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Beard's Top-end Tactics

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

Bracket racing has two really tough parts to it, the starting line, and the finish line. We talk about the starting line in The Reaction Time Clinic. Here, we go to other end of the track, commonly called the top-end. Top-end racing is arguably the tougher of the two. I feel this way because a driver can systematically work on his reaction times and discover the proper method for him with repeated practice, or defer to using a delay box. Top-end racing is almost always an instinct game, or simply a learned skill.

It is harder to 'learn the finish line' because there are so many different things that can happen on the top-end. Competitors will have different reaction times, changing their relative positions at the finish, and how close (+/-) each car runs to its dial will also change this factor. In short, how do cope with so many different possiblities?

If you've read and understand the principles of the handicapping of bracket racing, you should already realize one thing: The general startegy is to get to the finish line first, by the least amount of time possible to minimize the chances of a breakout. There is a time to deviate from this rule, though. This is the tactic called dumping.

There is a certain time when you should consider dumping your opponent. If you know that your opponent is going to hit the finish line first, then the race is in his control. The only option you have is to simply avoid breaking out. If your opponent is going to hit the finish line first, and not break out, then he will win, regardless of what you do. If he is on a breakout pass, however, you want to maximize his breakout while minimizing your own. To do this, make sure that your opponent hits the finish line, and then lift off the throttle or hit the brakes to avoid breaking out yourself.

A harder decision to make is whether or not to dump someone if you are going to finish first. If you think both of you are breaking out, you may decide to actually let your opponent around you by lifting or hitting the brakes. There are some indicators that will help you make this decision. If you think you had a better reaction time than your opponent, and you are even at the lights, then there is a chance that even if you are both on a breakout run that your opponent will break out more than you, especially if you dump him!

Despite this one tip, which is far from all-encompassing, top end racing really comes down to your own intuition, skills, and practices. There are two other top end related ideas that come to mind, both of which deal with the driver's perception of where his opponent is in relation to himself.

Once again, these are merely ideas that I have, or ideas that other drivers have used or suggested. The first and most important concept that I use to judge my opponents with is relational. I have a thin shoe polish line on my side windows. I have this line in such a place so that when both of us are Pre-staged (and therefore even on the line), I see where my mark falls on his car. When we are going through the lights, I try to keep my opponent just behind the line, thus leading him through by the least amount possible.

Another factor in judging top end is track position: where are the cars located on the track (left to right in their respective lanes)? The distance betwen the cars makes a big difference in how you see how far ahead or behind you are. If you are 10 feet ahead of your oppenent, and 20 feet away from him, there is a much different angle between the cars from your perspective than if you are 10 feet ahead and 30 feet apart. It is an appreciable difference. The closer the cars are together, the greater the angle between them for a given distance of one ahead of or behind the other! Thus the closer you are, the easier it is to judge your opponent, since you can distinguish relative distances more easily.

Let me present the argument again, in a slightly clearer manner. If the cars are far apart, and you are 5 feet ahead of him, what is the angle between you? What if you are 10 feet ahead of him? The difference in these two angles is not as great as if the cars were close. If the cars are close and you are 5 feet ahead, the angle is more easily distinguishable from the angle if the two cars were close but you led by 10 feet! It all comes down to perception.

This driving style has its uses, advantages, and disadvantages. The advantage is that you can judge your opponent better if you are closer to him. The disadvantage is that your opponent can judge you better, too! One example of a simple use for this knowledge is this: When I ran in the 1994 NHRA Division 1 Bracket Finals at Maple Grove Raceway, I knew that I might have a problem judging cars on top end. The cars are close together at Beaver Springs Dragway, my home track, but the lanes are extremely wide at Maple Grove since it is a National Event track. I helped myself with the concepts I presented here on perception. In order to counteract the distance between the cars a bit, I made a beeline from the starting line to the inside part of the lane at the finish. In other words, I stayed close to the centerline to minimize the distance between me and my opponents.

Armed with a little background on top-end racing, it is now up to you to go out and race, practice, and formulate your own ideas on how best to race the top end!

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

Copyright 1996-1999 Michael G. Beard

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