A good place to start is with the basics. The
following is a combination of old articles and things learned
the hard way. This time we'll talk about getting staged. Again,
we don't claim to be experts and we welcome any input based on
your personal experience. As with all aspects of racing there
are a basic set rules that, if followed, will keep you from
looking like a chump.
Pick your spot: Be
sure to pick a spot in the pits that you’re sure no one else is
using and is not blocking someone else. I've seen people nearly
get into fights over this one. Related to this issue is the
number one way to piss somebody off (And it happens all the
time). When you are in the staging lanes stay with your car!
The abuse you will get from your fellow racers when you
block the lanes is brutal! It will ruin your day.
When your pulling up to the lights, resist the
urge to burnout in the water box unless you really need to.
Nothing looks goofier than a 17 second car tying to power brake
a burnout on street tires. Unless you are running below 14
seconds or are using slicks, its usually a waste of time. Oh,
and pay attention to the starter. Don't pull up until he signals
you. Street tired cars GO AROUND the water box and back up,
slick cars can drive through the box SLOWLY. Both should be on
the edge of the water and not in it, otherwise you will throw
water up in the fenderwell and it will drip down on the tires at
the starting line.
Here's a good one. Pay attention to where the
staging beams are. I don't know how many times I've seen someone
go to nearly the 60' mark before they realize they've passed the
beams. The folks in the stands will be rolling in the aisles! On
some tracks if you roll past the staged light you're
disqualified. Many tracks employ a courtesy rule that requires
that the first car entering the pre-stage light wait until the
second car is pre-staged. Once the second car is pre-staged the
first one stages and is followed by the second. This helps to
minimize starting line games. I prefer to pre-stage first in
order to allow myself a few more seconds to get ready.
A personal note:
Get in the habit of performing a ritual each time
you prepare to stage. Go through each of the steps necessary to
properly stage the car (this varies for every car) in the same
order every time. This helps ensure that nothing is missed.
Shifter in Low
Cooling fan on
Transmission cooler fan on
Fuel Pump on
Check Oil Pressure
Verify low oil pressure switch is
This gets you up to the lights and staged.
(Staging is a whole article in itself and that's the next tip).
What are all those little yellow lights on
top for anyway?
Staging could best be defined as locating your
car in the proper location on the track and initiating the
countdown process which culminates in either a green or red
light... and the red light
What the cool lights mean:
Staging Beams - Two
little beams of light just off the ground which shine across the
track, these beams trigger the pre-stage and stage lights on the
christmas tree when broken by your front tires. Look for either
traffic cones, boxes or the remnants of a white line when
pulling forward. Some tracks are easy, some seem to make a game
on keeping the starting line almost hid.
Pre-Stage Light -
The pre-stage light is illuminated when your front tire
interferes with the first of the two beams. The pre-stage beam
is the top white light. This is the start of the staging
Stage Light - 18
inches down the track from the pre-stage light is the beam that
triggers the stage light. This light is turned on when your
front tires break the second beam. When this light comes on your
car is basically staged and ready to go... But wait, there's
more! It's never that simple. I'll explain in a minute
when we discuss a couple of types of staging.
Amber lights - These
are the middle three lights that "count down" once the starter
flips the switch. On a sportsman tree ,which is the one you will
probably be using, they are spaced .500 of a second apart . The
two types of tree's are "sportsman" and "pro" trees. The lights
on sportsman tree count down individually, while on the pro tree
all three ambers flash on together, followed by the green light
.400 seconds later. This is why a .500 reaction time is perfect
on the sportsman tree and .400 is perfect on the pro tree.
Green light - the
go light. If you wait for this light you've already
lost the race. The key here for most cars is to leave as soon as
the last amber lights up. It usually takes about a half second
for you to react and your car to respond to that action. If you
leave on the green your reaction time will be at least a full
second. The green light is triggered .500 of a second after the
last yellow. A common misconception here is that the clock
starts when the green light flashes on. It ain't so. You can
sit on the starting line for an hour after the green light comes
on, the clock won't start, but you're reaction time will really
bite! It (the clock) doesn't start until you move past the
Red light - This
light stinks! Anytime you see it, your time run is over. It
means you rolled out of the lights before the green came on.
