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 engaged
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 really sucks!
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 process.
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
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
Shallow 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 staging.
Deep staging 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 - Dialing in
Shoe polish isn’t always for your shoes!
Dialing-in defined: 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
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 dial-in).
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
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 extra insurance.
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 reaction times.
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!
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
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
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 spring.
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!