Drag Racing with Jim Hand – Part 5: Basic Techniques of Bracket Racing
You will recall that pure drag racing consists of racing two cars from a dead stop to some given distance, typically 1/ 4 or 1/8 mile. The car that crosses the finish line first is the winner. Bracket racing consists of the same type of track and starting systems, but racing vehicles are grouped by their elapsed time (ET) potential, and raced against each other using a pre-selected dial-in. Two competing cars from the same bracket are paired, and the starting lights are staggered such that the slower car’s starting lights begin the sequence first by the difference of the two dial-ins. The winner is the car that reaches the finish line first, providing it did not run quicker than it’s dial. If both cars ran quicker than their respective dials, the car that ran the closest to its dial is the winner. Note that MPH has not been mentioned as a direct factor in winning or losing, and we will discuss that later.
To be a consistent winner in Bracket racing, your car must be able to run close to the selected dial each run. (It is permissible to change your dial after each run!) Additionally, your reaction time (time from the green light switch closure until your front wheel leaves the starting line) must be reasonably quick and consistent. In non-electronics classes where you simply drive with the car’s normal brakes and throttle, a relatively good reaction time (RT) would range from .520 to .560, and a consistent car would repeat to within .02.-.03. seconds. These numbers vary widely, and numbers outside these ranges can and do win many bracket races. However, these numbers will make you competitive in most non-electronic classes.
You must realize that reaction time is a key element in drag racing. For example, if two cars run exactly the same ET but one driver has a .600 RT and the other driver has a .700 RT, the first driver will win by .1 second. What does .1 second translate to in distance? If the cars in question can run 95 MPH at the finish, .1 second is equal to about 14′, or almost one car length. Looking at another example, if your car runs .2 second quicker than the competitor, but you have a .800 RT to your competitor’s .550 RT, he/she will win by .05 second.
The elapsed time at the reaction time will always have this direct relationship, and both must be considered when reviewing your time tickets and/or your performance! How do you improve your RT? You must develop a consistent routine or staging your car, and stage identically each time. Remember, we recommend that you stop when the second stage light lights. Most tracks have a “courtesy” staging routine where both cars must turn the first stage light on before rolling into the second light. This prevents one car from trying to “burn down” the opponent by delaying staging. When both cars have the first light on, slowly advance until the second light just lights and then stop. This technique will position your car at the same location from the starting line on each run. Carefully watch each of the .5 second yellow lights, and “leave” at the same light sequence on each run. Typically, most cars can actually leave when the third yellow begins to glow.
If, after several runs and your RT is still not good, try leaving on the second light. If this causes a red light (foul), you will then know about when you have to leave in the light sequence to obtain reasonably good RT’s without fouling. An added advantage of barely lighting the second light is that your car actually has a rolling start from behind the actual starting line, and this provides quicker ET’s. My wagon will slow by .1 to .15 if it rolls further into the lights. Regardless of how you stage, you must do the same each time, and then adjust the time you actually leave to obtain the desirable range of RT’s.
The other important element of bracket racing is the dial-in. Experienced bracket racers have different methods of racing by selecting dials either slower than the car can actually run (sometimes called sand bagging) and then trying to stay slightly ahead of the other car, or dialing as close as the car will actually run. I strongly suggest you begin by selecting a dial that will allow you to run full throttle for the entire race without going too quick and “breaking out”. That is much easier said than done, but make your practice runs without changing anything on the car. Note the range of ET’s. Has the wind changed? Has it cooled off? Was your car hot on one run and cool on another? If your last run prior to elimination’s was the quickest, you probably should dial close to that ET. Otherwise, dial about the average of your two or three best runs. During elimination’s, if it is obvious that you are going to cross the finish line first, slow down by lifting from the throttle, or even tapping the brakes. Never run quicker than needed, and you will be less likely to “breakout”. Do not dial quicker than you can run to be “safe” from break-out. If you give your opponent a .1 second head start by dialing safe, you have given him/her about one car length advantage before the race even begins! If, during the race, it is obvious that the other car will cross the finish line before you, slow down by lifting or tapping the brakes prior to the finish line. This assures you will not break-out, and if your competitor runs too quickly, you will win. Caution! Braking must be done carefully and reasonably to prevent any possible loss of control. Additionally, many tracks will disqualify a driver for excessive or dangerous use of brakes. When there is an uneven number of cars in a class, one car will make a single run, called a “bye”. Always run full out on a bye in order to get a correct dial-in for the next round. Most tracks allow a break-out or even a red light on bye runs, providing you cross the finish line.
You should view each competitor the same. Do not change your routine for a very slow competitor, the best driver, or the quickest car. Simply determine who will leave first, and then run your race. Here is some advice that I received many years ago during my early attempts at drag racing. “In order to win a class, you must be able to beat all competitors, so don’t hesitate. When your class is called, be the first one up, and challenge the other drivers to beat you!” Remember that in drag racing, as in all sports, there are many good competitors, and it is virtually impossible to consistently beat them all!