Jeff Lopez Guest Editorial
HOW I WON IT……..
First off, let me just say thanks to TIBR for asking me to write some columns for the 2013 season. Most of you know me from winning the Lucas Oil National Championship in 2012, but in all actuality, I’m just a regular Saturday night bracket racer that had a successful year on the National level.
Let me give a little background myself so you understand that I’m not just a super class racer. I’ve been racing for almost twenty years. I started in a street pickup truck running trophy street, and then moved up to Pro eliminator driving a 66 Chevy II. I bracket raced that car in big money races for almost 10 years before I moved up to a dragster. We bracket raced it for about 5 years before I ever started chasing NHRA points. I’ve been down the worst tracks, and the best tracks in a variety of cars, and that is what has given me the experience I have today.
What I plan on sharing with you is much what Luke is also teaching you, and that is a common sense approach and trying to think a step ahead of you’re competition. We are given to the tools to succeed every week, but I think a lot of us just don’t realize that they are right in front of us the entire time. Time slips, scoreboards, weather, and track conditions are constantly changing. In a sport where consistency is key, you cannot overlook any of these factors because they all help you do what you want to do. WIN. Hopefully this article will help you understand what went through my mind at our most recent race, and what I took into account, along with my thought process going into and during each round.
I’ll start off with our first race of the year, the Lucas Oil Divisional Race in Houston, Texas. We started off with a time trial before first round on Saturday. I ran a 9.848 and was .018 on the tree. My first round opponent I ran on our previous time trial and he had problems and mustered only a 14.01. I rolled .007 in the delay box to make sure I didn’t give the race away and sped the car up .01. The weather had changed and I figured I was going to go about 9.85. Most people would’ve just set the car up honest, but I was not going to do that. Say he hit’s the tree, and although he is lost on the dial, he sets up hot, hangs a wheel on you, and you being relaxed and not expecting much go .040 on the tree and .01 over wide open. You will lose this race every time if he knows how drive the stripe. I will not give him the chance to do that by setting up way hot. I do not care if he has the tree on me, because I know it would be a shot in the dark that he is dialed on the number. If he hit’s tree and tries to hang a wheel on me, I will turn him loose and he will breakout. When we leave I have him .014 to .040. As we roll up to the 1000 ft. mark, I’ve already caught him and am just hanging a wheel on him but making sure not to give it back. We ring up 9.971 to 9.961 with me taking .016 win stripe. He decided to try and hit the number and that played right into my hands.
The next round was run on Sunday morning with a drastic difference in wind. The wind had changed from a 10 mph headwind, to a 10 mph tailwind. Predicting a dial for this morning would be tough and considering that I had my opponent by 30 mph, it was not a round that I wanted to be guessing my dial. I would like to tell you I knew how much that was going to affect me, but predicting wind in a full bodied car is not an exact science. I usually figure a direct tailwind is worth about .01 for every 4 mph and an indirect tailwind is worth around .01 for every 5 mph. Another way to factor wind is what Luke has referenced on tutorial 44, which is a 4.5 mph tailwind is worth .01. His method is almost fail proof, and a good baseline to use, but I like to factor things two different ways, and come up with a number that split’s the two factors. My factor says the wind is worth .05, his factor says it worth a little over .04. So I went with .045 as my magic number. With no other changes in weather than wind, this is the number is was going with. I set up on a 9.87 just in case I missed the tree, which I have been prone to do. Sure enough, I’m a stellar .039 on the tree, but my opponent is .062. When we leave I know I‘ve missed the tree, but I moved on him considerably and I want the stripe. As we roll up to the 1000ft. mark, I don’t like what I’m seeing. He is way to far ahead of me to take the stripe comfortably. I feel fairly confident in what I have my car setup on, and at this point I just decide to ignore him and look directly at the finish line. I’m going to kill my .03 hundreths and let the chips fall where they may. I rip the throttle a couple of times and drag the brake as I cross the stripe. I somehow manage to hit a shot in the dark of my own and go 9.900. My opponent ends up getting to the stripe first by .004, but his 9.873 is bit too quick. Getting my slip confirms what I saw in the car. Taking the stripe comfortably would’ve forced me to break out also, and run the risk of breaking out by more.
