So here you are in round 7 of the Spring Fling 20’s against one of the elite racers. Your reaction times in round one to six have been between .008 and .014. The big question; do you make any changes to the delay box?
Conventional wisdom would say no. Conventional wisdom says to “race your own race”. Conventional wisdom says stick with the .011 reaction time average that got you this far. I am here to tell you that I agree with conventional wisdom in a lot of areas of life but racing is one area where I put “playing the odds” before conventional wisdom. By playing the odds I am not talking about overestimating or underestimating your opponent as that is one of the leading causes for people losing rounds. Playing the odds in racing means you put yourself in the best position to win a certain round based on the history and the current situation. If you are in round 7 of a big buck bracket race against one of the best in the business chances are he is going to have a very good reaction time. Taking .003 or .004 out of your delay box would be a smart move and could very easily make the difference in winning or losing that round (especially if it is an 1/8th mile race where reaction time plays a big role). If you are a non delay box racer you can bring your rpm up 100 rpm. You get the point here. You are now setting up “tighter” on the tree based on both what you know of this elite opponent, and the fact that you are deep into eliminations and both you and your opponent have had a lot of looks at the tree. So increase your odds on winning the round by taking some out of the box. In the following journal I am going to get specific and into detail about what I call “situational racing” and how to increase your chances of winning “that round” whether that round be round one at a $200 to win local race or the final of our Spring Fling 20’s. It all has to do with stepping back, looking at the big picture and taking calculated risks with the ultimate goal being turning on more win lights.
A lot of times in drag racing we get in a zone. This is a good thing. But it is not good if we are so much in a zone where we lose sight of the big picture or the current situation at hand. There is a lot to be said to being a robot and zoned into the tree and being one with the car but if you are too extreme and not paying attention, it could cost you a bunch of rounds and can even cost you that one ‘big’ round. Let’s say Tiger Woods has 7 shots to get the ball in the hole to win the US Open. He knows he can most likely make the hole in 4 shots if he plays his normal game. His caddy is going to tell him to take the safe way to the hole and make it in 5 instead of trying for 4 and taking a risk of hitting it in the pond. The caddy is looking at the big picture here for Tiger. In racing, most of us do not have a caddy or coach. We have to “be observant” as Troy Williams once said and pay attention to the situation so that we can better figure out what gives us the best chances of winning “that round”.
Now what if I told you that you can raise your chances of beating a guy who knowingly has more talent and more seat time than you? That’s right. The reality is… he has more seat time, is more talented and can drive both ends of the track better than you. Reality is you have less than a 50% of beating this racer when you line up against him. Let’s say you have a 40% chance of beating this racer when you line up against him/ her.
Let’s put all this talk into a real life scenario:
You are about to race against a heavy hitter (let’s refer to him as HH) who you know holds a bunch of numbers. The big question is “how do I race against HH”. Before I answer this question that is very commonplace throughout the pits, let’s talk about the reasons for “holding numbers” or “dialing up”. The answer on whether to hold a bunch of numbers in general (or dial “honest”) should be based on three things. The first and most important is how comfortable are you doing this and does it fit your driving style? If you aren’t comfortable doing this I would suggest not to do it until you get comfortable and I want you to get comfortable sooner than later because there are going to be rounds later in your career where you can dramatically raise your odds on winning if you have some in your pocket. On the other hand if you are not comfortable doing this you will only lessen your chances of winning the round by making a plan and then not executing properly. Secondly, how good is your car running on a particular day and how well are you hitting the tree? If your car is running within thousandths of a second (the track is tight and the air/ weather isn’t drastically changing) and you are killing the tree then that is less of a reason to hold some in your pocket. In most cases in this scenario, you can put down good enough numbers without doing much at the finish line and let’s face it, this is a numbers game and good numbers/ tight packages is what wins races above and beyond EVERYTHING else. On the other hand if the track is loose and the weather and wind are changing by the