. And there are times that I let go and don’t really know what I just did, but the cars leaves and I’m confident I’m .00.
It all takes practice--but in order to improve we have to practice with the proper thoughts in mind.
Hope that helps, thanks again!
7/22/2009 - This weeks question comes from TIBR Subscriber 496Chevy, who asks:
I have read in your past columns about watching the tree, you indicated that Scotty and you could determine the reaction times from watching the tree. Could you expand on that subject. I generally have a faster car and would like to know if I can see the same from the car.
Absolutely. You can teach yourself to determine reaction times (both yours and your opponents) within your runs, in most cases. There is a lot of pertinent information available to us as racers on every run down the race track; information that can aid in the decision-making process. The top drivers are the ones who are able to pick up on that information and process it in the brief time we actually have on the race track. It’s not going to happen overnight, it’s very much a learned process, so be patient with yourself.
Start by watching in time trials, like I mentioned in our first Q&A: Get a feel for watching the stage lights in relation to the green, and start trying to predict racers reaction times. Then verify your predictions against the scoreboards (in time trials, when reaction times appear on the boards), and adjust accordingly. You won’t be good at first, but with practice you’ll begin to see the difference in a .020 and a .000 as soon as the car exit’s the stage beams.
Once you get comfortable with that, you can begin applying it in the race car. When running a slower (1.00 or greater spot) opponent, after you release the transbrake button, watch his tree come down and watch the stage lights in relation to the green. At some race tracks, this is impossible to do (some tracks have the tree so blinded that you can’t see your opponents tree drop), but at many it is in plain site and determining the difference in reaction times is a huge advantage as the race plays out.
Heads-up racing is generally the easiest to pick up reaction time discrepancy; you’re just looking to see who moves first.
In most cases, it’s going to be very difficult to determine your opponents reaction time when they’re dialed within .5 of you (and not within .1); at least by watching the tree. When I’m really in the zone, I can pick up on my opponents reaction if they’re dialed .3-.5 faster than me, because you can still see the tree as they drop green, but it’s difficult to say the least. In that case, most of the time, you need to rely on track position, and make assumptions based on imperfect information, which we’ll cover in upcoming columns.
Even in situations where you cannot accurately gauge your opponents reaction time, it is still imperative to be able to determine yours. When determining your own reaction time, you’ve got two things to consider. 1.) How good did you feel when you let go of the button (or pushed the throttle in Footbrake competition), and 2.) (put more emphasis on 2) Where did the car leave in the yellow. You make enough runs in the same car, that you should know when it’s supposed to leave to be .00. This is something you can work on every time down the race track, and you can become very accurate in predicting your own reaction time.
If you have an accurate gauge of your own reaction time, even if you have no idea of the reaction time of your opponent, you can still create a general gameplan based strictly on percentages. If you leave and feel .000 to .005, you can assume that you’ve got the starting line advantage, and drive the finish line accordingly. Sure, sometimes you’ll be wrong and your opponent will have either matched you or maybe even beat you a little bit out of the gate, but most of the time you have the advantage. By the same token, if you feel like you’re .025 to .030 (in an electronics 1/8th mile race), you can assume that you’re behind on the tree, and drive accordingly. Like I said, these are imperfect observations because you only have one side of the equation, but you can make decisions based on assumption unless track position shows that assumption is incorrect.
I hope that helps. There’s only one way to make this a part of your everyday racing, and that is to practice. The more information you can accurately process in a run situation, the larger advantage you will have. We’ll spend a great deal of time on this in upcoming tutorials.
7/2/2009 - This weeks question comes from Chilly B, who asks:
"What is your preferred method of killing ET when you are carrying numbers (dragging brakes, throttle "throwin taters" or "scoop slappin", late brake dump "smoke screen")? I assume each method has their place in certain instances. I'd like to hear your take on the what, when, why of dump procedures."
