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Practice Trees


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


We have said over and over how important reaction times are to winning races. You know the theory, but still can't cut great lights, and don't get to race much. The only way to improve is to practice, and if you can't do it at the track, where can you do it? The answer lies in the practice tree.

Practice trees are small electronic boxes that simulate the starting lights at the drag strip. They allow racers to practice virtually any time and anywhere. When seat time, or real-life actual racing, is not available, racers can use these devices to keep sharp, or develop their skills. Practice trees have advanced significantly over the last few years. At first, they were simply simulating one lane of the track with LED lights. Now, trees are often dual-lane (two-player), with incandescant lights that are much closer to the real thing, and they have a large list of features.

I feel that the best trees on the market are the Final Round II and Eliminator practice trees. Of these two, I favor Biondo Racing Products' Final Round II. The tree features two lanes, win lights, four different tree modes (.500 Full and Pro Trees, and .400 Pro and Full Trees), statistics, rollout, handicap starts, delay boxes, a serial port for added a full-sized Christmas Tree, and even a delay box tester. Statistics on the Final Round II include average reaction time, quickest r/t (regardless of red lights), slowest r/t, best r/t (quickest green), and number of red-lights. The tree will keep track of the number of 'wins' each lane had, and most importantly, you can play by yourself against your own average reaction time. By racing against your own average, you are forced to improve both your quickness and consistency in order to keep winning, traits which we know are needed to win bracket races!

If you buy a practice tree, many of them come with methods for determining your vehicle's rollout. If they do not, however, perhaps you can learn the method of discovering it from this little anecdote I wrote about in my first Learning Analysis Paper for my Educational Psychology class:


"With a racing equipment catalog in one hand, and the almighty pen in the other, I ordered a practice tree. This fancy little device simulates the starting lights at the drag strip with the most precision possible. With an enormous amount of options with which to hone my driving skills, I practiced all week. The little amber bulbs flashed on the electronic box for hours until I finally achieved the ability to hit consistently quick reaction times. Once again, with unflagging determination, I returned to the track. At the end of the day, my records showed the fruits of my labors ... .540 reaction times. Frustrated with another failed hypothesis that had seemed flawless, I turned back the dilemma at hand. Simple reasoning prevailed: "If I practice and get .520's, but get .540's at the track, I must be practicing wrong!" With that sudden intuition, everything was perfectly clear to me. I changed the options on the practice tree to slow my car reaction times by the difference of two hundredths of a second, and practiced all week long again. Finally, with grim determination, I ventured back to the drag strip, and I was not surprised with the results. My reaction times were .520's all day long, and I won the entire event!"


I had been practicing with a .32 rollout, and then with a little experimentation and some simple math, I discovered that my rollout was actually .35 seconds.

Another experiment I conducted with my practice tree dealt with human reaction time. (This was the method by which I arrived at the numbers for DRT in the Reaction Time Clinic) The experiment was simplistic, but revealing. I set the practice tree on a Pro Tree (one flash of yellow and then green), and set the vehicle rollout (VRT) to .000. Since the reaction timer starts at the flash of the ambers on a Pro Tree, that was initially equal to zero. Some simple math on our equation from the Reaction Time clinic shows the easy derivation for human reaction time (DRT):


Known: r/t start = .000   VRT = .000
	r/t start + DRT + VRT = reaction time
	DRT = reaction time - r/t start - VRT
	DRT = reaction time - 0 - 0
	DRT = reaction time

Thus with a Pro Tree and a zero rollout, whatever value was reported on the practice tree was human reaction time. After many trials with both myself and friends, I discovered that human reaction time was roughly .21 seconds, give or take some error because of variations in human reactions. We later did an experiment in my Physics lab which confirmed my theories. Our lab results indicated human reaction time to be roughly .205 seconds.

One last comment. If you invest in a practice tree, and you don't race with electronics (a delay box), then get a foot pedal, too. The pedal is significantly different than the thumbswitch. It is easy to imagine that your foot cannot react as quickly and consistently as your fingers can! If you are serious about racing, I would highly recommend buying a practice tree. Not only are they great tools for developing your skills, they are great toys!


Copyright 1996-1999 Michael G. Beard

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