Disclaimer: While based on facts about drag racing, this page contains the personal views and opinions of one racer - Michael Beard
You picked a tough one this time! It's unlikely that two racers would give you the same answers to the question of how to dial your car. Dial-ins are the foundation of bracket racing. In order to win, you have to hit the tree, and run your dial right on. This is obviously made easier if your car runs the same numbers every time - which it won't. The key, then, is consistency.
Consistency will play a major part in how you dial your car. In the simplest terms, if you really did have a car that ran the same numbers every time, then your decision is easy: dial that number. Most cars will run within a couple hundredths of a second from round to round, so dial-in strategy often becomes a matter of taste. If you're starting out the way I did, though, with a 19-second car that gets a thrill out of running nearly a half-second different from round to round, dial-ins become a matter of survival. I can't tell you what to dial, but I will tell you how my cars and strategies have developed over the years.
I started bracket racing in 1990, just 16 days after I got my license, with the original "Dust Devil", a 6-cylinder Duster that ran anywhere from low 18's to high 19's in its poor lifetime. I quickly discovered that no matter what I put on the window, the car was not going to run it. To win races, I had to make the car run the number. The only way to do that was to sandbag it. Sandbagging refers to dialing in a time slower than you know the car can run. In my case, it was "hoped"! My theory was to dial one of my slowest ET's, and if the car ran slow, I could cover the dial, and if I was running quicker, I could always hit the brakes. I became infamous for winning most races on the brakes.
Note one very important thing, though: I was running in the ETK (Trophy) class, where competition is not what it is in today's Super Pro through Sportsman or Heavy classes. Sandbagging can only be effective if you have a better reaction time than your opponent. I learned to cut good lights, and that's what gave me the room to operate on top end. If your opponent has a light comparable to yours, however, you are very likely to break out if you are sandbagging. In other words, don't do it if you don't absolutely have to! I firmly believe that you will not consistently win races by sandbagging. If you do, then the competition in your class is not that great. If you feel that you do have to sandbag, it may be time to see what you can do to make your car more consistent.
Toward the end of my time running the first Dust Devil, and the beginning of my career with the Dust Devil II, my current 360-powered '74 Duster, I moved away from sandbagging to a new way of dialing the car. At that time, I noticed that the majority of drivers winning races in Heavy were running within .05 of their dial. With that in mind, I tried to determine what the slowest ET my car would be likely to run was, and then take five hundredths off of that. With a relatively consistent car, and for my rookie season in Heavy, it didn't work too bad. I usually covered the dial, and didn't break out too often, but I usually needed to have a pretty good light, which I didn't. In 1991 and 1992, my average reaction time was about .560. I knew that there was where I could win my races. Reaction times really do make a difference in your dial-in strategies in the foot-braking (no delay box) classes. Any advantage you have on the starting line gives you a bigger margin of error in your dial-in.
Now that my car is more consistent, and my lights average .520's, I seek to gain the biggest advantage I can everywhere. If you kill them on the tree and can run your number dead-on, you're going home a winner. This certainly is easier said than done, but that should be the ultimate goal. I have noticed by studying my logbook that I've been dialing the car a little soft this year, meaning that I'm dialing a number that I may be able to run quicker than given the right conditions. Most of the races that I have lost this year have been on breakouts, even though I almost always tree my opponent, and I have dramatically improved my top end racing. I have found myself on the wrong side of the subtle line of what to dial when you do have a consistent car. I had forgotten to trust my car. Trying to win rounds while working through an intermittent starting line bog made it difficult to do that, and I got in the habit of dialing the car to run slow.
Now it's time to get back to business, and make sure things work like they did last year, when I won the division championship. Things can always go better. I'm hitting the tree the same, driving better on top end, and breaking out more. It has all been in my dial-in strategy. Dialing just .01 lower would have won me many more rounds this year, since my losing MOV (margin of victory) was so often in the thousandths of a second, whereas my winning MOV was often .01 to .03, which tells me that I can safely dial the car hard. It's time to assume the car is going to run the numbers, and dial it to run one or two quick. That is what won rounds last year.
You can only truly know what to dial by experience with your particular car. To learn from your experience, you need to be able to look at the big picture - a whole season, or several seasons - to see what has worked, what hasn't, and what might.
Copyright © 1996-1999 Michael G. Beard
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