Thanks for your support of ThisIsBracketRacing.com and for providing a topic for this forum. You’re right, I think there’s a time and a place for each of the methods you describe so poetically.
Personally, I’m more of a right foot guy--I’ve just got a better idea of what I’m killing with the throttle pedal than I do rubbing the brakes. Either way is a fine method of killing ET, the key is to have an idea of what you’re killing (in addition to getting into the proper position in regard to your opponent). For me, it’s easier to “roll thru” an opponent by ripping the gas, but again it’s all comfort. My general deal is: roll em thru with the throttle and cover the brake in case they drop.
I generally won’t touch the brake pedal unless I’m trying to get behind or catching an opponents drop. Occasionally, I’ll scrub the brake with the throttle on the floor, but it’s a really rare case, and for me it’s a pretty advanced play: I’ll only do it when I want to show up behind my opponent, but don’t want them to see (or hear) me killing ET.
Like I say, there’s a time & place for everything, but the main point is to always have an idea of what you’re “getting rid of”. Hope that helps!
6/11/2009 - This Weeks Question Comes from Brewme, who asks:
I was just wondering if you could give some tips or suggestions to help me stay focused between rounds when there is alot of time in between them. I'm having trouble staying consistent and tight on the tree when there is alot of cars and hours between rounds. But if there is little time in between I stay good on the tree and vary only a few thousands all day. I just dont seem as focused things distract me more easily while staging, etc. Just wondering if you could help me hide this problem.
Great question. I think that’s a common problem that those of us who have come up as weekly bracket racers struggle with when we start going to national & divisional events, and high car count bracket races like the million or the Florida winter series--the races just get so strung out, and it’s hard to get into and stay in a rhythm so to speak.
I’ll share a few thoughts that I feel have helped me immensely, as I feel like I’ve come a long way in this regard in recent years. Number one: don’t get worked up about it. At national events especially, you tend to not know when your number will be called--so there’s a tendency to develop a lot of anxiety about your upcoming round. Don’t do that. Make sure your equipment is prepared, and everything is ready to go once the call goes out--but then find something else to occupy your time and your mind. When I started running national events, I would concern myself with the ladders and constantly check weather, etc. But I’ve realized that I’ve had a lot of success bracket racing--and in that climate you don’t know who you’re running until you’re about to pull into the water. Knowing hours in advance gave me a chance to develop a gameplan, over think it, and redevelop it so many times that I essentially created all kinds of doubt in my mind before I ever staged. So, with the exception of Stock Eliminator (where I have to look out for heads-ups), I got to where I rarely even looked at a ladder. More recently, as I’ve gotten more comfortable with this type of competition, I do look ahead a lot more, and I try to study upcoming opponents to see their tendencies, but until you reach that point I would try to block the ladder out completely--it helped me a lot.
The trick is to just relax and enjoy your day, and then be able to turn it on when you get to the staging lanes--rather than at a bracket race, where you don’t really have the down time to turn it “off”.
The one advantage that you have, and you have to keep in mind, is that everyone is facing the same obstacles. If you haven’t been down the track in 4 hours, or 8 hours, or 32 hours, neither has your opponent. He or she has just as much doubt about what their car is going to do, lane differences, weather differences, and their focus and ability as you do. These are situations where you’re not generally going to see the same runs put down that you will in a weekly bracket race climate: it’s hard to be .00 and dead-on when you haven’t seen the track in several hours--but you don’t have to make a perfect run, you just have to make a better run than your opponent.
I’ve worked a lot on mental preparation to do just that. Like I said, I don’t give a lot of thought or consideration to the upcoming round until I’m actually in the staging lanes. At that point, especially after a long wait when I feel out-of-rhythm, I try to think back to a day or weekend at the track where I could seemingly do no wrong. Live that for a few moments, and try to feel that indestructibility, that confidence. You know you’ve got the talent and the skills to do that again, you just need to reach that level of focus. My confidence isn’t necessarily the thought process of “I’m better than this guy I’m running,” as much as it is “I’m going to go out here and execute my gameplan. I don’t make many mistakes, so if this guy is going to beat me, he’s going to have to make a helluva run.” Develop a routine that builds confidence, and at the same time triggers muscle memory to make every aspect of your run feel natural--like you’ve done it a thousand times. That in itself builds confidence, and confidence, especially in a situation where you’ve had a lot of down time, is key to success in my opinion.
