Evan J. Smith
Mustang360 Network Content Director
November 26, 2013
Contributers: David Hakim

Hooking hard on the starting line is something every drag racer aspires to do. A good “leave” is essential to a quick elapsed time and racers work long and hard to find that perfect setup. On often overlooked thing is the track itself. To learn more about starting line prep, we spent a few minutes with Lanny Miglizzi, who’s job it is to read the starting line and predict its performance to the John Force Racing Team. And while, those 10,000-hp Funny Cars may not relate directly to your weekend warrior, his information on trap prep is invaluable.

We had a chance to catch up with Lanny Miglizzi from John Force Racing. For those of you who ever watched a NHRA national event from the stands or on ESPN2, you’ve probably seen Miglizzi going about his business checking the track conditions before John Force Racing’s guided missiles make a pass. Miglizzi can been seem laying down on the track checking the conditions of the surface, or using one of his many tools of the trade that give him valuable data in which he radios back to the crew chiefs in the staging lanes or pits.

What you probably didn’t know is how he got started in this crazy profession and how he captures valuable data on the ever-changing track conditions with his tools of the trade. Better yet, what Miglizzi looks for to help the JFR nitro cars get down the track can also be applied to Sportsman and even Bracket racers as you look to get the best hook at the strip. In racing, knowledge is power so here’s a quick education on what to look for during your next trip to the track.

MM&FF: How did you get started in being a track specialist, how many years have you been doing this, and who was your mentor when determining your career path in motorsports?

LM: I started learning the race track in 1982. I had worked at L&T clutches for a year when a few of our clutch customers began telling me that the rebuilt, resurfaced clutch they had just sent in to us wasn’t consistent on the race track. I knew the clutch was right, because I had just had it in my possession. That meant something else had to be wrong. In their opinion, the track didn’t change from am to pm throughout a sunny, blue sky day. I thought that must be incorrect. As the day goes on, you have to make adjustments. At times we would have 75 clutch customers throughout one race weekend. That gave me plenty of opportunities to touch the track, gain experience and work with each crew chief. My mentor was Tony, my dad. With him I started go-karting just before 5 years old. Then the drag strip when he started racing his gas-powered flathead dragster with the UFRA (United Flathead Racers Association) in 1971. We raced each weekend at Irwindale, Lions and Orange County. Then in 1981 I started working with him at L&T clutches, where I stayed until 1998.

MM&FF: What are the tools of your trade, what do they measure and how you use them?

LM: The tools of the trade include:
Temperature guns- for measuring the racing surface (how hot or cold)
Grippo track meter- for getting an accurate number on the grip.
Example: track temp of 140 degrees; 100-in/lbs and greasy rubber, or 75 degrees; 450 in/lbs and firm rubber.
My thumb- for feeling the rubber’s resistance, or lack of.
Binoculars- for observing the cars wheel speed and if it was in the groove down course. Also used days before the event when laying down on the creeper with Traxxas radio controlled cars looking and mapping any imperfections on the race track.
Light meter- for checking how bright the sun is or how thick the clouds are.
Radar gun- for the speed of NHRA’s sprayer. The faster it runs the less glue hits the track. Slower equals more spray.
Tape measure and chalk- for marking a spot where the crew chiefs want the car positioned on the starting line for the launch.
Camera- For a photo of the first car length to see how much bald area the car may have been in. Within a couple of minutes after the run, we can develop that photo on the starting line.
Radios- At least three radios; one to hear NHRA and everything they say, the other two are for our crew chiefs and other team members.
Gauge for checking weather and wind speed.

MM&FF: Many bracket racers and even Sportsman racers don’t have many of your “gadgets” to gauge track conditions. If you could recommend just one tool from your arsenal of equipment, what would it be?

LM: If I recommended just one tool from our arsenal of equipment, it would be a temperature gun. It’s quick, accurate and simple to use.

MM&FF: Which drag strip is the most challenging to “read” and why?

LM: Even though it’s one of my favorites, zMax Dragway in Concord, North Carolina is the most challenging to read because there are four lanes. Its 5,400 feet of race track to lay down on and inspect, only a few feet at a time.

MM&FF: What makes for a good track and starting line?

LM: A great race track and starting line will have a close-to-glassy finish for more surface area with an extra small bit of texture to help rubber bond to it. And it must be flat as it can be so the wheelie bar can do its job with no extra ups and downs.

MM&FF: When eyeballing the track, what do you look for, and what are your instincts? Do they ever conflict to what your gauges are measuring?

LM: When I eyeball the track, I look for how the rubber is bonding. Is it dry? Is it sticky enough? It’s firmness: Is it good, okay, or great for the temp? Example: It could be 100 degrees, but will feel or act like 80 degrees, or even 120 degrees. Things sometimes are conflicting. The groove should pull you out, but cars drive in as they go down course. Or, grippo says it’s a certain number, but by thumb or by foot, it feels a lot less or more. So, common sense, experience and instincts take over.

MM&FF: Can Sportsman Racers use more than just their feet and eyes for checking which groove on the starting line has most adhesion?

LM: For all categories, including sportsman, they can use more than their feet and eyes for checking what groove on the starting line has the most adhesion by eyeballing what lane has the most rubber versus what lane has the most bald spots, meaning concrete showing where the rubber has been taken off. Also, remember Sportsman racers do not have much, or any, time to walk the track like the professional categories.

MM&FF: What should Sportsman Racers look for when checking track conditions?

LM: When checking track conditions, sportsman racers should looks:
Starting line bald spots: Bald gives you more wheel speed versus all rubber would give you less wheel speed or more hook.
All-important track temp
When did they last spray?
Thickness of the rubber (thin is better than thick)
Car count on the first run. The track doesn’t have the quality rubber like their second qualifying session would.
Watch the sky. Blue skies warm the track and clouds cool the track.
Pay more attention to the air and wind speed.
Many Sportsman racers don’t like to be the first pair out after the tracked has just been sprayed, why is that?
Sportsman racers don’t like being the first pair out after the track is sprayed because, most likely, the car can hook too hard and pull the front end up too high, or simply changes the initial movement where they may not see those conditions again. The track is sprayed approximately 5-6 times per day. Or they are concerned the official did not prep correctly.

MM&FF: What’s one piece of advice would you pass on to Sportsman and bracket racers when it comes to getting a handle on ever-changing track conditions during a race weekend?

LM: First, listen to NHRA on their radio channel for a heads-up on track prep throughout the day and evening, but most importantly, adjust tire pressure and/or launch rpm more often for changing track conditions.