The 3rd round found me racing Mallory McCullar in her roadster. This is not an easy draw and she has thrown down two very good runs coming into this round. Looking at her previous passes, I knew she was hitting the tree good and running right on the index with wide open runs. I also notice that our 60ft times and our mph is very close, which means we should be glued to together the entire way down track. I know going in that if I miss the tree, I have zero chance of winning this round. I don’t have to be .00, but I can’t win with another .030 light. The weather has changed with a lot for this round also. The vapor pressure is up from .1401 to .2481, I will allow .014 for this, based on a +.07 = +.01 ratio. The baro pressure has gone down from 30.19 to 30.08, which I will assume is worth .022 based on a -.05 is worth +.01 ratio, and the altitude has increased by 300 which is worth exactly .01 for me. All together, I’m assuming that the car will be .046 slower than it was the previous round. Me not trusting myself to have the tree decides to set up on a 9.85, that way I can make the race look any way I want it to look to my opponent. If she’s within half a car of me at the 1/8 mile mark, I’m going to turn her loose. If I’m in front by a car length, which I’m hoping for, I will try and take the stripe by as little as possible. Seems pretty simple and I think I have the possible scenario’s planned for. We leave and I cannot tell who got the tree, as I’m on the throttle stop I look over and she is right beside me. Did I miss something? I set up way hot and I should be way ahead of her at this point. As we go back to wide open throttle, we cross the 1/8 mile mark and I am .04 behind (roughly 2/3 of a car length). I know I hit the tree and I know I’m set up on 9.85, why in the world is she so far ahead of me? Instead of killing my .05 hundreths, I decide to push her as far as I can and turn her loose. I’m assuming at this point that I totally missed the set up and my only shot is to get her to break out. She kills roughly 3 mph and I drop hard and late killing 14 mph. I end up getting to stripe .040 behind and my win light is on, but I have no clue what I just rang it up. The slip reads I’m .014 and she is .016, she goes 9.839 and I go 9.881. Looking back, the slip shows I was going exactly what I thought, 9.85. What confused me was the fact that she was going 9.81 and I assumed she was going almost a tenth slower than that going in. I had not accounted for that, but I don’t think she did either. The race did not materialize the way I had expected, but I did the only thing I could do, her 9.81 gave me no other choice.
The 4th round brought on new challenges that I was not expecting. My next opponent was Travis Salter, who is from the area and should know the track way better than I do. He had a bye run and a red light the previous two rounds and had his car dialed on the number, without holding much if any E.T. I knew I had him by about 5 mph, and my strategy going in was to hit the tree, and hang a wheel on him. I set my car up on a 9.86, that way I had more room to work with at the finish line. As we pull into the water, I notice the car ahead of me leave the line and go hard left, the driver gathers it up but his car wiggles the entire way down the track. The night before, the track went away about this time, and I decide right then that I’m not going to trust the track and I speed the car up another .02. Now I’m set up on 9.84. If I make a smooth run, I’m going way too fast and will probably lose. If the car is loose going down track, I believe I will still be in good shape because I have already compensated for it. We leave the line together, and my car feels horrible with its worst 60ft. of the weekend. He has the tree with a .023 to a .028 margin. I cannot see a significant advantage when we leave and I assume it’s even. Instead of sizing him up while we roll on the stop like I normally do, I shift my focus to making sure the car is in the groove, so when I go back to wide open throttle, I won’t be fighting the car. I come off the stop, and the car is not happy. It’s wiggling back and forth and struggling to remain glued to the track. I keep it as straight as I can and assume my 9.84 is a out the window and I‘m only going a couple under. At this point, I do not want look over, and try to hang a wheel on him and possibly drive out of the groove. I once again just look forward and pick a spot to try and kill what I’m holding. The track is slick, so I’m not going to go to my normal spot and drop. I want to lift earlier and slowly drag the brake that way I can get rid of what I’m holding, and still do it safely. We cross the stripe and I can tell peripherally that I never get around him, but I’m committed to trusting what I’m feeling in the car. The time slip shows that he gets there first by .020, but he breaks out with a 9.893, to my 9.908. I’m down 15 mph, but I killed the E.T. totally different than the round before, and more importantly, I did it safely. If I didn’t react to what I saw the driver in front of me do, I wouldn’t of sped the car up any, and giving him another .020 to work with, he easily could’ve lifted and went .90 instead of .89. Like I said earlier, the track will tell you what’s going on, but you have to pay attention to what it’s saying and showing you. The racing surface will not lie to you.
Up next was the semi final round, with my opponent being Ryan Boudin, who won the Nat’l here 2 years ago. He is a solid racer that does not make many mistakes. He has me about 5 mph, and I know if I’m having trouble getting down track, he has to be experiencing the same issues. I don’t have a game plan going into this round, I just want to get down track safely. To try and help my stability issues, I lower the tire pressure ½ pound in the rear, hoping the car will squat a little better and stay planted to the racing surface. Not trusting that the car will hook up, I decide to leave the timer alone. I’m still set up on a 9.84, but if the car gets any bit loose again, I will assume that I’m going around a 9.87. I watched the pair in front of me closely to see if they had issues getting down track. The car in front of me leaves straight, but when he goes back to full throttle, He almost crosses the centerline and I can literally see the entire side of his car, he makes an attempt to save it and corrects. Now I’m seeing the other side of his car as he heads for the wall. He wisely backs out before hitting anything, and gives up on the race. Now, I don’t know how many of you have ever staged a racecar thinking to yourself, “I’m about to wreck this car” , but it’s not an easy thing to do. I manage to block it out this round, but I believe it affected Ryan a bit. We leave the line and I have a huge advantage with a .014 to his .077, but my car goes way crooked. I gather it up and put her back in the groove. I know I have a big lead, but unless I can keep it straight, it really doesn’t matter. The car kicks off the throttle stop and it’s vibrating, spinning, and skating but it’s still driving fairly straight. At this point I’m thinking the 9.84 that I had originally set up on is and 9.88 or 9.89 and I just want to try and get to the mph lights so I can lift. I take a glance over and Ryan is struggling too. His car makes a move toward the wall at about the 1000 ft mark and he gives up. I see it and lift and we both coast across with identical 9.966’s. Looking at my slip after the run, I’m down .02 on 60 ft., .03 at the 1/8th, and .04 at the 1000 ft. mark. Although I was set up on a 9.84 I was probably going a 9.89 wide open. The track is getting terrible for us, and I honestly don’t know if I can make it down the track again without lifting. The altitude and vapor pressure readings are crazy fast, and I’m on the stop for 4.08 seconds. I invite anyone who thinks a S/G car is easy to drive, to get into a short wheelbase car with 1000 hp and go from and idle, to wide open throttle at the 330 ft. cones, and see how straight it goes on a slick track.
