What is the “perfect weapon” for today’s ultra-competitive, often high-stakes world of bracket racing? It’s a commonly debated topic, whether at the track, on social media, or within the confines of a community like ThisIsBracketRacing ELITE.
The “perfect weapon” is inherently subjective. Ask a racer like Wes May or Taylor Bowling, and I assume they’d advocate for an underpowered, overtired door car – and their success in those vehicles certainly validates their argument. On the flip side, Travis Laster makes a solid case for having the fastest car on the premises: that’s what he used to secure one of the richest paydays in the sport a few months ago, driving his dragster dialed 4.0’s to victory at the SFG 1.1 Million. And there are compelling arguments for seemingly endless combinations in between.
The truth is that for every “conventional” perfect weapon, there’s someone (or multiple someone’s) proving the theory wrong by winning consistently with the polar opposite. There aren’t too many Stock eliminator racers who would select Jody Lang’s 12-second station wagon in a draft of Stock Eliminator vehicles; and yet Jody’s won a world championship in it. Tim Nicholson’s stick-shift Camaro flies in the face of “conventional wisdom” in the Super Gas category, but he’s been a top-ten national finisher. In short, the “perfect weapon” is not only subjective, but also self-determined. The perfect weapon, ultimately, is what we make it.
That said, as subjective and often flawed as this discussion is, I’ve got opinions!
Let’s focus exclusively on 1/8th mile bracket racing (we’ll venture out into some of the Lucas Oil Series categories next issue). In today’s big dollar bracket racing climate, it’s common for dragsters and door cars to compete exclusively against other entrants of their kind – at least throughout the early rounds of competition.
At events where this is not the case, and all entrants are combined, the debate isn’t much of a debate in my opinion: the “perfect weapon” is still a dragster. You may not want to hear that, but I believe that to be true. The arguments for a dragster are well documented: the dragster is lighter and more efficient. This leads to quicker ET’s, which provides inherent advantages. For one, leaving second gives opponents the first opportunity to red light (at non-TruStart events). Secondly, the less time a vehicle is physically on the race track, the less time there are for variables to impact that vehicle’s performance: that’s not an opinion, that’s just physics! Dragsters provide tremendous driver visibility, and typically have 75%+ of their weight on the rear tires. Today’s door cars can be really consistent – the discrepancy between dragster and door cars is smaller than it’s ever been – but if we’re going head to head every round, I firmly believe the dragster still has a slight edge.
When dragsters and door cars are separated, the question becomes: what dragster is best? Or more specifically, how fast does the ultimate dragster go? Put simply, my belief is that faster is better. For years, we’ve assumed that faster is in fact better, up to a point. At that point, we can overpower race tracks (especially sub-optimal race tracks). And I suppose I still subscribe to that theory; but “too” fast is much faster than we used to think (perhaps faster than we typically think today). In my experience, the more power a dragster makes, the better it actually gets down a marginal race track. The torque of the motor drives the tire into the ground: and wheel speed often makes today’s engines even more efficient.
For those reasons and more, from a competitive advantage standpoint: give me a dragster in the 4.20’s (maybe faster). If we’re going to bring cost effectiveness into the discussion, that could change some things! As we all know, going fast is not inexpensive. The question as to whether or not you can justify the costs of a certain car or combination depends on what you intend to do with it. If you’re serious about touring today’s big dollar bracket scene (where hundreds of thousands of dollars in purses hang in the balance seemingly weekly), I could make the argument to justify going fast – really fast. At the same time, if you’re racing locally/regionally, a 4.70-4.90 dragster can be nearly as competitive and a whole lot more cost effective (both in terms of initial cost and upkeep).
If you nodded along to the sensible arguments outlined in the above paragraphs, but say to yourself, “there’s no scenario in which my perfect weapon will be a dragster,” you’re speaking my language! I’ve reached the point in my racing career that if it’s not fun, I’m simply not interested. And the simple truth is that door cars are just more fun than dragsters.
If you’re a door car racer at heart, I can make tremendous arguments for slamming the door on the “perfect weapon.”
Like I wrote in the introduction, the “perfect weapon” discussion is both inherently subjective and clouded with bias (I think we all pine for something similar to our own combination, especially if we’ve had some success with it). I’m not immune to that. I drive two very disparate door cars. In the conversations I’ve had with fellow door car aficionados, most advocate for a version of my two weapons as the “perfect weapon.”
The common opinion for years has been that an underpowered, overtired door car is the way to go. Something like my Moser Engineering Vega can go down any track, run multiple classes, and stack consistent timeslips as repeatedly as just about anything at the track. In truth, most racers I’ve talked to would prefer to be just a little bit quicker than what my Vega runs. It’s in the 6.2-6.3 range; common consensus among door car drivers is that the ultimate combination of this genre would land closer to the 5.7-6.0 range.
The counter to this style of door car is a fast, tube-chassis 4-second door car… Something like my Charlie Stewart-built Corvette roadster (yes, I’m lumping that into the “door car” realm, even though it doesn’t actually have, you know, “doors”). Years ago, bracket racers tended to bristle at the thought of a 4-second door car being truly competitive, much less the “perfect weapon.” The last decade has made a case for these machines: and the argument is similar to what I detailed in fast dragsters above. Contrary to popular belief, purpose-built race cars that can handle more horsepower actually tend to get down marginal tracks better than their lower-powered counterparts. Racers including Peeps Pennington (and his brothers Michael and Phillip), Bill Webb, Travis Barnett, and more have proven that time and time again.
From my own experience driving both vehicles, I think I’m qualified to speak to the pros and cons of each. To be perfectly honest, 95% of the time I’ve got two incredible options: both the Vega and the ‘Vette are awesome. They’re incredibly consistent and predictable (not to mention being extremely fun to drive in unique ways). If I look through my log books, I can argue that both combinations are equally capable of making incredibly consistent runs: I don’t think there’s a measurable difference in terms of consistency/predictability between the two.
With that in mind, the argument for something like my Vega (the slower, underpowered door car) is that it’s just as good as the faster car, just as fun as the faster car, at a fraction of the price. Not only is this combination far more affordable than a 4-second tube-chassis door car, it’s also more cost effective to race. Forget the money, it’s easier to race (both physically and mentally). As confident as I am in my Corvette, there’s simply a different level of preparation that goes into each round when you’re staging up a buggy dialed 4.70!
The counter-argument for the faster entry is this. While I can, and by and large do, make runs of a similar quality in both cars, I have tended to have more success in my Corvette. I’m one driver and it’s a relatively small sample size, but I think there’s something to that. Despite its ability to make incredible runs, my Vega doesn’t intimidate anyone. It’s in an ET range where the vast majority of opponents feel confident driving the finish line against me/it: and that comfort opens up a plethora of options in terms of finish line strategy.
In my Corvette, the vast majority of opponents are giving up 20-40 mph at the finish line. That’s intimidating. As a result, it tends to limit the finish line options of most opponents (or perhaps more importantly, their perception of their finish line options). So while I don’t necessarily make better runs in the faster car than I do in the slower car, I think it’s fair to say that opponents make mistakes a bit more often. That’s the biggest advantage to going fast, and the best argument that I can make for a machine of that kind being the “perfect weapon.”
As I wrote in the intro, the “perfect weapon” is inherently subjective. I’d love to hear your argument. Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on the Luke Bogacki Motorsports Facebook page: what above points do you agree with? Where do you disagree?