Bruno Massel Guest Editorial
I was kind of surprised when Luke reached out to me about writing a guest column on TIBR.com. After all, I run a class where breakouts don’t exist and I’m behind the wheel of an odd ball turbocharged 4-banger that you won’t likely roll up on at the million! But the reality is that to be successful in Comp for any duration you have to employ a lot of the same strategies used in bracket racing, the only difference is, you can’t turn on a win light by going through second.

So I’m going to take you through my most memorable race weekend in this month’s “How I won it” column. It was the 2012 Route 66 Nationals and JEGS All-Stars weekend at my home track in Joliet, IL.

While Comp is a performance based category, it has a unique wrinkle to it called the CIC system, which penalizes a driver if he goes too quick in an elimination round. A run that’s -.51 or more under a given index gives you a temporary adjustment for the event and -.61 or more handicaps you permanently come Monday. For example, if I go -.55 under my index round one, I lose .05 for the next round. If were to go -.65 under my index in round one, I lose -.15 for round two and -.05 permanently come Monday. The other wrinkle is that it qualifies 32 cars based on a sportsman ladder, where #1 runs #17 not #32.

So you can see why strategy is such an important part of winning. You want to give yourself the best matchup possible through qualifying, so your road to the winner’s circle doesn’t leave you and your index dead in the water when you roll into the next event.

Joilet is always tough. With the All-Stars going on the same weekend, you can be assured that you’ve got the best of the best on the property so qualifying is even more important. I have a rather quick car, so unless something goes terribly wrong, I usually have the power to put myself high up on the ladder. Typically during Q1 I’ll run the car to 1000ft and shut off to see where it puts me and that’s exactly what I did. I ran 7.11 at 172 and it put me #2 in the field at -.55 under my index. The air was terrible and the naturally aspirated cars were really struggling, so for Q2 I tried to hit the tree, put the car in high gear and lift so I wouldn’t improve. My goal was to drop a few spots and land in the sweet spot on the ladder which is #8. I dropped to #4, but I knew Q3 was going to really shake things up as it would be run Friday morning in much better conditions. I sat at the back of the pack during qualifying so I could track who was improving and how far I was dropping on the ladder. I had the car hopped up to where I thought it would run close to -70 under if need be. I rolled into the water box #8, but the car in front of me dropped me back to #9, so I had no choice but to move up. You see #9 runs #1 second round and that’s usually not a road map for success. Even if you win, the odds are that you’re going to use up your index in the process and get cracked the next round. The car left hard and I knew I was flying, I found my spot and dropped to a 7.06 at 176 which was -.602 under my index and the #2 spot. It wasn’t ideal, but far better than #9.

My qualifying spot assured me I’d have a tough road through eliminations staring with #18 qualifier Clint Neff in round one and in the All-Stars I was on the pole which awarded me a first round matchup with #5 Jeff Lane. Round one of the Nationals was Friday afternoon, Clint went -.53 under in qualifying so I figured his best hit in the conditions would be -.48 under and if I was decent on the tree I could get out with minimal damage. As a result, I setup a little soft and was .032, he’s .024 and ran -.516 under. I take .029 stripe and low and behold I’m now down 5 hundredths heading into round 2 Saturday morning, uggh! Not the start I wanted, but nothing I can do about it now. In round 2 I’ve got Fred Allen, who can hit the tree and probably run -.52 under. At this point there’s no more setting up soft. In order to win the race I couldn’t afford to keep taking .05 hundredths each round. So I set up .015 and was .011, he goes red and I get a free pass to round three Sunday morning to run Frank Aragona. Strategy is important, you want to play with the odds in your favor, but nothing can beat having lady luck on your side.

Now it was All-Stars time for the rest of Saturday. Thankfully your index goes back to where you started the event and no permanent index hits are given, which means if need be, I can hold it to the floor. As a result, I’m feeling pretty confident heading into RD 1! I’m still setup .015 on the tree and go .004, he’s .039 and I take a comfortable .05 finish line and move onto round two with a .03 hundredths penalty. My round two opponent was struggling on the tree and it was a little too close for comfort sitting on .004 so I make the necessary adjustments to setup .030. We don’t have delay boxes nor do we have big tires, so setting up too tight is normally a recipe for disaster in Comp. Remember I just told you I was feeling pretty confident? Well it didn’t last long. I stage the car and the next thing I remember is I’m in the shutdown area and don’t know what just happened, let alone if I won or not! Apparently the past two weeks of thrashing in extreme heat caught up with me and I got heat stroke. Needless to say my driving that round is atrocious. I’m .123 to his .116 and take a tenth at the strip while driving on autopilot killing 20 mph. So much for the performance advantage I started with. I’m now down .13 heading into the final against a good driver who’s index is clean and I’m literally seeing stars. I went right into the motor home, sat under the AC unit and began chugging Gatorade for the next hour and a half until they called us for the final. In all honesty, I wasn’t even close to 100%, but it was the final of the all-stars. I had the car setup on kill and figured that if I leave with him, I’d have the power to catch him. I left the car setup for .030 on the tree and hoped for the best. He left first and was .028 I was .036 and held my foot to the floor to go 6.946 at 198 and take the win.

Sunday morning brought third round of the Nationals and about 1000ft better atmospheric conditions. I was down -.03 more than Frank and figured he could run -.60 which means basically that I’m screwed. He had been good on the tree all weekend, so in theory If I take the stripe, I’m going to lose permanent index and be pretty well used up for the rest of the event. So I setup .015 on the tree again and go .018, he’s .023 but has problems at half track and I’m able to coast to the semi’s without any further damage. Note the aforementioned lady luck I spoke of. Normally in that scenario, if he’s able to run it hard to the stripe, I shut it off and live to race another day to protect my index. It’s like Kenny Roger’s said, “you gotta know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em,” thankfully I didn’t have to…fold ‘em that is.

By the time round four rolled around, it started heating up again. I was running Bo Butner and he was down .02 and I’m down .05. The thing is, he probably only had .01 or .02 left. I left the setup alone and went .013, he was .027 and I caught him early. Rather than taking any chance at giving it back, I knew I had the room to be sloppy at the stripe and took .05 to move into the finals still down only .05. In the final, I was racing Al Ackerman. He was down .03 and by my estimation had .04 left. He’d been killing the tree, but I had a ton left in terms of performance. There was a bunch of money on the line, including a JEGS double up bonus if you win the All-Stars and National event. So to me at this point, index was of no consequence. I left the starting line setup the same and my goal was to just minimize the permanent index hit I was about to take. I was .016 and he went -.001! I got out clean, doubled up and left with the National Points lead that I never relinquished. It was the best racing weekend of my life and I was able to do it with all my family and friends in attendance which makes it even more special!

Hopefully the one thing that you take away from this is that no matter what category you compete, you have to try and put the odds in your favor. The more you know about your opponent and the closer attention you pay to detail, the better your chances of beating them. Oh yeah…one more thing, if you don’t have lady luck on your side for at least one round, it usually doesn’t end well. See you guys at the races…

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