Racer Boy: E.T. Bracket Drag Racing, or How to actually win a race with an ‘87 Ford Taurus

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You want to do some sort of racing but you don’t have a bunch of money, a high horsepower great handling sports car, or even a helmet.  You’re in luck.  Borrow Dad’s pick-up and head to your local drag strip for some E.T. Bracket Racing.  Slow cars have an equal chance to win against fast cars based on a dial-in system where the start of the race for the faster car is delayed.  At the end of the straight line quarter mile track both cars should cross the finish line within a few thousandths of a second of one another.  First one across the line wins.  If anyone sandbags and goes faster than they should, they are disqualified for breaking out of their bracket.  Driver skill and consistency triumphs over big cash big horsepower machines.  I watched a dude in a rented Ford Focus with an automatic beat a guy in a Z06 Corvette.  How about that for some bragging rights?

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THE COST

 Most tracks holding a Wednesday night or Friday night E.T. Bracket races at the drag strip have entry fees of around $15.  With this, you usually get between one to four practice runs down the strip to figure out what your dial-in time should be.  Then, once eliminations begin, you race until you lose.  If you keep winning, you keep racing.  If you go out first round, you still had the opportunity to run down the drag strip a few times and see what your car can do (chances are the performance times won’t be quite as fast as you have been bragging to your friends). 

Since almost any car can compete, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on car preparation here.  Just clean all the crap out from under your seat (so you don’t end up with a can of Red Bull lodged under the brake pedal) and wash your windows.  If you’re lucky enough to own a street car that has some pretty good performance to it, meaning it runs a quarter mile time of 13.99 seconds or less, you will need a helmet.  I/O Port Racing Supplies (www.ioportracingsupplies.com) can set you up with one for less than a pair of basketball shoes.

SANCTIONING BODY

 The National Hot Rod Association (www.nhra.com) has been doing this since the first town in America had two Model T’s.  They have a great series which ranges from the hobby racer (that’s you and me) racing mom’s Buick in E.T. Bracket Racing to the pros, like the Bernstein’s (no, not the bears, the drag racers), who race heads up for the fastest time.  There are some other series as well, like the nostalgia racing guys (old dudes, racing old rear wheel drive cars) American Nostalgia Racing Association (www.anra.com) or the import racers (young dudes, racing new front wheel drive cars) Import Drag Racing Circuit (www.importdrag.com).  I’ve found that most tracks and most series run the same rules.  If you have a stock street car (one that doesn’t have the battery held down by a bungee cord) and you’re dressed in normal street clothes (shorts and flip flops won’t cut it –long pants and a sleeved shirt minimum) you will probably breeze through tech.  At least check to make sure you have all of your lug nuts on the car (you’d be surprised how much this actually comes up during drag race tech inspection).

THE HIGH

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We have all blasted from a stop sign and accelerated from zero to the speed limit just to see how hard our car will pull.  Drag racing at the track isn’t much different than that.  You won’t get much adrenaline in your veins from the actual acceleration, unless you’ve built some nitrous sucking monster, then you might get that gut into the rear of the seat feeling.  The adrenaline in E.T. Bracket racing comes from cutting a good light (good reaction time on the tree) and from beating your competition.  This is where drag racing gives instant gratification.  Two people are in this race, only one will win.  Who is it going to be?  You?  Or the guy next to you doing a fifty dollar burn out just to intimidate you before the race?  Only after a full throttle, gear grinding, 1,320 foot run will you know who is victorious.

CAR WEAR

E.T. Bracket Racing the average street ride isn’t really any harder on a car than leaving a stop light aggressively or accelerating onto the freeway.  I say this in reference to mid level average cars.  Your buddy’s 1970 Chevelle, with the big block and the sticky rear tires, could break a driveshaft universal joint or an axle.  The drag strip is lined with concrete walls but they are very rarely touched by E.T. Bracket racers running a standard Friday night grudge match.  The faster cars, cars running the 9.90 index, yeah, they occasionally bounce down the track like a pinball, but those are fast dedicated racecars which aren’t depended on to get anyone to work on Monday morning.

