Justin Lamb Guest Editorial
Editors Note: We've been toying with the idea of going a different direction with the guest instructor columns in the future, and this column from Justin Lamb is the test case. Rather than asking guest instructors to focus on an individual topic, we've asked them to select an event that they won, and walk us through the race round by round. In the process, each competitor will talk about strategy and execution from their own perspective, and describe how they got to the winner circle. Below, I feel like "Baby J" does an excellent job of walking us through his thought progressions, both pre-race and on track. In the process, he covers a lot of topics that we've talked about here on TIBR, and explains how he applies many of the same principles in competition. Personally, I really like the "How I Won It" format; but let us know what you think via e-mail, the JEGS Q&A, and/or the American Race Cars "Strategy Session" message board. Without further ado, I'll turn it over to the latest member of the TIBR family of instructors, Justin Lamb!" - Luke
My name is Justin Lamb and I am a racer on the “left coast”. I started racing in Jr. Dragsters from age 8 until 15 and have raced different full sized cars ever since. I have raced in many classes from the simple bracket race to super comp and gas all the way to competition eliminator. Although I don’t have years and years of racing under my belt, I like to think that I have gained a lot of experience over the past few years due to the amount I have raced and the different cars I have been given the opportunity to drive.
To start I would like to thank Luke for giving me the opportunity to write a column for his web site. Before writing this I looked over all of the articles written by all of these great racers and it is very overwhelming. It’s very hard to come up with a subject and to have it posted amongst these great guys with years and years of experience and who knows how many national championships and race wins. Luckily for me Luke has given me the idea to change the way these articles are going. The idea is to pick a race that I won and to depict each and every round and the decisions I made.
The race that I am going to discuss is the Las Vegas national event from the spring of last year. This was a very big race for me as it was my hometown race and with all of my family and friends there to watch. I was racing my 2010 Chevy Cobalt that I race in both super stock and competition eliminator. It is really a great car that is fast as well as consistent. During qualifying for this race I had shut off to try and qualify at a particular spot on the ladder and avoid a first round match up that was too difficult. I ended up qualified in the #29 position by running a 9.305 although the car was actually running in the low 9 teens. I was fortunate enough to play the ladder right and I ended up with a Hemi car first round. Most of the time getting a Hemi car any round in super stock is a good thing as most of the Hemi racers only care about going fast and not so much about actually racing. Seeing as though I was racing a Hemi car I dialed my car very close to what I thought it could run. I felt like I was going 9.13 so I dialed a 9.14. The only reason for dialing up that .01 is simply if the track was bad and the car was to spin the tires. It was a round where I was very confident that I would have a better light and my Cobalt is a very good race car so I could just trust it to run dead on. Needless to say I was .034 on the tree to my opponents .030 but not long after leaving the starting line his car broke. There is not much to discuss in this round as I just went to half track and lifted to coast through to the finish line. I went .621 over my dial in.
The next round was not run until Saturday morning and there was a big weather swing. The weather had gotten much warmer and the barometer had also dropped substantially. I do feel very confident in dialing my cobalt but it was definitely a round that instead of taking a chance and missing the dial it was easier for me to dial up and make sure I had room to get to the finish line. In a round that I know it is going to be slow, more times than not it is safe to hold a little and make sure to get to the finish line first and take the stripe as the opponent I am racing will most likely run off of their dial in. The gentleman I was racing was Rob Youngblood. He is racer from out here on the west coast that does a hell of a job driving a stick shift super stock car. Before going up to the staging lanes to run I always like to do as much “homework” as I can. With the use of technology and all of the programs and websites that are available to everyone today it is easy to look at the previous runs Rob made and then essentially I try to dial in his car also. I try to look at his runs and compare to the weather during that run to the weather of this round and determine what I think he is capable of running. It just helps to give an idea of how he might dial his car in. If I go up there and I think he is going to run a 10.31 but he dials a 10.35 I know that he is either holding a bunch and going to drop at the finish line or that he is just very misled. If he dials down way more then I think he is capable or running then I will know that I have more room to work with at the finish line to try and take the stripe. With rob neither one of these were the case. I did the math and felt that he could run around at best a 10.30. I figured that all based on the weather and the changes in the conditions. I also felt that my car could run a high 9.15. He ran a 10.24 in qualifying where I was going a 9.12, so when you do the math he was going .06 slower then qualifying and I was going .03. The reason that I felt I was going to run closer to my qualifying time was simply because in super stock the “hood scoop” or “modified” cars like my Cobalt do not seem to be affected by the weather as much as a conventional car would be.
When I got to the staging lanes he had already had his dial in on the car and it was a 10.28. At that point I felt very confident about dialing up a little bit and making sure I could get to the stripe first. In my mind at that point I felt as though I had an extra .02 to work with at the finish line not including any advantage or disadvantage I had at the starting line. I dialed my car a 9.19 which would mean I was going about .035 to .040 quicker than my dial in. After I left the starting line I felt like I had had a descent light. Knowing that I am holding .04 it is in my head that I no matter what have to kill what I am holding. As I go down the track I am trying to decide how fast I am going to catch Rob and also if I am going to have enough room to kill the .04. As it turns out I have caught him at about 900ft. As I roll up next to his car I have about a 22 mph advantage as my car goes 150 and his goes about 128. I use a combination of the throttle and the brake to pace him and I got to the finish line by .010. In this situation I had caught him early enough that I knew I was killing a lot more then .04. As it turns out I ran a 9.231 on the 9.19 dial and he ran a 10.293 on his 10.28 dial and I was .036 on the tree to his .074. Looking back at the round, although I won and everything worked out in my favor I obviously didn’t dial Rob’s car very well as he almost ran right on.