minute and your car isn’t stringing tight runs together, than that is a situation where you are better off to hold a few. The third (and probably most interesting factor to most of you) in whether to hold numbers or not would be; who is your opponent on that particular round? Is he/ she a heavy hitter that tends to hold a bunch of numbers and is going to size you up at the finish line? If this is the case and you feel comfortable about dialing where you are holding a few hundredths, you should do so. This is what I call situational racing and it can increase your odds of beating this racer quite a bit. In fact, your chances of beating HH just went from 40% to 60%. That’s right, if you make the right plan (hold some numbers) and execute it properly the odds of beating your bracket racing hero just swung in your favor. Let’s step back and look at the big picture here. The reality of the numbers looks like this. You are running well and your car just ran 7.422, 7.427, and 7.426 in the previous rounds at 180 mph. You are confident you can be between .006 and .014 on the tree. If you dial honest against heavy hitter chances are the race and odds of him winning will look like this:
You go .011 on the tree and run a 7.428 on a 7.42 dial (wide open/ no brakes). Chances you win the round against “heavy hitter” is 40%. Heavy hitter is .007 RT and is beside you for the last 300 feet putting a wheel on you and snugs the stripe up to .009 and runs a 7.323 on a 7.32 dial. You get back to the pits shaking your head and telling your friends, “man he made that look easy”. Now let’s step back and look at the big picture here and try to increase your odds on beating HH. Why did he just make that look so easy? The answer is because you gave him a stationary target (and enough room) to size you up making it easy for HH. From HH’s eyes the race and his decision was easy (despite you putting down a good run), in his brain he says this during the race “I am catching him early enough to kill the amount I need to kill and still take the stripe”. And because HH is such a good driver he can do just that without blinking and eye. How can you help your cause here? By first making the race appear different to him, and secondly and more importantly, giving him a moving target to work with. Take it from me, the combination of these two things will make heavy hitters job much harder. Hold 2 or 3 numbers and pick your spot on the track that you (have learned) to kill that amount where let’s say you go mid to high dead on your dial but this time on the brakes. In this case let’s dial up to a 7.45 and hit the brakes (safely of course) 20 feet before the first cone and run a 7.458 on a 7.45 at 166 mph. You have the same .011 tree and he has the same .007 tree BUT you have just dramatically increased your odds on beating HH. Now your chances of winning that round are 60% instead of 40%. That’s right, you are now a favorite to beat your “hero”. Why are you a favorite? Because you made the race look totally different to HH. HH catches you much later in the run, he knows he is dialed to break out and either A) decides to snug the finish line up and does a good job until you dump and give him a “(backwards) moving target” forcing him to take too much at the stripe and break out by .01 or .02, or B) he decides to dump and give you the finish line hoping you break out and in this case he is .01 over the dial and you are dead on. Either way, you have greatly increased your chances on beating the HH. Sure you still have to execute and be disciplined to pick your spot on the track that you have learned to get rid of .03 but taking this calculated risk in this scenario will turn the percentages in your favor and lead to many more win lights against this style and caliber of driver in the long run. On the flip side to this scenario let’s assume you are dialed a 7.30 and you are running against a 10 second car. In this situation, chances are, he is not going to be able to judge you (size you up) because of the mph difference and how fast you are coming on him. Therefore there is much less of a reason to hold numbers and to give him the “moving target” because it’s hard for him really to judge you, “the target” anyway. You are still the target in his eyes as he sizes you up but because you are closing in at such a rapid pace, you are already a moving target. In this situation you can actually decrease your odds on winning the round by throwing the extra variable of you holding numbers/ having to get rid of numbers into the mix. Luke Bogacki wrote some columns on “Spot Dropping”. There, he made a point to harp on safety, and I’d like to do the same. Being able to safely “kill” some ET and “Drop” at a given point on the race track takes a little practice and getting used to. We’re certainly not advocating any method that causes you to lose control of your vehicle. Your particular “spot drop” or method of killing ET can be very personalized. First and foremost, you need to develop a method that you feel comfortable with that does not endanger you or your opponent.