YOUR DAY

After shining your ride, checking your air pressure and making sure you actually do have all of your lug nuts, you will head to your local track and get in line.  Drag Racing is all about the lines.  You wait in line to register (Name, License, Car, Color, Class you’re racing in –probably Street) then you wait in line for technical inspection (Is your car leaking a quart of oil per half hour?) and then wait in line again for your runs down the track.  Prior to the drag strip track is the staging area.  This is where your car sits, and sits and sits, waiting for your turn to go down the track.  DO NOT LEAVE YOUR CAR ALONE HERE.  Stay with your ride.  The lines move randomly and sooner or later, before you know it, the line your car is in is trying to move toward the track, only it can’t, because you’re a half mile away flirting with the girl who sells hot dogs and asking if she likes drag racers (she doesn’t).  You are holding up the entire event and nobody likes a newb.

Once you make it up to the end of the line, a starter will direct you to the left or right lane.  Do what he says.  You don’t get to pick your lane yet, Mr. Force.  There will be an area for doing a quick burn out to heat your tires once the starter motions for you to do so.  It’s your choice if you want to power brake and make some tire smoke.  Some tracks don’t allow cars that have treaded tires to go into the water box.  Know before you go if this is allowed at your track.  Once you’re done making tire smoke and impressing the hot dog girl with your one legged front tire burn out in your Civic, move up toward the staging lights on the Christmas tree.

Click for Larger Image

 

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Staging is the name of the game, you don’t want to screw this up, and it is probably the most important thing to understand before going to the drag strip for a first timer.  Move forward slowly until you see the top lights “Pre-Staged” come on for your side.  Stop, then inch forward slowly until the second set comes on “Staged.”  Stop, you are staged.  Hang loose, wait for your competitor to stage, then as the three yellow lights start to come on one at a time, get ready to leave on the last yellow light.  Gas it and have fun.  Work through the gears and pay attention to stay on your side of the track.  Once you go through the finish line a quarter of a mile later (or eighth of a mile depending on the racetrack) watch for the turn out.  You will exit the track and drive very slowly to the timing slip trailer.  You will pick up your timing slip (like you pick up a Big Mac at the McDonalds drive-thru) and then head back to the staging lanes.

You will probably get about two or three practice runs.  After you’re done with all three, you will write down your dial-in on your windshield and side window with shoe polish.  If you ran three runs: 15.01, 14.90, and 14.75 seconds, respectively, I would recommend dialing-in at 14.60.  That gives you a little comfort room in case the track starts to get faster as the evening wears on.  For your first race you may go up against a car that is dialed-in at 13.90, for instance.  The two of you will stage and the lights on your side of the tree will drop 0.70 seconds prior to your competition.  You leave first and he has to play catch-up.  If either one of you leaves the starting line too early you will earn a red light and lose the race.  If either one of you goes faster than your dial-ins, that is called a “break out” and you will lose the race.  If you each leave the line clean and stay within your brackets then it is the first one across the line who will be the winner.  If the win light is on your side, celebrate, pick up your timing slip (you may use that information to change your dial-in before the next round) and head back to the staging lanes for your next race.  If the win light is on the other guy’s (or gal’s) side, head to the bathrooms to get some toilet paper and clean the shoe polish off your windshield, because you are heading home.  Yes, this is what it feels like to be a loser.  Drag racing will definitely teach you that.

But if you keep winning, you’ll keep racing, you never know, you might win the whole darn thing.

THE PEOPLE

Most drag racers I’ve raced with are just that, drag racers.  They love their sport and don’t feel the need to branch out into anything different, you know, like a corner.  Drag racers are good folks though.  They will help you learn how to stage, let you borrow some shoe polish (give it back!) and look at your timing slips and help you come up with a nice average dial-in time for your car.  Out of all of the motorsports community I would say that these guys know the most about how to get power from an engine.  Listen to these guys.  A lot of road racers could benefit from having a drag racer in the paddock dealing with the motor.

