Bracket Racing 101

Bracket racing, the racing format employed at the Richter Pass Motorplex, dates back to the ‘60s. It is considered the “grass roots” level of drag racing and is designed to level the playing field between modest cars and high-dollar cars. Bracket racing allows anyone to race (subject to basic safety items) and potentially to win.

This form of racing places the emphasis on the driver rather than on the vehicle. It has now become the most competitive form of drag racing in the world, with the largest number of competitors.

The basic principles of bracket racing are as follows: You are given several time trials, which are used just as practice and to see what times your vehicle will run. These runs are used to test the performance of the vehicle for that day under the conditions that exist (weather, traction and vehicle tune-up, etc.) Changes to your tune up, tire pressure and suspension, etc. can be done between rounds. You may change your “dial-in” at any time. Smart drag racers will not make any changes to their vehicle for the last two or three time-trials. You will see why in a moment.

The elimination (actual racing) rounds are a single-round knock-out pitting you against one other driver. If you win, you advance to the second round of elimination. If you lose, you are done for the day. In the event of an uneven number of cars one car will be given a bye run (single pass). Although there is no opponent the car must run. It the driver red-lights or breaks out he or she is eliminated.

Based on your practice runs you must try and predict the exact time that your vehicle will run. Your opponent will have done the same. This time is displayed on your car window and is known as your “dial-in”. When two vehicles compete the dial-ins are compared and one is subtracted from the other. The slower car gets that much of a head start. For example, if car No. 1 has a dial-in of 8.5 seconds and car No. 2 has a dial-in of 8.0 seconds, car No. 2 will get the green light .5 seconds after car No. 1. This handicap is timed into the lights so it is important to only concentrate on your set of lights while ignoring the opponent’s lights. The theory is if the two cars have identical reaction times and run right on their dial-in, they will arrive at the finish at exactly the same time. In practicality, this never happens. Reaction times will differ, and the vehicle may run quicker or slower than predicted.

Reaction times refer to your reaction to the Christmas Tree. The Christmas Tree has various series of lights. Starting at the top of the Christmas Tree there are two small white bulbs labeled pre-stage. (Pre­-stage lights are not currently being used at RPM but will be in future). When your vehicle front wheel(s) interrupts an infrared beam at the start line the pre stage light will come on. Inching ahead to interrupt a second bean will light the second set of small white bulbs. This second beam is called the stage light. You are now ready to race. When both vehicles have staged the starter will initiate the starting procedure. Three yellow lights will illuminate from top to bottom at intervals of exactly .500 seconds, and then the green light will light. This is also at a .500 second interval after the final yellow light). Theoretically, you leave on the green but our brain must react to the light and this takes time. It also takes time from your car to react. It is therefore widely recognized that you should leave when the final yellow is displayed. If you leave too early, the Christmas Tree will automatically illuminate the bottom red light. Should this happen you will be eliminated and the win goes to your opponent (assuming he did not “red light”).

Time trials are the time that you should use to practice on the tree. A red light start is meaningless during time trials. You will not be disqualified so feel free to experiment with your starts. Your reaction time is listed on your time slip. A perfect light is .500 second. Any number above this is the amount of time you were late in leaving. Anything from .500-.550 second is considered to be good. Anything higher (i.e. .689) is considered to be asleep at the tree.

Reaction times are obviously a huge part of winning (or losing) races. They are also perhaps the most difficult part of drag racing, although it sounds relatively simple. If your opponent “cuts” a better light he or she has already opened up a lead on you by the amount of the discrepancy. This can and will make all of the difference. If you cut a good light and your opponent is slow this is called “putting a hole shot on him.” Visit to practice.

“Why shouldn’t I put a high dial-in on my car and get a huge head start?” you may ask. Here’s the trick: If you run faster that your dial-in, you lose! This is called a “break out.” Basically this means that you want to guess exactly what the car will run. If you guess far quicker than your vehicle will 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 “sand bagging,” it is very likely that you will break out and lose.

In the event of a double break out (more common than you might think) the vehicle that breaks out the least is the winner. I run a 7.99 on an 8.00 dial in, you run a 8.45 on an 8.50 dial in. I broke out by 1/100 sec you broke out by 5/100 sec. I win. Yippee!!!

There are some instances where you will be on the brakes at the finish line. If you think you might break out, slow your car at the top end but ensure you cross the finish ahead of your opponent. This will minimize the risk of losing by break out.

See you at the races!