Episode 3: Three Things to Improve Your Starting Line Game

Welcome to, “The Winner’s Circle: A Drag Racing Podcast”. I’m your host, Leroy Leese. Our goal is to help you win more rounds at the track by sharing tips and tricks.

This episode is brought to you by DragTracker.com, an online logbook serving the racing community through tools and technology. For this episode, we are going to cover the top three things to improve your starting line game. This is episode three, but before we dig in, I want to encourage you to check us out at DragTracker.com. On the right side of the website is a voicemail link – if you click that link you can leave me a voicemail and share stories or questions for a future topic on the show. Also to leave a comment about this episode go to DragTracker.com/podcast and click on Episode 3. There you will find a transcript with links and notes from the show. Finally, we put a YouTube version of each podcast. So if you want to leave a comment there, feel free to do so on our YouTube Channel. You can also ask questions and interact, we’d love to hear from you. That’s at youtube.com/dragtracker.

Alright – so let’s jump right in. Top three things to improve your starting line game. A couple months ago – I got to watch video footage of me drag racing when I first started racing and I looked like an amateur. I have to admit it – when I saw the video I was really surprised at how much it looked like I didn’t know what I was doing. What I mean by that is when I saw the car pull out of the burnout box, and as the car made its way up to the starting line, I really didn’t have any purpose or reason behind what I was doing. I just kind of wandered up there until I got to the first staging bulb and then I really wasn’t sure if I should be bringing up the RPM yet and I drifted into the staging beams. It just looked crazy. It didn’t look consistent. Right now it is January and we have had record lows, I haven’t been in the racecar in months but I can tell you exactly everything I do. I have a plan for exactly how to get myself ready – everything I do from the burnout to the finish line. It all has a certain order. What is great about that is that it makes everything consistent. If there is a breakage while I’m on the starting line or someone oils down the track – nothing messes me up because I just pick up where ever I was at in the routine or I start the routine over. That is why I wanted to go over these top three things that you need to improve your starting line game – you actually need to make sure you HAVE A GAME – a game PLAN. So that is what we are going to go through.

The first little nugget of information I want to share with you. This one is worth everything you have paid for admission and that is:

Focus inside the bulb.

Here is some background on this. Back when I started racing in the mid 90’s – they used incandescent bulbs. So when you looked into the bulb – you could actually see the filament glow. And that was what I used to make me consistent whether it was night time or day time. If I was focusing so much that I could see the actual filament glow – that meant that I was reacting as quickly as possible to the very first thing I saw. And we thought that would make me consistent from week to week, track to track. Tracks setup their Christmas Trees slightly different, some have the bottom two bulbs slightly inset or maybe the top bulbs are inset – they are all different. They are different spaces apart – so you need to have something that helps you really focus. One of my things was to focus inside the bulb. Now, it has changed a little bit because they are LED and there is nothing to see “start glowing” they are all instantly on. But I use the same technique. So I’m staring, if I can see one of the single LEDs inside the whole floodlight LED lamp – that’s what I am going for because it is that level of focus that helps me be consistent race to race, track to track, week to week, so that is what I do. Part of why I think this works, and is a good strategy, also applies to shooting. If you have ever been out shooting, recreationally at targets – and you are with someone who has more experience than you (which is ANYBODY compared to me, I haven’t shot very often) sometimes I miss the whole target. I thought, “Wow I am a terrible shot”. People would say to me, that is because you are not picking a small enough target. If you aim small, you’ll miss small. So the same kind of thing with the light – if you are waiting for the whole light to come on – your body may start to react to the second bulb. You may jump or jolt because you are not focused on exactly the right thing. The same way – shooting a gun you focus on a very small target – you pick a point and focus on that. So if you are out hunting for deer – you want to make sure you are picking behind their shoulder blade, right – not just aiming at the deer because you’ll miss – you’ll miss big. So the same thing applies. That is tip 1 – focus inside the bulb.

Tip number 2, for some people this may sound like it is a silly thing you do for fun – it may not seem like it has any real benefit but I really believe it does – and that is:

Seat Time

Seat time is huge. I mean – just sitting in the drivers seat. Car is not running – it can be winter time, in the garage and you will see a benefit for going out and sitting in the car and just going over the gauges in your mind. Close your eyes – can you picture the dashboard of your racecar right now? Do you know what every switch does? Could you reach for it and touch the right switch without looking? I think you should be able to do that. If you really want to up your starting line game, you need to know where every switch is.

I don’t understand how guys do it where they are jumping in and out between cars and winning. I’ve seen it and it is amazing to me because for me, part of what makes my starting line game hopefully better than the next guys is that I am super comfortable with how my car is, where everything is. There is no question – if I look down at the water temp gauge and we are running hot – I know – without even looking, I know where the coolant fan is. I could hit it right now – if I am sitting in the racecar right now – I am hitting that switch.

For me – coming up to staging, prestaging – I have to set my Racepak to begin recording. I have to set the tachometer to record, because we’ve got one of those recording tachs. So I’ve got all these things that need to happen. I need to know exactly where those buttons are. There’s not a question, every single time I come up I just do it. And that way we’re always collecting data. We’re always saving this stuff.