Above I discussed starting line and finish line techniques along with ways of approaching different rounds and different situations. A big question should be “wait a second, what happened to simply playing my own game and sticking to what I do best?” Don’t get me wrong as my philosophy in racing relies heavily on doing what you do best and playing to your strengths. If a pitchers best pitch is a fastball then in most key situations, he should throw a fastball. Above and beyond every starting line and finish situation that I mentioned previous should be that you play to your strengths. BUT, if the same pitcher goes up against a batter that normally can see the fastball so well he normally knocks it out of the park, then the coach signals him to throw a curveball. This is why it is so important to grow as a racer and not get stuck in just one routine. Sure you should try and get the basics of bracket racing down pat before you try these more advanced techniques. If you don’t know how to effectively and safely get rid of a few at the stripe then don’t do it until you practice it enough in time runs where you can do it. Until then, focus on other strengths (in numbers) in your program like your reaction times and getting your car to run more consistent. Either way, good packages have a tendency to light the win light but if you are able to look at the big picture, you will, at times, see different round situations where you can greatly increase your chances of winning by mixing up your game and getting to those good packages in different ways. My suggestion? Challenge yourself. Don’t let fear get in the way of your growth and advancement as a racer. Take chances (at the right times) and you will take your driving to the next level. It’s a lot easier to stay in a comfortable place where you want to take the safe way out but believe me, by doing this you will never advance. If you do lose, don’t make excuses. Look defeat in the eye and learn from it. Look at the “WHY”. WHY did your car just fall off 2 numbers? Why did you take too much stripe and breakout (what was going through your mind and what were you seeing going down the track)? WHY were you late? WHY did you just pick up .015 in your 60’ time? Always look into the why. Most people would rather place blame rather than look into the why because it’s the easier way out and requires less effort (thought). You should be learning something every pass down the track. If you look into the why and honestly answer it, the chances are you will not make the same mistake multiple times. This leads me to my next section- the mental side of racing.
All forms of sports require a mix of mental and physical talent to be successful. I can’t think of a sport that is more lopsided on the mental side than drag racing. There is so much that can be said about the psychology of racing but because of space limitation, I will stick to the single, most important one. The single and biggest barrier that stands between you and the win light… Fear.
I can remember being 22 years old and very new at national event racing when a well known and very successful racer was paired up with me. Hell yes I was scared. On top of that he did everything he could to intimidate me and try to get in my head. He was smart, a good driver and very experienced. He knew well enough the havoc fear would play in opponents minds. Here I was a newbie to the national event scene and I was about to face the best. Yup, David vs Goliath. Fortunately I was aware enough to step back and look at the big picture and that’s when it hit me; “this is a numbers game and I can put up numbers just like he can.” As Jeg Couglin once said “preparation is king” and my car and entire racing program was prepared to do the job. That triggered confidence in me, eliminated the fear, and helped me to win the round. I also took a chance and held some numbers in my pocket, executed the plan perfectly and forced him to breakout. Say those words “this is a numbers game and I can put up numbers just like he can.” to yourself whenever you feel like you are at a disadvantage in a certain round and it puts everything in perspective and will wipe away any fear you may have had to race your opponent. Remember, this is not a wrestling match where you are 90lbs and he is 300lbs. Most of the time the cars are equal or close in the consistency department.
Really, when I speak of fear in racing I am talking about fear of losing. Worried about who you are racing against (that you will lose), scared you may redlight (and lose), worried that you may be late (and lose), scared that you may not have the car dialed in right (and lose). All in all, just the simple fear of losing. Again, when fear enters your mind, step back for a second and look at the big picture. This is a numbers game! Do your homework before the race and before the round and by the time you make it to the staging lanes you should be prepared to lay down good numbers and good numbers can beat ANYBODY! When racing without fear you WILL get MUCH better results, period. Have you ever watched someone during a test and tune go .00 something on the tree all day long? I know I have. It’s because there is zero fear on a test and tune session. The racer is not worried about red lighting and not worried about losing. The key is to adopt this mindset when the chips ARE on the table. Only thoughts of executing your game plan (regardless of who is in other lane) and what your last run was like. The biggest link I see with fear and losing a race is overestimating your opponent. Overestimating your opponent causes your inner confidence to go down and your subconscious tells yourself that you are an underdog which in turn leads to fear. This fear leads you to do things you normally wouldn’t do like perhaps try too hard which takes you out of your zone. Now your chance of winning the round just went down significantly.
There is a lot more that could be said about starting line, finish line, dial in, race strategies, and the part psychology plays in racing. For now, regardless of how new or seasoned you are to the sport of drag racing, my hope is that you will be able to tie this column together to your racing program. When you are about to line up for your next round, remember to step back and look at the big picture, run a game plan through your mind on how you are going to turn the win light on, race smart, and race with zero fear. And above all, play to your strengths. You will be surprised how many more times the win light shines in your lane.