Strengthening the Finish Line Muscle

There are a lot of ways to win a bracket race.  More accurately, there are a lot of facets to being a successful bracket racer.  We can test, tune, research, and brainstorm to make our cars more consistent. We can hone our starting line skills with deliberate, intentional, and regular practice on the practice tree.  But what about the finish line?  

The finish line is, by far, the most common source of struggle among the thousands of racers I’ve worked with over the last decade on ThisIsBracketRacing.com.  I had one memorable conversation in which one of our members compared his finish line vision to that of Ray Charles! I’m not saying that I can turn him (or you) from Ray Charles into Ray Miller III, but I certainly think that moving closer to that end of the scale is a realistic goal!

Most of us understand the basics: if we can cross the finish line first, we typically want to do so by as small a margin as possible.  If we can’t, the best play is typically to get farther behind to avoid losing a double breakout. That’s the simple version; an accurate explanation is far more nuanced.  The troublesome aspect of the finish line is that unlike vehicle consistency and starting line performance, there are very limited resources from which to learn to successfully execute at the finish line.  And, unlike the two skill sets outlined above, there’s literally no way to practice outside of actual competition. It’s all trial and error (along with reflection and visualization… But those don’t really apply until we’ve got the trial and error)!

The way that I approach finish line racing is to break it up into 3 separate disciplines.  In my mind, these are all equally important, and they build upon one another, so you kind of need to go in order.  It’s no different than when my 6-year old dresses himself: I know that he CAN put his pants on prior to his underwear… But it’s a wildly inefficient – and unflattering – approach.  

The 3 keys to successful finish line racing, in order: Game Planning, Decision Making, and Execution.

Game planning: 

Are you a good test taker?  Neither am I. So you know what I try to do when preparing for an important test?  Study! Finish line game planning is no different. If I stage with no idea what I can run, my opponents speed, my opponents tendencies, or my own skill set and comfort zone, I set myself up for failure.  My performance is typically much better when I plan ahead. Does it benefit me to “hold” ET (dialing up to an E.T. that I know I can run quicker than) this round or to dial “honest” (dial what I think I can run)?  Why? Based upon my personal skill set, the consistency of my car, my confidence on the starting line, and/or my comfort level with the speed of my opponent, am I more comfortable implementing one strategy over the other?  

In theory, this sounds super complicated.  In practice, I try to make it really simple.  I don’t want a ton of options going down the track.  After all, I’ve got to make a decision, and execute it, within a couple of seconds!  Once I’ve got a strategy in place, I create a specific set of down track options, based upon my perception of a few critical variables during the run itself.  Again, simplicity is the key. I try to break it down into 3 options prior to ever staging the car.  

Option 1: If I’m comfortably ahead, I’ll do THIS.

Option 2: If I’m obviously behind, I’ll do THIS.

Option 3: If it’s really close, I’ll do THIS.

 “THIS” is defined by the variables I listed earlier and determined within this pre-race game planning stage.  “THIS” can (and often should) be very fluid from round to round, so it’s critical to complete this simple step prior to each and every matchup.

Decision Making: 

With the above options in place, my down track decision making isn’t complicated.  I’ve thought through the options in advance (I’ve studied for the test). Now, I simply have to be aware going down the race track.  Proper down track decision making is predicated on two factors:

How good did I feel on the tree?

What does track position show (who’s going to get to the finish line first assuming we both hold it wide open)?

If you understand basic racing math, you know that if I have the starting line advantage, I want to cross the finish line first (by a margin equal to, or less than the starting line discrepancy).  Conversely, if I’m stone late, I probably can’t win the race by crossing the stripe in front. So my perception of reaction time is important. And typically it will align with the track position component: If I wreck the tree, I expect to be ahead.  If I have a bad reaction time, I should typically be behind. Down track decision making is simply plugging in those simple variables and applying them to the pre-determined options that I outlined in the game planning stage above.


Execution is the last phase of the process.  As the name suggests, it’s the art of actually following through on the game plan after deciphering the pertinent information in real time and making our decision.  When, for example, I make the decision to cross the finish line first, proper execution is getting there first by as small a margin as possible. If, on the other hand, the decision is to “drop” (not cross the finish line first), then proper execution includes either “feeding” my opponent the stripe, matching my dial-in, or both.  The execution element is the part that requires the most trial and error. Proper game planning simplifies execution; but you’ll go through a process of creating a solid game plan, and making proper decisions, only to muck it all up in execution. I know I have. Unfortunately, failure is the only path to success! I wish that I had some magic elixir to speed up the process, but the truth is you’re almost certainly going to have to screw up, and learn from it.  When you do, you’ll probably screw up in the opposite direction (if you gave back the finish line last week, you’ll probably take too much stripe and break out this week)! That’s part of the process. Stay the course, and you’ll improve at the finish line more quickly than you think.

What I’ve outlined above is a very simplified, fairly vague description of the 3 keys to successful finish line racing.  If the Ray that you’re bringing to the finish line more closely resembles Mr. Charles than Mr. Miller, I’ve got a lot more to offer you!  Recently, within our premier membership community, ThisIsBracketRacing ELITE, I presented a 3-part series of finish line training videos. We’re offering you, the National Dragster reader, one of those video trainings for FREE!  The best part? You get to pick which one applies most directly to your current game (Gameplanning, Decision Making, or Execution)!  To take advantage, simply visit thisisbracketracing.com/scienceofwinning today.


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