In the final, I have the pleasure of racing one of my good buddies, Jay Bunce. We bracket raced together for years, and we both know each others tendencies. Right after the semi’s, I go over to Jay and ask him if we can go right back up and run, because I don’t think I can make it down the track safely much longer. Jay being a true sportsman, agrees and off we go. I don’t look at my weather station readings, the weather is basically a non factor at this point. Getting from point A to point B is my only concern. Knowing how loose the car was the previous round, I decide to roll out a bunch of time. I set the car up on a 9.80. Yes, I typed the correctly, a 9.80. My thinking is that I’m probably going to have to feather the gas or lift a bit to get down track. I don’t want to go .05 over while feathering the gas and give Jay more room to get in on. He has a much heavier car and is not experiencing the same type of issues that I am. I’m fairly confident that he will get down track without any issues. Also, by setting up way hot, I don’t have to go 1320 ft. wide open on a slick track. I will be forced to lift early if it somehow hooks up, and at this point, that sounds good to me. I decide to lower the tires another ½ pound of air and see if that helps. So now I’m down a full pound of tire pressure than I was in the quarter finals. We leave together with not so stellar .031 and .034 reaction times. Jay has the advantage on paper, but we can’t tell on track. My car dead hooks and leaves straight. I look over and I’m way in front of him on the stop, which I consider a good thing. The car goes back to wide open and it’s hooked and glued to the track. My first reaction is YES. I no longer feel like I’m going to hit something. My next reaction is OH CRAP, I’m set on 9.80! I get a good rip in at the 1000 ft. mark to draw him up to me. I’m assuming Jay is set up between 9.87 and 9.88. So now I’m just trying to get close to him, because I know his car is dialed. He lifts, I lift, he gets back in it, I get back in it, he lifts again, I lift again, he gets back in it, I get back in it. I can tell I’m not killing enough E.T. and at the mph cone, we both hit the brake at the same time. Like I said, we know each other very well. He did a good job of anticipating my next move, and as we cross the stripe, I’m looking at his win light. I don’t feel good about what just happened and assume a loss. Much to my surprise, the win light is shining in my lane. Jay does an amazing job of taking .013 when we are both down 15 mph. Fortunately for me, he goes 9.893 to my 9.903. Now I would like to say that I knew I was close to the dial, but that would be total B.S. I just tried to stay close to him once I realized that I was going stupid fast. I knew his car was working better than mine, and by staying close to him, I had a much better chance of being close to the index. If I take the stripe, I obviously break out by more. I’m not going to say that I was or wasn’t going to take the stripe. I just reacted to what I saw and felt on track, and luckily for me it turned out to be the right decision. He had me .003 on the tree and took .013 stripe. That run will turn the win light on in a lot of races, but in order for him to win and take the stripe, he had to take .003 or less to guarantee a win, and that is asking a lot of yourself.
I’ve talked to a lot of racers that say .90 racing looks easy. The packages that you see in heads up racing on a ¼ mile track, compared to 1/8 bracket racing is not even in the same ballpark. You are racing the track and conditions as much if not more than you are racing your opponent. You must always stay ahead of the conditions and proactive in your decision making. Does a NASCAR driver unload his car, set the tire pressure, and expect to drive 500 miles and win without making adjustments? Does a World of Outlaws driver who won at Eldora, expect to go to Knoxville the next week and win with the same setup? Just because we drive in a straight line for an 1/8 to a ¼ mile at a time, doesn’t mean that you cannot make adjustments to help out your cars consistency. Don’t go out to the first race of the year, go dead on 6 out of 7 rounds, and expect that setup to work during the summer when it’s 100 degrees outside and the track is junk. Stay ahead of the curve, pay attention to what the track and conditions are telling you, and make adjustments. The track and time slips will not lie to you. Use every tool you have available to make not only yourself, but also your car/setup better. I hope I was able to help you guys and gals out. If you ever see me out at the track, please feel free to approach me and pick my brain on any issues or questions that you may have. I enjoy sharing what I know about our sport, and I’m always willing to help you out.