I hope that helps--thanks again for your order and your interest in ThisIsBracketRacing.com!
5/28/2009 - This week's question comes from Jamie W., who asks:
"Do you think there is an advantage driving two cars in the same class? Even if one is a 5.0 dragster and the other is a 7.0 doorcar."
Thanks for your question and your interest in ThisIsBracketRacing.com. I believe that we should learn something and get a little bit better with each and every run down the race track, so yes, I do believe that running two cars in the same category is an advantage: long term and short term. In the short term, you can reach a point of diminishing returns--running multiple cars can be very tiring, both physically and mentally, and that can have an effect if you keep them both in competition late in the race. But long term, there is no disadvantage in my opinion.
Obviously, having two similarly equipped cars would be optimum: you could dial the cars off one another, get repeated looks at the same “picture” at the finish line, and likely have similar delay settings in both vehicles. But, even if you have drastically different machines, there is a significant advantage to being able to make multiple runs down the race track. As an example, at several big dollar bracket races, I’ll enter my dragster and my Vega in the electronics class. You could not have two cars much more different in nature. My dragster is a big headed 582 on gas, it runs 4.60’s. My Vega has a 9:1 350 on alcohol, and runs 6.0’s. The Vega is track sensitive on the starting line. The dragster is track sensitive from 60’ on. The Vega is effected by wind and humidity. The dragster is effected by temperature and vapor pressure. There is very little information from one car that is applicable to the other. But the advantages to running both are numerous:
1.) I get twice as many time trials and elimination runs as long as I’m in. So, I have twice the data to develop and confirm differences in rollout lane to lane. I also can pick up on discrepancies in light on the tree from lane to lane, and possible finish line differences lane to lane.
2.) I get to run twice as many opponents. Maybe I’ll have an opportunity late in the race to run an opponent that beat me in the other car. Now I’ve got a timeslip and visual data that can give me some insight to what they’re running and their game plan for our upcoming round.
3.) I get more runs, so I’m more likely to get into a rhythm and develop confidence on both ends of the track.
I hope that answers your question. Thanks again!
5/12/2009 - We’re going to do something a little different this week.
We’ve received a ton of questions and feedback from last week’s column on “Reading the timeslip.” Most of the questions are in regards to run completion. This leads me to two conclusions: 1.) This is information that is valuable to several of you (or we wouldn’t see this type of response); and 2.) I didn’t do a great job of explaining it. So, I’ll do my best to clear up some of the vague points and answer the bulk of the questions here.
"Can we see an example of quarter-mile run completion."
Okay, here’s the formula that we’re going to use, regardless of the track distance:
[(A1 - A2) + (B1 - B2)] = ET difference from wide open run
The A variable is the last “wide open” increment time on our timeslip (In 1/8th mile competition, this is generally the 330’ increment; in ¼ mile competition, this is generally the 1000’ increment). A1 is that increment from the first (wide open time trial) run. A2 is that increment from the second (elimination) run, where we killed ET prior to reaching the finish line.
The B variable requires some calculation prior to inputting it into the formula. The B variable is the last “wide open” interval available from the time slip. This interval is derived by subtracting the 2nd to last “wide open” incremental time from the last “wide open” incremental time. In 1/8th mile competition you would find the B variable by subtracting the 60’ time from the 330’ time. In ¼ mile competition, you find the B variable by subtracting the 660’ time from the 1000’ time.