There is an old saying, Drag Racing is for fast cars and Road Racing is for fast drivers.  That’s all fine and dandy until your 21 year old ass gets left at the line by a guy in his 60s who has been drag racing the same Maverick for thirty years and can cut a light like a pro, over and over again, consistently.  You’ll learn quickly that there is a lot more to good E.T. Bracket Racing than just mashing your right foot to the floor.

GLORY

It all comes down to the win light.  When it pops on your side you feel like the man.  When it pops on the other side of the track you want to go home and kick your dog.  The end of that 1,320 foot track has two people feeling totally different emotions, one glorious, the other disappointment.  If you win race after race (round after round), and get down to the final few cars, at most tracks, you will be taking home a trophy.  How cool is that?  One night of racing and you’re bringing home some wood?  Not too shabby.  In other race series you have to compete for an entire season and win a championship just to get a sixteen dollar plastic trophy.  At the drag strip, if you win it all, you can earn a three foot trophy in one night after only paying a $15 entry fee. 

The only draw back to a big trophy is as much as we men love this kind of crap, most wives, girlfriends and moms think trophies are ridiculous.  I know you want to put that sucker over the fireplace, but it’s probably going to live in the garage next to your first grade t-ball participation trophy.

OH, YOU WANT TO WIN, DO YA?

E.T. Bracket Racing can be won with a single word: consistency.  You don’t have to be fast, you don’t need a Mustang with a $3,000 supercharger.  What you need to do is just go down the track the same every time and run your number.  Bring a slow car (one that doesn’t break traction at the line) with an automatic transmission.  A car with a five speed and a lot of horsepower is difficult to get off the line without burning up the tires.  It can be done, but done over and over again within a thousandth of a second is very tough.  A slow car with an automatic is easy to drive.  You floor the gas, let the tranny make the shifts and the win light will be on your side.

Reaction time.  Practice makes perfect here.  You can’t be asleep at the wheel at the drag strip.  Your head has to be in the game.  On a 5 tenths tree, when the tungsten begins to glow on that third yellow light -LEAVE!  If you wait for the green light, your reaction time will look like Bob Marley’s (You don’t want a reggae reaction, Mon).

Another trick up the sleeve of a good E.T. Bracket racer is braking at the end of the track.  Remember, you don’t have to be the closest to your dial-in to win the race; you just have to cross the finish line first without breaking out of your dial-in time.  So if you are way ahead of the other car at the end of the track, touch the brakes (like a little drag racing insurance policy) to make sure you don’t break out.  You’ll still cross the line first, with a guarantee you didn’t go too fast, and the win will be yours.  You get back in line for the next round and your competition drives home punching his dashboard.

RACER BOY GAUGE

Let’s review the Racer Boy gauge cluster here:

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FUEL (Cost): The fuel gauge is below full because a Wednesday night E.T. Bracket Race is super cheap.  It would cost more money to go watch John Force race than it would to race the same track a week later yourself.

RPMs (Adrenaline): The tachometer is at 4,200 RPMs because competition gets your adrenaline flowing.  Obviously the faster the car you bring, the more adrenaline you can get from hard acceleration down the strip.  But E.T. Bracket racing is less about the ride down the quarter mile and more about winning the race itself.  When the win light flashes on your side, you are jacked!

MPH (Danger): The Speedometer is around 55 mph because as they said in the 70s “55 Stay Alive.”  This is very safe racing.  I’ve never seen anyone crash an E.T. Bracket car that was a dedicated street car running anything above 13’s in the quarter.

VOLTS (Time): The volts gauge is above three quarters because you don’t need to spend all that much time and effort getting ready for an E.T. Bracket race.  Just kick the tires and light the fires.  I spent more time washing my car before a drag race than I did tuning it up.

MILEAGE (Car Wear): The mileage is at around 2,000 miles because you can burn up some rear tires (or front for you Honda boys) and leaving the line hard can be tough on the drive train.  I have never seen anyone driving an unmodified street car have any mechanical problems at the drag strip.  Obviously, more modifications and more power equals more chance for breakage.