Tip number two is seat time. Practice sitting in your car. You can set a recordable tach anytime. So you could go sit in your car right now and record zero on the tach, but just get used to what that process is. There’s a lot of value there, I think.

Number three is:

Ritual / Rehearsal

A ritual means it some set of practices that you undergo in a, well I don’t have the Merriam Webster version of what a ritual is but it’s something that would bring you peace, bring you comfort before each run. That’s what I mean. So, what does my ritual look like? Well I’m happy to share that with you. So my ritual is, after I get done with a burnout, and like I said, this is the part that made me think of even sharing top three things that will improve your starting line game is to have a game plan, have a ritual. So, my ritual is this, I do my burnout, and after I’m done with my burnout, I’m going to look at my dial-in, because they usually have boards up that tell you what they think your dial in is. So I’ll check my dial-in, if that looks good, then I take a couple deep breaths, make sure the guys in front of me are finishing up, that they’re leaving the track, nothing weird is happening there. And then I look over at the opponent to see if they’re about where they need to be getting ready to stage. I’ll pull up, and I do kind of take my time, but I’m looking down on the ground and I’m making sure that I know exactly where the staging beams are. So I pull up to the staging beams. As soon as I get to light the first bulb, I take a deep breath, and this is very important. I take a VERY DEEP BREATH, and I find that if I force my shoulders down, it helps me de-stress. There are some psychological theories that if you’re walking around and you just start smiling, that your body will go, “Oh, I’m in a good mood.” And you’ll be in a good mood just because you decided to smile. So, in the same way, if I tell my body to do the things that make it seem not stressed, it’s not stressed. Or at least I believe it does, it helps me. You know, if I’ve got a new girlfriend up in the stands, or my dad’s putting some pressure on me to win some rounds, or it’s the end of the points season. Whatever it is, your car owner’s watching, the boss’s wife is going to talk about how well, or not well you did on Monday – these are a lot of things you might have to worry about. So as soon as I light that first bulb I take a deep breath and just let the stress disappear. Now it doesn’t completely go away. If I’m really nervous, like at the bracket finals, or division race, I take the breath but it doesn’t help a whole lot. But it couldn’t hurt, right? It helps to be trying to de-stress. Well then, I actually hit both buttons on my dash board that represent the Racepak is on and the recording tach, now I’m getting close to being ready to go. I still have a couple more things that are part of my ritual. I’ll look up at the first bulb, if you race with a delay box, that’s where you’re going to focus. But for me, foot-brake racing, I want to see where the first bulbs are, but I also look where the third bulbs are, because as I mentioned earlier, different tracks have different layouts for where the bulbs actually sit, how far apart they are. So I’m just looking, I just want to remind myself, “Okay, that’s where the bulbs are”. And I look at the third bulb and that’s the bulb I’m going to look into. So then I raise the RPM. Again, I’m footbrake racing, so I go down on the accelerator, push into the gas a little more and I get it up to whatever, 2400, 2500 RPM. And then I take another deep breath, and this is really important because it’s a reminder that I’m not stressed. And we’re ready for this. I’ve already rehearsed what the runs going to look like. I may remind myself one more time as I take this deep breath. But if my RPM is set and I’m ready to go, I’m inching in to that last bulb. I’m inching my way in cause I like to shallow stage. That’s what I do. So I just let myself go in, and as soon as I go in, if I can get that bottom bulb to twinkle, then we’re fully staged, then I look at that third bulb. I don’t look at that first bulb. I know where it’s at peripherally, but I’m staring inside the third bulb, and that’s my ritual, I mean from there it’s about executing everything that I thought about leading up to the race. But I do that every single time, and if the other guy double bulbs me. That is, he pulls in and lights both bulbs, it really doesn’t matter, it doesn’t affect my game plan at all because all the things I do take less than ten seconds. I’ve been at tracks where they have a staging timer and it started counting as soon as somebody was fully staged the other person had to be fully staged within fifteen seconds. Well I’m sure that my whole little routine, my whole ritual, takes less than ten seconds, so go ahead, jump in to stage, I don’t care. You know if they’ve got a deep stage they may get in there early, again, no problem. Also, I don’t play any of those games. Almost every time as I’ve looked over my gauges, by the time I’m staged the other guy is ready to go too. So I don’t bother playing those games. If you have to play head games to win a round, to me it just feels cheap, and I just don’t bother with it. But it doesn’t affect me if someone else is trying to throw me off too. So you have that as your defense mechanism against people that are fooling around. So I encourage you to have a game plan, have a ritual. Again, if the things you do are not the same things I do, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is you have something that you can count on that works every time. If you’re jumping from foot break to delay box I actually think the ritual is more important so that you remember exactly what kind of car you’re in so that you know exactly how the launch is going to go down. You know, because it can be very different. But if you race in the same car every week that’s really going to serve you well because these things will become more and more comfortable, more common. You’ll notice if something’s going wrong with the car immediately cause you’ll know what the car is doing. I think all those things, that comfort, that security in your game plan, that’s going to help you win rounds. So, give it a try, let me know. Do you have a ritual that you use? Let me know, give me a video or a response, leave a voicemail on the website, whatever. I would love to know if there’s some other kind of way that you’ve found that helps you feel comfortable at the starting line.