So, with that information in our heads, let’s look at the following quarter mile runs. These are actual runs from my dragster at the Summit All-Stars event in Rockingham a few weeks ago:
Run 1 (Time Trial):
Run 2 (1st Round):
In the first round, my opponent went red, and I shut off at the 1000’ mark. Here’s how the run completion unfolds:
My A1 variable is: 6.253 (the 1000’ time from run 1)
My A2 variable is: 6.243 (the 1000’ time from run 2)
My B1 variable is: 6.253-4.782 (the 1000’ time - 660’ time from run 1): 1.471
My B2 variable is: 6.243-4.770 (the 1000’ time - 660’ time from run 2): 1.473
So I can plug this info into the formula:
[(A1 - A2) + (B1 - B2)] = ET difference from wide open run
[(6.253 - 6.243) + (1.471 - 1.473)]
[.01 + (-.002)]
(.01 - .002) = .008
So, I can say that on run 2, I was running .008 faster than on run 1. Since we know that my ET on run 1 was 7.511, we can now conclude that run 2’s ET would have been roughly 7.503.
Run 1 ET - ET difference calculated = projected Run 2 ET
7.511 - .008 = 7.503
We’ve still got run 1 in the database as our wide open baseline. For the second round of the event, we had a pretty monumental change in conditions. Here are the numbers from round 2:
Run 3 (2nd round):
Now, let’s take a look at this run, comparing it to our wide open run (run 1) to see what I was running this time around.
My A1 variable is still : 6.253 (the 1000’ time from run 1)
My A2 variable is: 6.210 (the 1000’ time from run 3)
My B1 variable is still: 1.471
My B2 variable is: 6.210-4.745 (the 1000’ time - 660’ time from run 2): 1.465
So I can plug this info into the formula:
[(A1 - A2) + (B1 - B2)] = ET difference from wide open run
[(6.253 - 6.210) + (1.471 - 1.465)]
[.043 + .006] = .049
Now I take my run 1 ET of 7.511 and subtract .049 to find my projected run 3 ET:
7.511 - .049 = 7.462
So I can determine that I was running roughly a 7.462 in round 2.
I’ve also had a few questions about doing the math “in reverse,” when your car is actually going slower than it was on your wide open run. You can use the formula exactly the same way. As an example, let’s continue to use Run 1 as our baseline, but assume we make the following run next:
My A1 variable is still : 6.253 (the 1000’ time from run 1)
My A2 variable is: 6.275 (the 1000’ time from run 4)
My B1 variable is still: 1.471
My B2 variable is: 6.275-4.796 (the 1000’ time - 660’ time from run 4): 1.479
So I can plug this info into the formula:
[(A1 - A2) + (B1 - B2)] = ET difference from wide open run
[(6.253 - 6.275) + (1.471 - 1.479)]
[(-.022) + (-.008)]
(-.022 - .008) = -.030
Now we take our baseline run of 7.511, and subtract the ET difference we just determined:
7.511 - (-.030) =
7.511 + .030 = 7.541
And we can determine that on run 4 we were running roughly 7.541.
I hope that helps clear up some of the confusion in regards to run completion. Feel free to fire away within the JEGS Q&A!
4/28/2009 - This weeks question comes from TD139M, who asks:
Luke, Are there any tips you have to catch a drop? Is it easier to catch the drop against a faster or slower opponent?
Great question. Against an opponent you don’t know anything about, all you can do is make the race as tight as you can, cover the brake pedal, and try to react as quickly as possible if and when your opponent hit’s the brakes. In those instances it’s difficult to do a really good job, because you’re ahead to start with, and you’re obviously reacting to an opponent, so you’re hitting the brakes after he/she does.
