There is more to staging than simply rolling your car up to the starting
line and taking off. There are staging techniques and tricks that will
help you maximize elapsed times or reaction times-and once you master
them, you can use them to win more races, more often.
The Guard Beam
The starting line lights, or Christmas Tree, has two sets of staging
lights-prestage and stage-that are linked to sensors that direct two
infrared beams across each lane. When your car's front tires interrupt the
first beam, you trigger the prestage light. That lets you, your opponent,
and the starting line official know you are close to the starting line.
When you cross the second beam, you trigger the stage light, indicating
you are ready to race.
Some tracks use a third infrared beam, called a guard beam. Its job is to
prevent a part hanging underneath or in front of the car from blocking the
stage and guard beams. This could result in giving a racer an unfair
advantage by giving them a rolling start before the elapsed time (ET)
clock starts and reducing the racer's ET. A red foul light is triggered
when the guard beam is activated while the stage light is still lit,
automatically disqualifying the offending racer.
A big factor in a good staging technique is rollout. Rollout is the
distance it takes for the front tires to move past the stage beam and
trigger the ET timer during the launch. Rollout has a direct impact on
your reaction times. (Note: reaction time is measured by a different
clock; it starts when the green light flashes and stops when the car
completely unblocks the stage beam). More rollout increases reaction
times, while less rollout decreases it. As a general rule, less rollout
will improve your reaction times by allowing you to start the ET clock
Determining how much rollout to use depends largely on how you race. If
you tend to go for the quickest elapsed times, then you want to minimize
your rollout. If cutting a killer light is more your style, more rollout
is what you need. You can also adjust your rollout to increase your
chances of winning against an opponent. For example, if you and the racer
you are matched up with run similar ETs, you can use less rollout and
attempt to beat him based on reaction time.
That leads us to staging techniques. There are two basic types:
Shallow staging involves rolling through the starting area until both the
prestage and stage lights are lit. This maximizes the amount of rollout
you have, which improves elapsed time at the expense of reaction time.
This is the technique recommended for new bracket racers until they learn
proper launch procedures.
Deep staging is used to reduce reaction times. To deep stage, roll the
car up until you trigger the prestage and stage lights, then move forward
slowly until the prestage bulbs go out. This puts more of your front tires
ahead of the stage beam-and less tire that needs to go through the stage
beam and trigger the ET clock. That will improve your reaction time, but
also increases your chances of redlighting if you don't time your launch
just right. Needless to say, deep staging requires plenty of practice; it
may not even be allowed in some classes; check the rules at your track.
There is a third type of staging that is more mind game than a good
technique. Called late staging, it is used to throw off an opponent's
concentration. It's easy to do. After you light the prestage bulb, wait
for your opponent to completely stage, then wait a little longer before
you roll into the stage beam. Generally speaking, late staging affects new
racers more than veterans, and bugs the heck out of starting line
officials. To discourage the practice, an official will start the
countdown lights the second after a late stager lights the stage bulb.
That gives the racer virtually no time to react to the lights. In short,
don't late stage.
Adjusting Rollout With Tire Size
You can modify your rollout by changing the size of your front tires. The
height and width of your tires, measured at the height the staging light
beams are from ground level, determines the amount of rollout. This
illustration shows where the lights are set at a typical track sanctioned
by the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA). The IHRA sets its light
beams approximately 1 5/8 inches off the ground. The larger your front
tires are at that height, the more rollout you will have.
Here's an example: Let's say your front tires measure 12 inches across at
the light beam height and you are using a shallow staging technique. When
you launch, you have a “rolling start" of 12 inches before you pass the
stage beam and trigger the ET timer. If you replace those tires with ones
that measure only eight inches across, you have effectively decreased your
rollout factor by four inches (12–8=4) and also increased your chances of
cutting a better light. Remember, less rollout means better reaction
You can also alter tire size by playing with air pressure. More air
pressure increases tire height, but reduces width and the size of the
contact patch. That will reduce your rollout. Conversely, reducing air
pressure reduces tire height and increases tire width and contact patch
area. As you probably guessed, that will increase your rollout. Air
pressure is an easy and inexpensive way to see how tire size affects your
staging technique and reaction times; the slide show has photos showing
the effects of tire pressure on rollout.
Like anything else, the best way to apply these staging and rollout
techniques is to practice, practice, practice. Once you find a staging
routine that works for you, stay with it. When you stage the same way for
every run, the more consistent you will be-and consistency wins in bracket
racing. Happy rollout hunting!