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Introduction to Bracket Racing

Disclaimer: While based on facts about drag racing, this page contains the personal views and opinions of one racer - Michael Beard

ET Racing, or Bracket Racing as it is commonly called, is the "grass roots" level of drag racing. It was started as an alternative to the high-dollar class racing of the 60's and 70's, even into today. Bracket racing allows almost anyone to race, on a fairly even playing field. This variety of the sport places much more emphasis on the driver than the car itself. It has now become the most competitive form of drag racing in the world, with the largest number of competitors.

Bracket racing has even evolved to the point where there are some drivers who are professional bracket racers, who travel to all the big money races, and are good enough to actually make a living at it. More and more $5,000 and $10,000 to win races are popping up all over the nation. For most, though, bracket racing is more of a hobby.

Division 1 Super Pro standout Jim Segner

ET racers have a very wide range of opportunities in building their cars, as there are few regulations regarding engine specs, etc. Most of the rules are safety related, rather. The cars are split up into classes, dependent on how fast the cars run in the quarter-mile. Rules vary throughout the seven divisions of the NHRA, which cover the entire US, as well as parts of Canada. In Division 1, the Northeast Division, the classes are separated into Super Pro, Heavy, and Bike. Most tracks also have a Street or Trophy class as well, like my track's ETK (Elapsed Time King of the Street) class. In the last couple years, Junior Dragster classes have become all the rage: 1/2 scale dragsters powered by 5 horsepower Briggs & Stratton motors for kids up to 15 years old.

All right, here's the real basic principles of bracket racing. At a race, you are given several time trials, which are used just as practice, and to see what times your car runs. In eliminations, which are single elimination tournament style, it's you against one other racer. You select a time that you think your car will run. That's called your dial-in. When two cars compete, they subtract the dial-ins, and the slower car gets that much of a head start. The theory is that if both drivers get identical reaction times, and both run what they predicted, they will meet right at the finish line... a tie. In practicality, this never happens. Reaction times will differ, and the car may run quicker or slower than predicted.

Reaction times are a huge part of winning (or losing!) races. They are also perhaps the most difficult part of drag racing, although it seems deceptively simple. We'll cover the basics of the starting system and reaction times in The Reaction Time Clinic.

Now you say, "Why don't I just dial-in at 18 seconds, and I'll get a big head start and win?" There's the trick. If you run quicker than your dial, you lose! This is called a breakout. Basically, this means that you want to guess exactly what the car will run. If you guess far quicker than what the car can run, you won't be able to run fast enough, and your opponent can easily beat you to the finish. If you guess far slower, a practice called sandbagging, it is very likely that you will break out and lose.

There are many complex situations that arise from these handicapping rules. What happens if both cars break out? In this case, the car that runs out the least wins. How can someone win if they didn't cross the finish line first? If the other car breaks out more than you do, or he runs out and you don't, you win, no matter how much he beat you to the line by. Because of the possibility of breaking out, there are actually many instances where you will hit the brakes to win! This is covered in what we call Top-end Tactics.

(Boldface words are included in a quick-reference guide)

Special Topic Discussions:

Here are three research papers that I wrote for my Educational Psychology class (ED302 - Prof. Zook) that relate to the driver's mental perception of drag racing. I feel that the studies helped my driving. Check them out.

The Psychology of Drag Racing

Copyright 1996-1999 Michael G. Beard

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