The Basics of Bracket Racing

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The Basics of Bracket Racing
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The Basics of Bracket Racing

Bracket racing is a great way to get involved in the sport of drag racing. You don't need a lot of money or special equipment to get started-all you need is a safe car, a local track, and the desire to learn. This article will explain the basics of bracket racing-what it is, how a race is run, how a track is set up, and more.

A bracket drag race is a straight-line acceleration contest between two cars (usually starting at different times-more on that in a minute) from a standing start over a specified distance, usually a quarter-mile or an eighth-mile. Racers line up in front of an electronic countdown device nicknamed a Christmas Tree (or just the Tree). When the cars leave the starting line, electronic timers record how long it takes each one to reach the finish line. This is called elapsed time, or ET for short. That is why bracket racing is also known as ET racing. Top speed is also recorded, but does not determine a winner in a bracket race.

The Track 
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of an actual race, let's explore the nuts and bolts of where you'll be competing-the track. Most tracks are a quarter-mile in length; but there are a good number of eighth-mile tracks too. Refer to Slide #1 in the Slide Show to see where the following areas are located:


  Burnout Box-the area just before the starting line that is sprayed down with water so you can do a quick burnout to warm up the tires and get rid of any debris lodged in the tread.

60 Foot Timer-Measures the time it takes the car to cross the first 60 feet of the track. This shows you how well the car launches, which affects your elapsed times. Most street-tired cars have 60 foot times of around 2 seconds
660 Foot Timer-Measures elapsed time at the halfway point of a quarter-mile track. At some tracks, speed (in miles per hour) is also recorded. Some tracks also have timers at 330 and 1,000 foot intervals
Mile Per Hour Timer-Also known as the speed trap, this timer is located 66 feet before the finish line. It records the car's average speed between it and the finish line. This is the mile per hour figure on your time slip
Finish Line-When you cross the light beam at the end of the quarter-mile, you stop the ET clock. The amount of time (in seconds) between when the timer was activated and when it stopped is the ET figure on the time slip
Shutdown Area-The area past the finish line, usually a quarter-mile or more in length, where you can safely slow the car down to take the turnout to the time slip booth. If something goes wrong and you can't stop the car, most tracks have a sand trap, net, or other setup at the end of the shutdown to stop you

The Tree
A drag race starts in front of the Christmas Tree. In simple terms, the Tree is a set of vertical lights that gives the driver a visual countdown to the start of a race. The lights are as follows from top (see Slide #2 in the Slide Show for a visual reference):
Pre-Stage Indicator Lights-Yellow bulbs that indicate that you are close to the starting line and are ready to stage
Stage Indicator Lights-Second set of yellow bulbs that indicate you are fully staged and ready to race. The bulbs are triggered when the front wheels cross a beam of light from a set of photo cells. These cells trigger the timer when the car leaves the light beam.
Countdown Lights-Amber floodlights that count down to the green light. There are two types of countdowns, or starts. The .500 or Sportsman start used in bracket racing flashes one light at a time, with a .500 second difference between the last amber light and the green light. The .400 or Pro start for non-bracket and professional classes flashes all three lights simultaneously with a .400 second difference between the amber and green lights.
Green Light-This is the one you're waiting for. When it flashes, it means you're free to mash the gas pedal and make a run. This point of the run is called the launch.
Red Light-This light will flash if you leave the starting line before the green light is activated. Known as redlighting, this action automatically disqualifies you and gives the win to your opponent.

This brings us to reaction time, which is how quickly a racer can get off the starting line when the light goes green. Better known as cutting a light, a quick reaction time will give you a big advantage over your opponent, especially if you are running the slower car. Most drivers try to launch just as the last of the three amber lights goes off, putting the car in motion when the green light activates. The starting line is where most bracket races are won or lost, so time practicing your staging and launching techniques is time well spent.

Running a Bracket Race
Before a bracket race can start, each car must be placed in a category, or class, based on its elapsed time. To get in the proper class, a racer needs to determine his or her dial-in, which is simply the elapsed time they think their car will run. Beginning racers usually base their dial-ins on a few passes down the track. For veteran racers, a dial-in is serious business, based on years of experience and countless runs. A good bracket racer can hit on or very close to their dial-in almost every time.

When two cars are matched up for a race, the dial-ins are compared; the slower car is given a handicap, or a head start equal to the difference between the dial-ins. To win, you need to run closer to your dial-in than the other guy. There are three winning scenarios:
• Run as close to your dial-in as possible without going quicker, or breaking out
• If both cars run faster than their dial-ins (called running under), the racer closest to their dial-in wins
• If both cars run their exact dial-ins or have the same break-out factor, the racer with the best reaction time is the winner

Here are possible outcomes for a race between Car A with a 14.50 second dial-in and Car B with a 15.25 second dial-in:
Car A Runs 14.55 Seconds, Car B Runs 15.35 Seconds
Car A wins (runs closest to dial-in without breaking out)

Car A Runs 14.40 Seconds, Car B Runs 15.20 Seconds
Car B wins (both cars run under, Car B runs closest to dial-in)

Car A Runs 14.50 Seconds With .510 Reaction Time, Car B Runs 15.25 Seconds With .505 Reaction Time
Car B wins (runs at dial-in, has better reaction time)

The Time Slip 
After you make a run, the guys in the little booth at the end of the track will hand you a piece of paper with numbers all over it. This is the time slip. It provides a wealth of information about your pass-how well you launched, how quick and fast you went at various points on the track, and your elapsed time and top speed. If you were running against an opponent, the time slip tells you how they did, too.

The sample quarter-mile time slip in Slide #3 in the Slide Show illustrates the following terms: 
Lane-Shows which lane you are in
Car Number-Most cars are assigned numbers at official races
Class-Marked if running in an official race. Not used for test and tune sessions
Dial-In-The elapsed time you predicted your car would run
Reaction Time-How quickly you reacted to the green light on the Christmas Tree. In the sample time slip the Tree was set for a Sportsman (.500 second) start
60', 330', 1/8, MPH, and 1,000 Foot Times-These figures are the elapsed times measured at the 60, 330, eighth-mile (660 feet), and 1,000 foot marks. The MPH number is measured at the 660 foot mark
Quarter-Mile ET and MPH-These are your final elapsed time and top speed numbers-the ones that count!

How Do I Start? 
Now that you have an idea on how bracket racing works, take a trip to your local track-and just watch. Pay attention to how the cars launch, how the Christmas Tree works, and what racers do in the pit area. Most importantly, ask questions. There isn't a racer we know of who doesn't love to talk about their car and how they approach a race. Most racers will be happy to give you pointers on improving your technique-and that will teach you volumes on how to race.

After spending time watching bracket racers at work, it's time to get your feet wet. A great way to do that is at a “test and tune" session at your local track. For a small fee, you can practice your starting line procedure, learn how the car reacts to tuning changes, and make passes down the track without the pressure of racing against someone. Chances are there is a drag strip within a couple hours' drive. Most tracks are sanctioned by the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) or the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA); you can locate a track near you by visiting their web sites.

We hope this primer helps you understand the basics of bracket racing. One thing we will guarantee: once you make that first run down the track, you'll be hooked for life!
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