That's it, you’ve lost.
There are two ways (at least) to stage, Shallow
staging and deep staging.
is accomplished when, after breaking the
pre-stage beam, you creep forward until your front tire just
breaks the stage beam. The instant the stage light comes on you
stop and hold your car there. This accomplishes a couple of
things. First, it increases your MPH by giving your car an
additional foot or more of track before you start the timing
clocks. Believe it or not this makes a measurable difference.
Secondly, if you're having a problem red lighting, it'll give
you a little additional time before starting the timer. This
effectively increases your reaction time. It also might save
you if the car accidentally creeps forward a bit when you come
up on the converter. The other end of this spectrum is deep
is risky business and not all tracks allow you to do it.
Basically it involves rolling forward, after you've lit both
lights, until you roll out of the pre-stage light beam and the
pre-stage (top white) light turns off. The risk here is going
too far and red lighting, or decreasing you're reaction time to
the point a red light is inevitable. Either way you lose. Best
leave this one till you've got a lot of runs under your belt.
During time trials is a good time to practice this art form.
There is a direct correlation between your position in the stage
lights, your reaction time, and your ET - they are all related.
If you deep stage and reduce your reaction time by say .20
second, you need to adjust your dial in by adding .20 second on
it. The car is going to run the same from the time you start
moving until the finish line, so both times add together for
your total time. Adjust one and you need to adjust the other.
Ok, you've followed the rules, you look really
cool and ya' got your vehicle staged... But, there’s something
else very important, and that will be the next topic.
Next up -
Shoe polish isn’t always for your shoes!
Selecting your estimated elapsed time based on previous
performance and other constantly changing external factors.
These factors include but are not limited to the following:
Change in power level
We could go on forever, but the bottom line is
that you should keep the shoe polish handy, because due to
constantly changing factors you Dial-In will be changing nearly
every round! Even psychological factors come into play. Some
days you'll be smooth and consistent and your dial in will
change very little. Other days you'll be all over the place with
your ET's forcing you to dial in conservatively to avoid
breaking out (Breaking out means that your ET is less than your
Compensating for these elements requires you to
understand how they affect you and your car. For example as the
air cools toward the end of the day your engine will make more
power requiring you dial in little faster. Also, as daylight
decreases, you're eye's response time to the Christmas tree will
decrease, forcing you to adjust your time. I guarantee you'll
see a lot more people red-lighting and breaking out after dark.
On to the mechanics of this subject!
Unlike class racing, in Bracket racing there is a
huge discrepancy between the performance levels of any two cars.
It is not unusual to have a large disparity in ET's between the
left and right lane. Many tracks try to minimize this by
breaking the bracket racers into classes (e.g. 12.00 - 12.99 and
13.00 to 13.99). Even so, your 12.95 racer might be up against a
12.02 vehicle. In order to make a close race out of it, each
racer selects a "Dial-In" time. Dial-in's are the cornerstone of
Bracket racing. Even if you cut a perfect light (See Tech tips
#2) if you can't run close to your dial in you are going to
lose! If your car was so consistent that it ran exactly the
same ET every run then your job is simple, scribble that number
on your window and you'll win a hell of a lot of races. In the
real world however, no matter how hard you try your ET will vary
from run to run. Really consistent cars may vary only a few
hundredths but usually your looking at a tenth or two and that's
where the work begins.
The fundamentals of dialing in work like this.
You dial in a 13.05 and your opponent dials in a 13.25. When
the starter flips the switch to start the countdown process your
opponents countdown starts .20 seconds sooner than yours (13.25
minus 13.05 equals .20). So he leaves .20 second sooner than
you. Theoretically if you both have exactly the same reaction
times and your cars both run exactly on their dial-in you will
cross the finish line at exactly the same time. Well, in
reality this will never happen, so who whoever runs closest to
their dial-in, with the reaction time factored in of course,
without breaking out wins.
