Bracket Racing 101: Keep Your Pace To Win The Race
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One day last season I was having a conversation at Englishtown with a fellow bracket racer. The racer had just lost an early round, and I asked how the round went down. “My opponent double-bulbed me, so I rushed to get in. I went red.”

Each racer has their own routine and pacing when at the track. Whether you like to get to the track early and unload with time to spare, or arrive as cars are being called into the lanes, whether you go up to the lanes at the first call or you wait until the last, we all race within our own comfort zones. However, because of all the different comfort zones operating simultaneously at the track, we also need to be adaptive when things don’t go the way we’d like. After all, the ultimate goal isn’t having everything go the way we’d like; it’s winning the race. The adaptive racer will be in a better position to win rounds. If you win enough of them, you’re winning the race. Maybe keeping your pace won’t ensure a win, but losing your pace won’t help.

In the case of the racer cited above, she did not adapt to a difference in pace. She allowed the pace of another racer to influence her own pace, which took her out of her comfort zone. When she told me what happened, my advice to her was to stop her car as soon as she was double-bulbed, collect her thoughts for a second, breathe, and run through the next steps in her head so that her mind was ahead of the race.

I’ve seen the same sort of thing happen in the lanes. Two racers get paired up for a round, and one jumps in their car and rushes up to the head of the lanes while the other driver is still checking their tire pressure. Whether the first racer is rushing things intentionally or not isn’t the issue. That racer has every right to operate at their own pace, but by the same token the second racer shouldn’t all of a sudden feel rushed, possibly forgetting to check the pressure in the other slick or even forgetting to write the dial on the car in the process.

I witnessed another example of rushing the pace recently at a big money bracket race in the Northeast. As I waited for next round I was at the starting line watching the tail end of the current round. A racer who deep-stages pulled in to the water box and waited for the previous pair to leave the line and for the official to give the ‘go’ sign to start the burnout (side-note: the rule at this race—which mirrors the rule in NHRA Division 1—was that the word “deep” could not appear on the car, and although deep-staging was being permitted, the track would not honor deep staging by holding the tree. If you were deep-staging at this event and wanted to make sure the tree didn’t come down on you, you had to rush in first). The racer cited here did just that at the expense of checking his dial-in. Sure enough the dial was wrong. Instead of the 10.53 on his window, he was dialed at 10.43, a number he could never run. Needless to say he lost that round. Had he been operating at his own pace he would have caught the error and at least would have been in the race.

Rushing at one point can come back to bite you at a later point. Case in point: dial-ins. Racers who are rushing have a tendency to write their dial-ins almost illegibly. Then the tower can’t read the dial as the car pulls past on the way to the water. As the official in the tower is getting out the binoculars to see the car better, it’s now enveloped in burnout smoke. Then the racer is pulling up to the line, and their dial still isn’t up on the boards. If they stage now, they might be accepting an incorrect dial, just like the racer cited above. Unlike his example, all this would have been avoided if the racer had taken the time to write the dial clearly while still in the lanes, and then paused at the point closest to the tower so they could make sure to get it right.

Take your time, breathe, keep your mind ahead of the race and go through your routine as carefully and deliberately as possible. Winning rounds is hard enough as it is; don’t make it harder than it has to be.

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