Shawn Langdon Guest Editorial
To start everything off I would like to thank Luke and the whole TIBR crew for allowing me to be a part of something really great. I recently browsed through this website and read the editorials from the past instructors and really thought to myself, WOW, these guys are good. Not only do their credentials speak for themselves with their numerous wins but they can write too! So as I write this column, nervous, palms sweating, kind of like in a final round, I will do my best to explain that this isn't the way to be. You must relax and have a good time. Following up great articles from very well respected racers could definitely be compared to racing one in a final round. Hopefully this article will allow you to achieve those goals; by overcoming being nervous, scared or intimidated and becoming the true champion you really are.
As many of you know there are many ways to be a successful racer and some of these topics may help more than others. For me everything is about your mental state of mind. Yes, there is a lot of skill involved in racing and I’ve seen many people win in the wrong state of mind but hey everybody has their day and as we all say, “that is drag racing”. An important thing for me is not to get overloaded, rather to break things down in sections of race car preparation, mental preparation and also what I call race mode.
A big thing in the world of drag racing is pre-race maintenance. It’s something that some people enjoy and others overlook. Going into a race weekend having a freshly maintained car is not only good for your car but its good for your state of mind. Knowing your car has fresh oil and it’s clean is something that when you roll into the track you don’t even have to think about. Nothing is worse than getting to the track and pulling it straight out of the trailer and working on it. I would rather spend that time going up to the track and checking out the starting line, seeing which way the sun rises and sets and if that could play a factor in my reaction times throughout the day and also constantly checking the weather throughout the day. Obviously the weather is a huge factor in bracket racing.
While at the track I like to watch. Not only because I love racing but before I ever get my car up to the lanes I like to know where I’ll be on the tree and to get a baseline for what I feel my car should run. So if you see a lot of cars are a little bit slower than normal you should know that you will be also and the same rule applies on the tree. One thing I really try to do is when I hit the tree before I ever look at the scoreboards is guess my reaction time. If you can get comfortable with doing that in qualifying then that will easily translate over into eliminations. Knowing where you are at on the tree is very critical for finish line racing especially if you like to hold a couple hundredths at the finish line. Being that I raced a lot of Super Comp and Super Gas I really try to focus on the rate of speed difference at the finish line during qualifying. When you’re going 170 mph in your Super Comp car and you get to run a guy going 185 mph use that to your advantage. Learn how quickly he will move on you from the 1000 foot clocks to the 1320 mark. Something I like to do is to try to guess the time slip before I ever see it. For example, you let go of the button and you feel good. You see .010 on your scoreboard, you look at the other scoreboard and you see .030. You of course have your .020 advantage on the tree so as long as you run the same E.T. as the other guy you will get there first by .020. Well, as it happens you go across the finish line and you figure you get across first by .030. I will tell myself, “I hope the other guy went an 8.910,” because if that’s the case then I would be on my number of 8.900. Being true and honest with yourself in qualifying and trying to guess the whole race before you ever see a time slip will eventually help you to do this on the track during eliminations and will help you with the many decisions you are faced with in a matter of seconds during a race.
A big thing is knowing your surroundings and the tendencies of the track. Knowing how the other racers will typically race, if they are a dialer or if they will hold a couple of hundredths, is a key element during race day. I for one will typically like to hold a couple of hundredths for various reasons. I know there is a big safety factor in going down to the finish line and “dumping,” but there is a safe way to do it in order to get rid of your couple hundredths. Many people think you have to bury your brake pedal in order to get rid of 3 or 4 hundredths and 15 mph when in reality all you’re doing is right before the mph cone you’re lightly applying the brake pedal. If you put things into perspective you have a lot more options down at the finish line than you think. On a 170 mph run a typical split time from 1000 ft to 1320 ft will be 1.30 seconds. That is 320 feet in 1.3 seconds. So if you take the last 66 feet which is the mph cone to the finish line and then account in that normal human reaction is around .2 of a second, not many people if any are going to be able to catch a typical dump or 3-4 hundreths of a second at the finish line.
I want to use a couple of examples to illustrate putting the overall theory together. Example 1: All of your qualifying runs have been in cloudy conditions and it is now sunny and hot and it’s 1st round. You have an opponent that you noticed in qualifying that was double-0 on every hit. Knowing him, you know that he will just dial it and run it to the finish line no matter what. Well your qualifying lights were .010, .016 and .015 all with the same delay. In my case I am a very aggressive driver so I would probably roll out 4 thousandths and set .006. Why roll out 4 you ask? It’s 1st round. And being its 1st rd, the track is now hot so typically your reaction should fall off a little more than the cool cloudy track, and your opponent is a dialer. A typical dialer will want to put it on an 8.905 so he won’t break out. Well you have now gained that 5 thousandths to your advantage and by going .006 you have almost made up all the difference. So lets say your opponent goes .015 on the tree to your .006, now you have a 9 thousandths advantage plus that extra 5 thousandths from his 8.905. Now with a total of 14 thousandths, if you take 14 thousandths or less you will win. Now of course in every scenario whether you’re a dialer or you hold, if your opponent has the all mighty double 0 light and goes dead on the index that is just tough to beat. But racing a dialer is typically easier to race than somebody who can hold and knows how to get rid of it.
Now let’s use a different scenario. For instance, you’re racing 1st round again and this time it’s basically the opposite situation as our first example. All your qualifying runs have been hot and sunny. You’re racing a guy who typically likes to hold a little bit and plays games at the finish line. Your lights were .010, .016 and .015. Now for 1st round its cold, fast and cloudy. In this scenario I’m not going to roll out my .004 in the box. Instead, I’m going in the safer direction of rolling it in. In scenarios when it’s fast, getting the better reaction time isn’t always beneficial. By getting a better reaction, the tendency is to want to get to the finish line first with your advantage. But with cool air and track conditions and seeing a lot of people break out, it’s very possible that getting to the finish line first won’t help your cause in a double breakout race against someone who will be holding like you. So the race plays out like this. Your opponent gets you off the line with a smooth .005 light to your .020. You have lost a little bit but at this point its not too critical. Your set-up puts you in your 8.87 range and your opponent is going 8.86. So now how this race will play out coming up to the finish line is that you can see you’re roughly .025 behind your opponent. Since he is a wheel racer he will now decide to bring you in and tighten that stripe up. So let’s say for this case he has got you at his .005 mark so he should in theory now be going 8.88 to your 8.87. This is now your classic time to go ahead and let him go and get above your index saving you from a double breakout. The best phrase you could ever live by at the finish line, especially in .90 racing, is to take it by as little as possible or give it up as big as possible. The possibility of winning when you know 100% for a fact you’re not getting to the finish line first is very slim. If you are both above your index you have 0% chance of winning but in a double breakout scenario the only way to save yourself is to let them take the stripe.
My thought process is to put the pressure on your opponents. Don’t ever let your opponent get any advantage over you. You must change up your game plan every once in a while and not become predictable. A predictable racer is the easiest racer to race against. To be a great racer you have to become somebody that can do anything at anytime and when somebody races you they will constantly be on their toes and wonder what your next move will be. Is he going to want to take the stripe or is he going to give it back to me? When that question is going through your mind at whatever speed right through the finish line it’s tough to make the right decision and act on it. Anytime you can get a mental advantage over somebody it will help you to win. Don’t be intimidated or easily flustered. If something happens outside of the ordinary, take a deep breath, re-focus and get back in the right state of mind.
A great quote I saw on a poster one time came from one of the greatest boxers in history and it has always kind of stuck with me. I’ll leave you with a quote from Muhammad Ali, “Champions are made from something they have deep inside them-a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”