Let's say you made three time trial passes. Your
times were 13.31, 13.07 and 13.21. What this means is that while
your car is somewhat consistent, you need to carefully pick your
Dial-In. You know your car is capable of at least 13.07 and as
you go a few rounds, nighttime will be soon setting in. As the
air cools, and the tree becomes brighter you can count on your
car potentially running a few hundredths quicker. The safe thing
to do here is to dial in a 13.05 to minimize the chance of
breaking out and if you cut a good light and are ahead of your
opponent around the 1000' mark you can always back out of it for
Sometimes you might be tempted to deliberately
dial-in a lot slower than you know your car can run. This is
known as "Sand bagging". This is a little risky. Here's the
thinking behind this one. Your car runs a best of 13.07. You
dial-in a 14.00. This puts you the 14.00 class where you find
yourself running a car dialed in at 14.25. Your car is a more
than a full second faster than your opponents. When you leave
you can run him down and pace yourself a fender ahead and cross
the finish line first and win. The down side to this is that if
the other car runs close to his dial in you’re almost assured of
breaking out and losing. It probably isn't worth it.
Sandbagging can only be effective if you have a better reaction
time than your opponent. You are better off perfecting your
Dialing in takes a lot of time and effort. You
need to understand your capabilities as well as your car's
limitations. Take your time and learn to be consistent and you
will win races!
Oh yea, there's shoe polish and then there are
markers made specifically for racing. The difference is it
takes a bunch of effort to remove the shoe polish while the new
stuff buffs right off without effort. Once you use the real
stuff, you'll throw the bottle of polish away.
Wheel hop is something all owners of stock
suspension cars can encounter at some time or another and it's
one of the biggest problems we face. Nine times out of ten it's
just due to sloppy suspension. You might try a set of Lakewood
Ladder bars to try and control it of you have leaf springs in
the rear, or expensive tubular rear control arms or new boxed
arms if you have coils in the rear. If you have coils and
control arms, there is a better and cheaper way to solve the
problem than buying the expensive stuff. Break out your trusty
arc-welder, and with some scrap steel, box the arms yourself.
Make sure to box the entire length. Take care to weld them;
starting in the center, about tow inches at a time, letting them
cool between welds. This will keep them from warping. Next buy
some polyurethane bushings from Energy Suspension (about $75)
and have them pressed in (another $25). A good investment is a
rear sway bar. Prior to boxing in the bottoms of the lower
bars, drill two ½” holes to mount the sway bar. Cut some ½
black pipe to fit inside the bars, and after inserting some
bolts, tack weld the pipe to the inside of the bars. After the
pipe is secure, then box the bottoms as explained above.
The next trip to the track should be a wonderful
surprise! You should not be able to detect even a trace of
wheel hop. This will have a dramatic effect on ET's, because you
won’t have to feather the throttle out of the hole. If you're
making more than 300 rear wheel horsepower, this is certainly a
worthwhile endeavor. As an added bonus, unless you slide
underneath the car, you can't see the modification. Another
factor in controlling wheel hop is to keep the rear height of
the car no more that 1 ½” to 2” over the stock height. Anymore
than 2” lift, and the geometry is altered where the axle will be
able to twist under the top bars. It then unloads after
reaching maximum load, and then repeats the cycle. And the
result is your car acting like a bunny rabbit down the track.
Ever notice how some cars launch straight and
some cars look all twisted up as the leave the starting line?
Well, one reason is that a lot of the cars that leave well are
using an airbag. An airbag is a simple plastic bladder that is
inserted in the right rear coil spring and inflated. This helps
control the compression that occurs in that spring and to some
extent, the compression that occurs in the other, opposite
A typical hard leaving vehicle will, due to all
the rotational forces taking place in the driveline, tend to
lift the body on the passenger side and "plant" the body on the
driver’s side (this is due to the motor torque acting on the
rear differential). This causes the car to waste a lot of
motion that could otherwise be used to accelerate more quickly.
By placing an airbag in the passenger side rear coil spring, and
inflating it you can control the amount of lift that takes
place, effectively balancing out the pressure on the tires.
This will help your car to launch straight. Getting the right
amount of pressure is a trial and error deal, but 8-10 lbs.
seems to be about right. The trick is to do trial burn outs.
You should notice that with no air bag, the rubber left by the
right rear is very light while the driver’s side tire leaves
heavy black marks. Just keep inflating the bag until both skid
marks look even. As an added bonus, airbags come in packages of
two and you only need one, so you can sell one to another buddy
and recover some of the expense!