E.T. Bracket Drag Racing is your chance to race head to head with another competitor and feed your need for speed while not getting the attention of Johnny Law.  Always drag race at the track and you too could be the next John Force (or Ashley Force depending on your genitalia).  So stop bench racing and telling your friends that your Mazdaspeed 3 does the quarter mile in twelve seconds (it doesn’t).  Go to the track and see what she’s got.

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16 Responses to “Racer Boy: E.T. Bracket Drag Racing, or How to actually win a race with an ‘87 Ford Taurus”

  1. August 31, 2009 at 3:14 pm #

    I understand the angle here is cheap racing fun… but Bracket Racing is booooring…

    Drag Racing should be simply who gets to the finish line first…

    without flipping onto their roofs to do so. (I am still too pumped up from LeMons… sorry)

  2. Racerb
    September 1, 2009 at 4:13 pm #

    Bracket racing is the back bone of dragracing now it's the only way that the average racers can be competive.
    Don't knock it if you can't do it.

    • September 2, 2009 at 1:45 am #

      Jeff. Thanks for the comments, which LeMons team are you with?

      I really like the open discussion and debate on different Racer Boy topics and encourage people to give their feelings and passion for their sport. If you think the mileage a race puts on a car is way different than I have stated, let us all know so we can each benefit.

      DISCLAIMER: I didn't want anyone to confuse me with "Racerb" and his comments, which I appreciate and actually agree with, however I just didn't want anyone to believe I had posted that comment, (I'll rarely comment since you guys have already had to endure 2,500 words of my endless dribble). Racerb and Racer_Boy -Rob Krider, are two different folks (with apparently the same passions).

      With that lengthy and ridiculous political statement now stated. Let the bench racing continue.

      • September 2, 2009 at 2:58 pm #

        The CSI:Miami 633 bimmer that spent more time in the pits…

        I did get to watch the final few laps from the grandstands though which was cool.

        My team is addicted after this our first LeMons experience… we have already registered for Thunderhill and are working on a new theme.

        In regards to bracket racing, I have never found it that exciting… I understand the skill involved and I dont want to discount that aspect of it. People who have the tree down and know how to dial in are extremely skilled at what they do. I just prefer other forms of seeing who is faster and in my head standard drag racing is the purest form of that concept. "You bring a car and I will bring a car, and we will run them down the street…" that mentality is appealing more so then, "You do some math, and I will do some math…"

  3. Old6rodder
    September 1, 2009 at 5:35 pm #

    Don't be too quick to pooh pooh bracket, it can be raced two ways successfully.

    The first is often referred to as "fender racing" and is a skill in it's own right, taking time to master as does any skill. You dial in below what you and your car can do and "fender race" the top end. This is what is described in the article regarding backing off as needed at the traps. The win is a win is a win, and the trophies do look good next to your old T-ball trophies.

    If you feel the way the first poster does (as do many older racers, including myself) you simply dial in at what you and your car can actually do, then do it every run just like it's been done since the fifties. Brackets are won just as easily by this long standing method as the other way. The wins are every bit as satisfying (even more so for some in that you beat'em your way) and the trophies look just as good in the garage next our old slot car trophies as they do the T-baller's.

  4. September 2, 2009 at 1:53 am #

    Rob never thought about the Racerb thing Sorry about that been Racerb for years, We "ANRA" have been pushing the Nostalgia sportsman brackets and Index racing. Anyone thats interested check out the web site http://www.anra.com
    Thanks for the space.
    Butch

  5. September 3, 2009 at 9:16 am #

    Thanks for checking out drag racing. Hope to see you at the races again. It’s fun and addictive, and it’s way safer than racing on the streets. Fire up the next pair! bp

  6. September 6, 2009 at 10:17 pm #

    I am reminded of a story I heard about the High School Drags our local strip held a few years back. The guy who won it all owned a slushbox Escort with three working cylinders — it was so incredibly, consistently slow, that he could hit his dial-in time to within a hundredth or two each time down the track… much to the chagrin of the Mustang and Camaro-racing kids he was running against.

  7. Chris Walters
    December 9, 2009 at 12:14 am #

    Winning 20k in a season bracket racing is what really makes it fun. This is my hobby that has payed for itself since I started in 2002.

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