Every racer has “tells,” just like at a poker table. One advantage to driving the finish line using the “90 degree” rule like I’ve discussed before, is that you’re generally looking directly at or toward the opposing driver. Their body language and motion in the car can tell you a lot. If they’re not looking at you, odds are they’re not going to hit the brakes (occasionally you’ll get a spot-dropper who won’t even look over, but usually they’ll at least take a gander). If they’re looking, looking, looking, then focus back forward--they’re about to hit the brakes. If they tense up on the steering wheel--they’re about to hit the brakes. You can get in a little trouble here too, occasionally you’ll get a “head bob” from an opponent who has no intention but to hold the throttle wide open--I’ve bit on that--but it’s a pretty rare and advanced play.
The biggest key, and we’ll get a lot more into this in future columns, is observing your opponents (and potential opponents). When you show your opponent that they can’t get to the finish line first, they’re “Supposed” to dump. There are certain opponents you can count on to do this. There are other opponents who won’t even realize they’re behind. And then there are the toughest opponents, who know what you expect them to do, and are subject to change up their game in an effort to do nothing more than force you to make a mistake.
What I’m getting at is this: generally when you do a good job of “catching” a drop, it’s because you anticipated your opponents drop rather than reacted to it. Several opponents, and certain types of opponents, are very predictable--you can count on them to drop in certain situations. And, better yet, you can count on them to drop in a certain place, to kill a certain amount of ET. That makes your job a lot easier.
As far as which is easier to catch the drop against, the faster opponent or the slower--it’s kind of a catch 22. Against either, if you anticipate the drop, you should be able to do a great job. If you’re not that confident in your opponents plan, I think it’s easier to race against the drop as the faster car, because you shouldn’t ever have to take your eye off of your opponent. As the slower car, you have to constantly reference the finish line, so you’re subject to get parked off when you aren’t looking. But, as the slower car, if you can catch the drop, you should be able to make the finish margin closer than you could as the faster car, simply because your faster opponent is closing on you to begin with, and even though he/she hit’s the brakes, they’re still generally getting closer to you and not farther away.
I hope that helps--thanks again for your support!
4/10/2009 - This weeks question comes from Johnny Racer. He asks:
Luke, I've been burned at times by taking the right lane all the time because I can see the other lane better from the right lane. People know that and in the ladder rounds a few "opportunistic" racers try to exploit that trait and put me in the other lane. For the most part, it has little effect. I was wondering how you go about choosing lanes to run in, and what you look for and when you make a lane change?
Thanks for the question, this is another excellent topic. I look at this a lot like I did the staging preference topic that I chose for a past Q&A session. To an extent, I think having a set lane preference creates a weakness, because, inevitably we’ll have to run the lane we least prefer at some point. And, at least mentally, that puts us at a disadvantage.
Granted, there are circumstances where it is advantageous to run a certain lane. In the car I race in Stock Eliminator, for example, it’s really hard to see a fast opponent when I’m in the right lane; the car just has such a large blind spot that I can only see back so far looking out the side glass, or I can crane around and look out the back glass, but I can lose an opponent for awhile in between. Luckily, in Stock, I’m generally dialed in the mid to high 10-second range, so it’s rare that an opponent will spot me more than half a second. But pure visibility needs to be a consideration.
Obviously, if you have the opportunity you want to make a time trial in each lane--whether you’re at a track for the first time or the track you run every week. Generally speaking, rollout isn’t going to change from week to week, but the clocks get reset or unplugged, and there’s always a chance something could get kicked, moved, or changed inadvertently. Plus, there’s always a chance of track managers or employees checking rollout and making adjustments. Regardless, making a pass down both lanes is a must so that you’ve got something to reference late in the race should you be forced into a lane you haven’t run all day.
I try to pride myself on making solid time trials, so as to pick up on any lane discrepancy (in terms of rollout, or in terms of down track ET difference--normally due to roughness, or possibly the height of the finish line beams, etc.). Obviously if I don’t make a representative run in a particular lane, I’ll probably be forced to run the lane I did make a nice run in once eliminations start (Note--if we’re competing in an event that offers buy backs, I’ll often “waste” a round by going to the lane I’m not comfortable in, just to get additional data that I hope to be able to use later in the race). But, assuming that I make a good run in both lanes, I now have data that I can put some faith in.
