Bob Mullaney Guest Tutorial
“Doing It Deep”
By Bob Mullaney
When Luke asked if I would be interested in contributing to “This is Bracket Racing”, it didn’t take a lot of arm twisting to answer yes. I’ve been racing for many years and I figured it should be a piece of cake contributing some of my knowledge and experience in bracket racing, right? Well then I began looking at the list of “killer” instructors who Luke already enlisted and seriously wondered what I had gotten myself into. Being a footbrake racer for most of my “career”, one article on this site that particularly stood out to me was the one written by Michael Beard, titled “Footbraker’s Guide to Reaction Times”. I would like to take that subject a bit deeper (pun intended), to the wonderful world of deep staging. There have been a lot of discussions and just as much controversy surrounding this subject. I’ll be pointing out some of the problems involved with going deep, as well as, what I feel make all these hassles still worth it.
Currently, most tracks around the country use the Autostart system (within the Compulink Timing System). One of the many features of Autostart is the ability to set parameters for when the tree will start, after it recognizes TWO stage bulbs lit. Most tracks set their stage minimum (amount of time the bulb must stay lit in case of any bulb flickering) .7 seconds and their stage start (amount of time after the stage minimum which the tree finally begins its sequence) for a somewhat random time between .9 seconds and 1.6 seconds. With this time parameter, it can be difficult to accomplish deep staging within the Autostart system. Because of this, a competitor was allowed to write “DEEP” on his or her own vehicle and the starter would then override Autostart (hold the tree) until the deep stager had completed this process. This was cause for some backlash with the racers, as some felt that this was now giving the deep stager special consideration. Further, some felt that this privilege was being greatly taken advantage of. To alleviate these issues, a track in NHRA’s Northeast Division (Maple Grove Raceway) came up with the idea of adding time to the current Autostart system that was already in place. The stage minimum would be increased from the traditional .7 seconds to 1.0 seconds and the stage start from .9 seconds to a minimum of 1.7 seconds, adding a minimum of 1.1 seconds to the time before the tree started. Although deep staging would still be allowed within the enhanced time parameters, the word “DEEP” could no longer be written on a competitor’s vehicle. This ultimately became the ruling at all NHRA Division 1 tracks. It was certainly a compromise, and a much better alternative to banning deep staging altogether, which had been discussed numerous times in the past. This, admittedly, did resolve much of the deep staging controversy. In other parts of the country (my home base is in NHRA’s Div1), the rules may vary. Some divisions and tracks honor deep, some go along with the above listed time parameters and some may have even gone as far as to not allowing DEEP at all. With that being said, when it is allowed, I feel that the advantages of “DOING IT DEEP” far outweigh the disadvantages for the average footbrake racer.
I’ve been fortunate enough to drive a menagerie of vehicles (mainly in footbrake) ranging from high dollar 9.0 second (1/4 mile) rockets to 20 second (1/4 mile) slugs. I feel that my ability to adapt in a variety of vehicles, while remaining competitive, has relied heavily on deep staging. As Michael explained in his tutorial “Footbrakers’ Guide to Reaction Times”, “…a deep-staged car’s rollout is the distance between the Pre-Staged and Staged beams: much of the front tire is already in front of the Stage beam.” This substantially reduces the distance the tire has to travel before it clears the stage beam. I am sure there will be some debate on this, but in my opinion, the average 10 second (1/4 mile) or slower footbrake car will have a difficult time actually reacting to the bottom bulb and be capable of having a competitive reaction time while shallow staged. Just as a reference, check out some of the reaction times seen in Stock eliminator. There are some exceptional racers, that will sometimes (probably more times than they would like), come up with some less than stellar reaction times. Now, keep in mind that deep staging is no longer allowed in Stock eliminator, although I’ll go out on a limb and say that more than a few of them would be deep staging if it were.
