Evan J. Smith
October 17, 2013

Successful racers prepare for each race—they don't just head to the line with no information. Assuming you're consistent on the Tree and you have a car that is predictable, you'll want to take in a few other variables.

Here are some tips. Take notice of the weather conditions: wind (speed and direction), temperature, barometric pressure, humidity and water vapor. Summit Racing Products (and a few others) sell specialized equipment for gathering weather data for drag racers. These factors affect the performance of your engine, and this is important since you'll be attempting to predict your elapsed time. By charting weather and performance, you can, over time, form a database and establish trends, which will improve you ability to select a winning dial-in.

This leads me to my next tip. Always dial a number you know you can run and always check your dial-in on the scoreboard before staging. Being overly optimistic on your dial is a major no-no, and once you stage, you've accepted the dial, so if it's wrong—which it most certainly can be—then you are out of luck. Frankly, you can always hit the brake to slow down, but if you can't run your aggressive dial-in, you're screwed.

"Holding" elapsed time in your dial-in by dialing a soft number is common practice, but know that if all goes well, you will break out, so it's important to be able to trim elapsed time to get a dead-on run if needed. Generally, racers may hold 0.01-0.04 depending on the circumstances.

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In a perfect world, you want to cross the finish line first by the smallest margin. This will give you the best shot at not breaking out. If you win by too large a margin, your chances of breaking out increase. Assuming you are ahead as you near the stripe, practice tightening the gap between you and your competitor by either blipping the throttle or dragging the brake.

In a typical 11-second car, winning by a margin of 0.055 is about a half a car length, which is considered too much by top racers. Winning by 0.020 to 0.030 is acceptable, and the best racers can win by just a wheel, almost making it a dead heat. Championship NHRA racer Sal Biondo once told me, "If you don't give one back every once in a while [meaning you try to make it so tight that your opponent gets to the stripe first], you're not making it close enough."

Let's change the scenario and assume you are chasing down your opponent—you determine that you will not catch him. What do you do? In this instance, your only hope is that he will break out. The proper technique is to keep on the gas and then cut him loose at the last second, letting him cross first. However, you want to brake to prevent a breakout on your part—the theory being you give him as little room as possible to brake and prevent his own breakout.

One of the worst ways to lose is to follow someone through when you know you're not going to cross first. This hurts, especially bad in a double-breakout (which is where both drivers break out), and that's because you can often prevent breaking out by hitting the brake.

An equally amateur move is to not look back and trim elapsed time when you're leading by a huge margin. I've seen the leading driver never turns his (or her) head and just power through the finish line, then break out when the opponent is broken on the starting line. With that, you should begin trimming elapsed time between the 1,000-foot mark and the first set of finish line markings—not once you've entered the speed trap. By then you have too much momentum and it will be too late.

Becoming a successful racer doesn't happen overnight, but the learning process sure is fun. You'll find a host of ways to lose, but eventually it will click, you'll go a few rounds, and before you know it, you'll be the one standing in the winner's circle with the cash and trophy.

The Grim Racer

Being the new guy on team MM&FF, I've worked hard to prove I can keep up with the crew. Visiting Bradenton on a Thursday night was my first chance to show that I had, in my opinion, decent driving skills. But like everyone new to the drag scene, there's always room for improvement.

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Editor Smith encouraged me to line up my '98 Cobra in the staging lanes and see what I could do. I've been to the track several times before, but this was the first time I would be critiqued. Previously I learned by trial and error.

I rolled through the waterbox and did a smoky burnout. I staged, set my rpm to 3,100, and waited for the Tree. I've never practiced power-shifting, so I stuck to what I knew—speed-shifting. On my first run, I bested a 13.49 at 105 mph, cutting a 2.0 60-foot time. I thought this was a respectable time, but after a few more passes, a 13.2-at-106-mph timeslip made its way into my hands.

Having watched my earlier runs, Smith had two pieces of advice, (1) stage shallow, and (2) raise my rpm to 4,000. According to Smith, I was launching "nice and smooth, with seemingly good feel and control," but I wasn't getting into my powerband quick enough. With my tire pressure set to 15 psi, I raised the rpm, launched, and hooked, peddling my way to the finish line.

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The timeslip showed a 13.071 at 106 mph, with a 1.86 60-foot. I shed 0.2 off my previous best just off the first run. Being able to stick with my routine but adjust one thing at a time proved to help. Unfortunately, as the evening progressed, the track conditions went away and I wasn't able to break the 12s. But you can bet I will be going back to fine-tune my driving.

Though I had previous experience racing, Smith's observation's showed me what I physically could not see. Technique and experience are two key characteristics to racing that should not be overlooked, and Smith clearly demonstrated that to me.

Kristian's Runs

1. 13.492 at 105.00 (1.98 60-foot), launched at 3,100 rpm
2. 13.342 at 106.58 (2.07 60-foot) launched at 2,900 rpm
3. 13.316 at 108.29 (1.91 60-foot), grinded Second, launched 3,200 rpm
4. 13.112 at 106.49 (1.85 60-foot), launched 3,200 rpm
5. 13.071 at 106.16 (1.88 60-foot), launched at 4,100 rpm