For someone like yourself, racing at a given facility the majority of the time, I’m sure if there is any rollout difference lane to lane, you know what it is. For me, generally racing at facilities that I don’t frequent often, I’ve got to put a lot of faith in those time trials and produce conclusions from them. At any rate, if we can detect a lane difference we can use that information to our advantage, and I take that into account a lot in late round situations; and I can take advantage of the fact that I’m comfortable and feel like I can make a representative run down either lane.
That information is crucial, obviously, to my ability and confidence to make a good lap down either lane. But, turning it around, it’s also a useful tool to use against my upcoming opponents. Let’s say, for instance, that I show the right lane to be tight (faster react) and slow (et) by roughly .01. That’s great information. Generally speaking, my thought process is this: in a No Box class or in a Pro Tree class, the average competitor isn’t set up that tight on the tree. In fact, my general theory in these classes is that I set up tighter than most, so I expect to have a starting line advantage more often than not. Why, then, would I put an opponent in the tight lane? If they’re set up off a run in the left (loose) lane, and I put them in the (tight) right lane, I just made their .015 a .005. It’s rare that going to the tight lane will make them red light (unless they’re set up real tight from the loose lane), so I want to maximize my advantage. In top bulb bracket racing (especially 1/8th mile racing), the average racer is trying to be .00, so I’ll generally take the opposite approach. If I feel the same lane difference is in effect, I’ll put my opponent
in the tight lane, hoping for a red light. If they’re not red, hopefully they’re a little slow (tight means faster react, slower ET), so maybe I’ve got an out.
And, of course, if there is a significant lane difference, and I’m running an opponent that hasn’t been down a particular lane all day, I’m going to do my best to put them over there. If nothing else, that creates a little doubt in their mind, and should give me a slight mental advantage. Again, all of this is predicated on my confidence in the lane difference and the feeling that I can make a solid run down either lane.
That got a little lengthy, but I hope it was on topic and helped to answer your question.
3/27/2009 - This weeks question comes from Shawn C. He asks:
When is the right time to hold numbers in a race and why?
Thanks for your order and interest in ThisIsBracketRacing.com. This is an excellent question. One that would take hours to answer completely. This concept is the key point that I’ll center several columns around as the year progresses; but I’ll do my best to give you some brief insight immediately.
The “reason” to hold is to give yourself “outs.” I’m not sure what type of car or class you run, so if this info doesn’t apply directly, just roll with me in theory. Let’s say you’re at an 1/8th mile bracket race (box or no box, doesn’t matter), and you’re in a doorcar that can run 6.50. Your opponent is dialed 6.00. In example 1, you’re dialed 6.50.
You Your opponent
Dial 6.50 6.00
React .030 .010
Capable ET 6.500 5.990
Actual ET 6.500 6.010
Finish Margin: .010
In this instance, you ran dead-on your dial-in with a 6.500, but you were .030 on the tree. Your opponent was .010, and (whether he intended to or not) he was on a .010 breakout run. But, with the .020 reaction time advantage and the fact that he was running .010 under (before he lifted) to your dead-on, he was going to reach the finish line first by .030. He could see that he was ahead, and he lifted, taking the finish line by .010 and slowing to a safe 6.010.
Now, let’s take the same run, but you dial up to a 6.52.
You Your opponent
Dial 6.52 6.00
React .030 .010
Capable ET 6.500 5.990
Actual ET 6.520 5.990
Finish Margin: .030
Here, you have the same disadvantage on the starting line, but by dialing up .02, you change the track position and make it appear that the race is close. Now, instead of your opponent being easily in front of you, he would now get to the finish line first by .010 if both of you held it wide open (his .010 reaction, and -.010 ET, versus your .030 reaction and -.020 ET). For the average racer, that’s not enough room to lift and kill that .01 that he is going under his dial. On your end, you staged knowing you can go 6.50 on your 6.52 dial-in--so when your opponent is coming by you, you know that you’ve got to hit the brakes to keep from breaking out.