A great way to find out what your particular car is truly capable of in regards to reaction time is to attend a test and tune session and request a .5 Pro tree. It may take a little getting used to, but give it a try. It may be very enlightening. Make a few hits with your normal setup (RPM, tire pressure, etc.) shallow staged. Then do the same on a full tree. It may seem that I’m comparing apples to oranges here, but the reality is that if you are truly reacting to the bottom bulb, the average reaction time between the two methods should be very similar. If your full tree average is substantially better than your Pro tree average, chances are, you’re actually anticipating the last bulb coming on. I know that there are a lot of racers that do a great job of “reading” the tree. I’m not here to dispute their method as right or wrong. However, I will say that I’ve always been much more consistent through actually reacting to and “seeing” the bulb. I’ll assume that most bottom bulb racers own a practice tree (I have a Biondo handheld tree) and I feel that it’s one of the most useful tools for any racer to improve his/her reaction time consistency. One of the methods I use to train my self is to switch between the .5 Pro tree setting and the .5 full tree setting, using the same rollout for each. Once again your averages between the two settings should be very similar (less than .01 difference). Keep in mind that because the .5 Pro tree setting will show your true reaction time, a setting that gives you a good average on the .5 Pro tree should be the same setting that should be used to train yourself on the .5 Full tree. This should be your ultimate goal if you are looking to truly react to the bottom bulb. Generally (not taking into account newer trees having LED bulbs in them which an added .025-.030 would be necessary), the average person will have somewhere between .290 and .330 in their rollout setting to come up in the vicinity of a .00 light. I typically use around .310 as my rollout, meaning it takes me approximately .190 seconds to react to the bulb (most athletes exhibit reaction times between .120 and .160 seconds) and the rest would, theoretically, be the amount of time it takes my vehicle to clear the stage beams. Going back to our test and tune Pro tree experiment. Lets say, for argument’s sake, that my average Pro tree reaction time is .100 while shallow staging a particular vehicle. I would then have to train myself to react with a .410 rollout in my practice tree to be in that .00 reaction time area. I already know that .310 is the correct rollout for MY “natural hit” and in order for me to try and leave a tenth of a second earlier (while doing it consistently of course), would be extremely difficult. Some racers may try to compensate for uncompetitive reaction times by leaving at an exceptionally high starting line RPM. This, however, can be problematic for numerous reasons. If you are leaving at the RPM limit of what your brakes are capable of holding (and your reaction times are still unacceptable), you may have to resort to other methods, such as bumping, which tends to hurt consistency. I’ve seen racers, my self included, that have taken nice “strong” bumps during time shots and then somewhat lose their nerve during eliminations, virtually rendering the bumps useless, doing no more than rocking the car back and forth with little to no forward movement. This not only affects their reaction time negatively, but now they are also going to have an E.T. quicker than originally anticipated, due to the increase in their rollout. Visually, the race will play out the same, but that’s only because you’re on a breakout pass, thanks to your less than aggressive starting line bumps and greater rollout. Leaving at an elevated RPM can also have an adverse effect on transmission fluid temperature, which may affect the way the torque converter operates, hindering both elapsed time and reaction time consistency. This can especially happen when you are hot lapping (which hopefully you are doing more often than not). I am also a firm believer in staging at the same RPM that I intend to leave the starting line at. This can prove to be very difficult at an elevated RPM. Also, trying to adjust your RPM after staging can take away focus on the tree and hurt reaction time consistency. Having the ability to stage at a much lower starting line RPM while deep staging, is not only easier on your equipment, but also allows for a much larger RPM range with which to adjust your reaction times. Another benefit of deep staging is the inherent rollout differences there will be, not only from lane to lane, but from track to track as well. We’ve all heard competitors comment that a track is either “tight” or “loose” in regards to rollout and how it affects their reaction times. Because you have taken a large percentage of that rollout away by deep staging, you have now substantially reduced that variable. Thanks to this, you now have the ability of adjusting your reaction time that much easier at whatever track you may be at, allowing you to stay closer to your “normal” setup.
The amount deep staging affects reaction time will vary from car to car. The difference could be as little as four to five hundredths for a quicker accelerating car, to as much as fifteen hundredths or more for a slower street type car. That, in its self, is almost too good to be true. The slower and less costly your car, the more deep staging helps you in regards to having a competitive reaction time. In general, for every hundredth of a second your reaction time improves, there will approximately be the same increase (slowing) in your elapsed time. Believe it or not, this can also be beneficial. Now your elapsed time and your MPH have become somewhat disproportionate, in that, you may have a little more MPH than your elapsed time might indicate. People spend a lot of money to pick up some MPH. Now, by just moving your vehicle a few inches further in the staging process, you’ve at least given the perception of a higher MPH in regards to what your E.T. “should be”. This not only makes your ability to judge the finish line a little bit easier, but it also makes it tougher for your opponent to judge YOU at the finish line as well.
Obviously, having a good reaction time is not all it takes to win in the highly competitive environment that footbrake racing has become, but having the ability to have a competitive reaction time will certainly help. When you take that ability and apply it to many of the other strategies and methods talked about on TIBR, you should certainly start to see an improvement in your round win percentage. I’ve always felt that bracket racing, in particular footbrake racing, should be something that the little guy can do at a reasonable cost and still have a chance to be competitive. Deep staging can play a large part in making that possible.