Drag Racing 101 – May 2013
Some things in life are easy and some are more difficult. With a smile on his face, a young racer once told me, “Drag racing is easy. All you need to do is cut a light and run your number,” meaning of course the driver’s selected dial-in. The smile told me that he knew it really was not that easy, but in fact, that is what each racer in the Sunoco Racing Fuels ET Series is striving for at each and every event, and each and every pass down the track. Having spent 41 years on the teacher side of the desk, I must admit, if I can help anyone gain more knowledge, I will do my best to achieve that goal. Furthermore, with the excellent skills of the racers who frequent Woodburn Dragstrip, I am more than happy to share what knowledge I have gained with others, so that all can compete at the high level required to become a champion racer. Therefore, this installment of Straight Talk will be my condensed version of Drag Racing 101 which includes two main topics: 1) Reaction Time, and 2) Finish Line.
First of all, just like all things in life, “Practice makes Perfect”. That statement applies to drag racing as well. If you want to improve, you will need to practice. The more experience you have, the better you will be. Many drivers at Woodburn Dragstrip are actively competing at two or more race tracks each week. If you cannot do that, taking advantage of the Friday Night Fun Drags which begin at Woodburn Dragstrip on May 31st and continue throughout the summer would be an excellent idea.
REACTION TIME: In regards to “How to Cut a Light” — As a driver, you must be focused on the tree. Anything that distracts you, will diminish your chance of success. Some drivers will react to the top bulb and some will react to the third bulb. If you wait for the green, you are too late. The driver needs to know that there is a slight delay from the time he/she sees the light until his/her feet or hands react to that sight. We call that the driver’s reaction time. In addition, there is a slight delay from the time your hand/feet move until the car moves. We call that the car’s reaction time. Thirdly, there is a slight delay from the time your car moves until it rolls through or lifts up out of the staging beam. Our job as driver is to find the point where these three slight delays will always result in a green light as close to a .000 reaction time as possible. Some things you might experiment with are: front and rear tire pressure, engine rpm, bumping in deeper or deep staging, as well as various mechanical and drive train adjustments you can make to your car. Always stage the car in the same way each time. It will be your task to find what you must do to repeatedly achieve that excellent reaction time.
FINISH LINE: It is the goal of a bracket racer to cross the line ahead of the competition without going quicker than his/her posted dial-in. This will require some quick decision making by the driver. As the current driver of a slow, 18-second car, I have more time to make that decision. I make decisions at three points as I motor down track. My first assessment is made based on a red light start either by me or my opponent. If either occurs, I keep my foot all the way to the floor through the full quarter mile. My second assessment is made at the 1000 foot mark where I judge the distance between our two cars. How much distance is there between our cars, and how fast is he/she gaining? If you are driving the faster car, you will be asking, “Can I catch up with my opponent?” If I decide that I will get to the finish line first, I must decide how much I can slow my car without letting my opponent pass me. Following are the facts on which I make my decisions: As a driver, I want to know how much distance my car will travel in .01 second. If I know the mph of my opponent, I can compute how fast he/she is gaining on me. At 70 mph, my car will travel 12.3 inches in .01 second. If I have a .01 second reaction time advantage, I have 12 inches to play with at the finish line. Maybe you are interested in data for your car. Here are the facts: At 80 mph you cover 14 inches in .01 second. At 90 mph you will cover 15.8 inches in .01 second. At 100 mph you will cover 17.6 inches in .01 second. At 110 mph – 19.3 inches; At 120 mph – 21.1 inches; At 130 mph – 22.9 inches; At 140 mph – 24.6 inches; At 150 mph – 26.4 inches; at 160 mph – 28.1 inches; and at 170 mph you will cover 29.9 inches in .01 second. So as a driver, if you know how far you will go in .01 second and you have a good idea regarding your opponent, if you compute the difference, you know approximately how much you have to play with at the finish line. If you can do that successfully round after round, you will have a very good year and likely be crowned champion of your class.
However, if this all is too confusing, let me suggest another much simpler approach. Why not just dial what you think your car will run and keep your foot down until you cross the finish line. After all, drag racing is really not that difficult. As someone once said, “all you need to do is cut a good light and run your number”
Elvon Kauffman has been drag racing since 1975. He has been a NHRA Northwest Division Bracket Champion twice – first in 1978 when he defeated fellow Woodburn racer, Joe DiFillipi at Seattle International Raceway and secondly, in 1980 when he again defeated a Woodburn racer, Ron Burch at Woodburn Dragstrip. He was the first and only World Champion in Heavy Bracket, winning with his 1970 Plymouth Road Runner 4-speed at the now defunct Ontario Motor Speedway in October, 1980.
Elvon’s variety of life experiences become the basis for the stories he shares in Straight Talk, a monthly column produced by Woodburn Dragstrip.