“Holding” gives you an opportunity to win this round, that you should lose if you’re dialed honest. And that’s the main reason why we do it. There are intricacies that go along with it, but that’s the main idea.
Now, for the question of “when” to hold… As a general rule, you want to “hold” against any opponent that you feel can effectively “judge” you. In the example I used, the opponent was dialed .5 faster than you--anyone chasing you by that small of an amount should be able to do a fine job of “judging” you if you hold it on the floor and give them a “clean wheel“. In this case, “holding” gives you an advantage. Now, if you’re in the same 6.50 car, and you’re racing a 4.80 dragster, both of you are dealing with a 35-plus mph difference. Odds are, he can’t “judge” that, and he’s going to make a wide open run unless the finish margin is very obvious… And you’re going to do the same. In this instance, generally trying to “hold” is a disadvantage: dial honest and try to make a better run than your opponent.
As I said, we’ll get more in depth in terms of “when’s” and “how’s”, but in general, that’s the “why.” Hope that helps--thanks again!
3/13/2009 - This weeks question comes from Fat Rabbit. He asks:
Just wondering if you have a preference in staging. Do you like to stage first or roll in second? And if you stage first do you go ahead and set the trans brake and wait for them to stage? Just curious.
Fat Rabbit Racing
First of all, thank you for your interest in ThisIsBracketRacing.com, and for contributing to this forum with a question. This is an excellent topic, and one that I’ll actually go deeper into in the upcoming April column.
In my opinion, the racers who have a set “preference” as to whether they like to stage first or second have created a weakness. This is a weakness that an opponent can exploit, whether intentionally or unintentionally, by staging first or refusing to stage first, and possibly throw the racer with a set preference off his or her game.
That being said, my personal approach is to have a solid routine. It’s rigid enough to be just that, routine: it’s a set regimen that I go thru on each and every run. That routine creates comfort on my part, both mentally and physically (because I’ve done it “a thousand times” essentially the same way), and that comfort helps build confidence. At the same time, however, that routine is flexible in that I like to think that nothing that happens in the other lane (or from track officials, etc.) can shake it. If you took a stop watch from the time I start my burnout until the time I stage the car, nearly every run would be within a second or two--I just go thru the same regimen every run. Granted, my routine is fairly long compared to most. So, I would say I probably stage last about 80% of the time. But, the other 20% is fine with me--I’ve gone thru my routine, step by step, and I’m at my optimum focus level when I stage. At some point in the next 15 seconds, my opponent will stage, and then the race is on.
You do bring up another good point--in electronics and no box classes, where we’re using a transbrake, I do not engage the transbrake until both cars are staged. That just keeps from building excessive pressure on the button, keeps the actual transbrake solenoid from building excessive heat, and keeps my routine consistent (by being on the button roughly the same length of time each run). The only time I’ll deviate from that is pro tree racing, simply because the (stage, engage button, go to the chip, focus on the tree) routine has always felt a little bit rushed to me--so I can knock a step or two out of it before my opponent stages. That being said, it doesn’t change my mindset, and I don’t feel like I’m beat when I stage last on the pro tree. In fact, I implement that same routine, and again, probably stage second 80% of the time.
I hope that helps. Like I said, we’ll go more in depth on this subject next month.
2/27/2009 - This weeks question comes from Tony N. He asks:
When picking a spot on your opponents car for the finish line, are you looking 90 degrees or are you trying to gauge the stripe taker? What tips, if any, do you have for picking a spot on your opponents car?