Listener Question

Alright, well we’ve got a questioner. This is from Drew in Spokane, Washington. He says he likes the podcast but he has a question on judging the finish line. He recently got his license; Moved into a ’64 Woody Gilmore Slingshot that runs eight fours, mid eights. Good on the tree, and the car’s consistent, but he’s having trouble judging the stripe. He’s going 160 MPH and he says when he’s coming up on a car doing 115, 120, it seems impossible to know when to lift. He says his car has no electronics. So he’s footbrake racing. His question is, “Is there a trick, or is it all experience?” Well, first of all, if you have a question, feel free to ask, we’ll try to answer as many as we can. My car usually runs 120 to 130, so I asked some other guys who’d been running for a while on one of the forums. And their thing was, unfortunately, a lot of it has to do with experience. So seat time, and actually being in the car doing a 160 MPH, is really your best bet. So get out there and do some grudge matches. Got out there and do a Friday night test and tune. Just get more time in the car at the tracks that you go to. Here’s the thing, if you run the numbers, 160 MPH means you’re doing about 230 feet per second. When you’re coming up on a guy doing 120, he’s doing about 170 feet per second. So that’s a difference of about 60 feet per second that you’re gaining on the other car. So if your car has a 9-10 foot wheel base, that means your gaining 6 or 7 car lengths every second on your opponent as you get toward the finish line; so 6 or 7 car lengths, 60 feet. I mean that’s hard to judge that’s all going to have to be in the last second. Every 6 feet is point 1 seconds. I don’t know how you can get around doing that other than experience. So there’s the thing you can do when you’re running time trails, in your mind, look at where you pass the cone before the finish line, how long it takes to get from there to the finish line. Just kind of feel that out, make a mental note of it. When you race other cars and you’re coming down on them, if you can, if you’re not always ahead of them, watch how long it takes for them to go down the track and pass those markers. When I’m at the track a lot of times I’ll take friends down to the finish line and I’ll go “Let’s watch how some of these guys are finishing their races, let’s see how much their winning by.” If you can tell that you’re going to win by a car length or two, you know, in bracket racing you never really want to beat them good, so if you can tell that you’re going to pass them way before the finish line. So if you can tell you’re going to pass them way before the finish line, you need to not only be letting off but be hitting the brakes, tapping the brakes as you go across the line. You know, if you’re really having trouble, the other guys probably aren’t used to people going that fast either so the trick is that you’re going to get used to it over time, and they won’t necessarily, cause you’re going to have different opponents every time but it’ll be practice and experience for you. So I would say, just keep at it, just keep trying. You say that you have experience in super pro car, that experience is going to serve you well, things are just happening faster. So yeah, just keep paying attention to the last 320 feet. When you get from the thousand foot cone, just see what’s going on, seat time where you’re more comfortable is going to help you. But the advantage of having the faster car in bracket racing is the other guy has the first chance to make a mistake. Not that you want to count on that, but that’s part of the advantage of having a faster car. So the other guy as the first opportunity to red light and you have more power so if you let off too early, you can hit the gas again and have more power to overtake them. But I understand in an eight and a half second run, things are going pretty fast. So yeah, just keep trying, keep your chin up. Also, as I was researching this question I found a piece of software called Crew Chief Pro, and they have a really handy little tool in it that’s called the Finish Line Manager, and you can put in your ET and what your opponents ET would be and it will tell you the difference between your two cars at the different intervals as you go down the track. So that may be of interest to you. As I was talking about you’re doing 230 per second, he’s doing 170 feet per second. You can actually iron out all the numbers and see well, in the last one point nine seconds I’m going to cover the last three hundred twenty feet and kind of maybe even time yourself to figure out “Oh wow, that’s a really quick time,” or “Oh that should be plenty of time to make a decision.” Anyway it’s called finish line manager and it’s part of Crew Chief Pro, so you might want to check that out. I’ve never worked with the piece of software, but just looking at the screenshots on the website it looked like it might be helpful for you. So I thought I’d let you know about that.

You also have another option, you know bracket racing is not about being the fastest car, it’s about making the fewest mistakes and getting across the finish line first, so you have an option, you could attempt to slow the car down. I actually looked at your Facebook pictures and I saw the car. And it looks like its supercharged, so I don’t know if you can change some gearing on there and maybe slow it down a little bit. I don’t know all the options you have for slowing it down, but something like that might be something you look at so it’s not so much of a jump, so you can use more of your experience on the slower car, so you can get up to speed on the faster car. But that’s a great question and I really appreciate your feedback on the podcast.

Thanks so much everybody for joining us today. This is episode three. If you like the podcast, feel free to rate us on iTunes. We’re also on Stitcher Radio and YouTube, so we’re all around, all different ways you can get to this information. We’re here to help. If you want to leave a comment, feedback, question, whatever, just visit dragtracker.com/podcast, and leave a comment. Like I said, I really want to grow this for the community. I love that people are getting involved.

Alright everybody, race safe, race to win, and take care.

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