Thanks for the question & your participation in ThisIsBracketRacing.com. I'll go into this topic more in-depth in an upcoming column, but I do use what I call the "90 degree" method in most cases. When pre-staged, I look directly across the track (90 degrees) and find a spot on my opponents car. Obviously, if I want to take the finish line, I need to be ahead of that spot. To me, that's easier than trying to go wheel-to-wheel, especially in a dragster because that triangle (his wheel, my wheel, finish line) gets so large. Keep in mind that when picking my “spot,” I have to be aware that the starting line beams are roughly 1 ½” off the ground (so they’re being broken by the tire), while the finish line beams are anywhere from 5 ½” to 12” off the ground (depending on the facility & event). So, you’ve got to compensate and adjust that “spot” as relevant to the front overhang (and/or “stripe taker”) of your vehicle and your opponents. In most cases that adjustment in distance is an estimate. Let’s say that I’m in my dragster racing a tube chassis ’99 Firebird (huge front overhang) .. When we pre-stage, my spot may be at the back bumper, but I’m going to move it all the way up to the centerline of the rear axle, or maybe even the front portion of the rear fender if I want to take the finish line.
There are, of course, many great finish line drivers who race looking at the wheels; the 90 degree deal is just easier for me.
That being said, I'm not comfortable with the 90 degree deal on large spots--I still use it to some extent, but your opponent goes by so fast that it's really hard to be effective. In those instances, it's really just a gut feel and for me to do it well generally comes from seeing the same "picture" repeatedly, and knowing where my opponent should be at given points on the track. I'd say I'm comfortable with the 90 degree theory on any opponent within 25 mph of me (when I'm faster) and within 15 mph of me (when I'm slower). Any more than that and it's more of a learned reaction.
To really use the 90 degree effectively, you have to be very aware of track position (you don't want to waste a lot of time constantly looking back forward to reference the finish line)--when chasing, generally you can just focus in on your "spot" for several hundred feet, never looking back forward. When getting chased, I usually have to reference the finish line a lot more (which leaves me more susceptible to getting "dropped" and not being able to catch it (because I'm not looking at my opponent).
I hope that answers your question--thanks again for the feedback!
2/13/2009 - Our first Question of the Week comes from Jim G. He asks
The site is really nice Luke. I really appreciate your passion for the game. My question: Judging your opponents reaction time if they are Deep Staging? I realize your probably going to get to that so, if need be, I'll be patient. Thanks again, and I feel privileged to be here.
Thanks again for your order, and for submitting a question. In my first column, we reviewed the basic math of bracket-style competition, and I stressed the importance of understanding that reaction times (or more appropriately the difference between your reaction time and your opponents) essentially lays a blue print for the race to the finish line. Like you suggested, I will get more in-depth in a future column in regards to accurately gauging your personal reaction time, and that of your opponent in many situations. For now however, I will try to provide a little insight on that subject, and namely the reaction time of a deep-staging opponent as a response to your question.
Deep staging opponents definitely make judging reaction times a little more difficult for most racers (myself included), simply because we’re not used to seeing a car leave in that late of a spot. The key to determining reaction time in that instance (and really a more foolproof plan overall) is to watch the stage bulb in relation to the green. Like anything else, this takes a lot of practice to perfect, and it takes a great deal of concentration to apply in a given run, even if your deep-staging opponent is a great deal slower (in dial-in) than you are. Try to take some time during time runs to watch racers leave (where you can see the tree and the car/ or watch the stage lights), and try to predict reactions then see them come up on the scoreboards. With time and practice you’ll get more accurate with your judgment.
I’ll never forget, about 6-7 years ago I was at an IHRA race at Hub City Dragway. On Saturday night, they had a bracket race that I wound up winning. I was parked nosed up to the racing surface, about 300 feet down track, next to Scotty Richardson. Scotty either didn’t run the bracket race or went out early. Every round, I’d come back and without seeing the slip, Scotty would tell me my reaction time. He was within .005 every round (and he was watching from the fence 300 feet down track). It was the most impressive thing I’d ever seen--it’s no wonder the man has been so dominant in his career. Being able to see judge reactions that close, then in turn processing that information and applying it on the race track is absolutely invaluable.
Hope that helps!