Moving in to third round was a totally different mindset then the previous two rounds. I was racing Jimmy Defrank. I few of you might have heard of him… I think he has won a race or two… We were running first thing in the morning on Sunday and the weather was once again fast. It was cool out and the track prep was great. While looking at his previous runs during the weekend Jimmy had been driving great just as he always does. He was .009 first round and .026 second round. My two lights were .034 and .036. Obviously looking at that I was at a disadvantage and I needed to step up my light to be able to have a chance against the champ. During qualifying I was .013, .008, and .011 so I knew where to hit the tree to have a better light. The only thing I changed from qualifying to first and second round was front tire pressure and I lowered the launch chip 200. Well this was a big round as in my head I felt that the winner of this round was going to be on his way to the final. It was time to step up, raise the launch RPM and hit the tree good. I did the math on the weather and felt that I was going to run a 9.13 and also that Jimmy was going to run 8.92. When we got to the lanes we ended up being the second pair of cars out so there wasn’t much time to watch cars and make sure it was as fast as the weather looked. I had to go by my math and trust it and the car. I dialed a 9.14, which was .01 slower than I thought I could run so I had a little room to work with incase of tire spin or if it wasn’t as fast I the math had showed. Jimmy dialed an 8.92 which was exactly what I thought he was going to run. Jimmy and his team are very good at dialing the car and they run right on their dial in more the anyone in super stock out here on the west coast. Another thing I knew about Jimmy just from racing against him and around him so much over the years is that he is not one to do a lot of fancy stuff at the finish line. He will hit the tree, and rarely miss it or be red, and he will run right on his number most of the time. He has a lot success racing that way and it works for him. With having that knowledge I knew that I just had to put up a good package. There was not going to be any “tricking” him at the stripe to make him give it back or take too much.
In addition to being feirce competitors on the track, Jimmy and I are good friends away from it
The sole most important thing of this round was to hit the tree and hit it good. I needed to have a good light, better then a .015, to stand a chance at winning the round because I knew Jimmy would be right there with a great light himself. When we left the starting line I felt good about my light. It was one of those rounds we have all had where if the green light comes on; I knew he was in trouble. As we went down the track he pulled on me very quickly. He runs about two tenths quicker in ET but about the exact same MPH. As we got to the 1000ft mark I realized that he wasn’t going to catch me. I tried to hold out as long as I could and stay disciplined so I did not want to kill that .01 I was holding to early and end up killing more than I needed. In doing this and worrying about him driving around me I ended up doing a bad job at the finish line. I ended up getting to the finish line .018 ahead of Jimmy which when racing a car with the exact same MPH I should have been able to get closer. I went down the end of the track and killed my .01 instead changing the game plan when I had plenty of room to make it close. The final numbers of the round was my .005 light to his .025 and I went .004 under my dial in to his .006 under. Although I won the round I only won it by .002. A win is a win but if I had done a better job at the stripe I could have used my .02 advantage on the starting line to not make the race a double breakout. I would have been over my dial in and put up a much better package. Needless to say we were both going a little quicker than we had anticipated.
Moving on to the fourth round of the event I was paired up with Jackie Alley. (She is the 2011 Super Stock National Champion and accomplished an amazing thing by being the first female to do that, so a big congrats is in order for her!!) This was again a slow round as the weather swings out west are very large some times. We got pushed back to run after the second round of the pro’s which was the middle of the afternoon. The weather was hot and the track was hot. When I rolled into the lanes she had dialed exactly what she ran that morning and I dialed up .05 from what I had ran that morning. Although I didn’t think it was .05 slow it was all of about .03 or .04 so I felt it was a great round to hit the tree and take the stripe. Due to my knowing how slow it was out I lowered the chip back out as I felt no need to take a chance of red lighting. When we left the starting I felt positive about my reaction time and knew that I had to get rid of about .02 to be above my dial in. I ended up catching her around 1000ft and I was able to pace her through the finish line. I knew that I killed much more then I needed to and got to the stripe by .0103. We both had identical .019 reaction times and I ran a 9.217 on the 9.19 dial. She ran 9.857 on the 9.81 dial. Needless to say being aggressive and making sure that I dialed up enough to get to the stripe paid off in a slow round.
Semi-final rounds are always big rounds to me. It’s the difference of a minimum of $5000. If you win that round you are in the final round where all of those little stickers add up in a hurry. I was racing a gentleman by the name of James Butler who I have raced a few times in the super categories. He had recently purchased the super stock truck he was racing and he was doing a very good job. The weather kept getting slower so I dialed up a little more to a 9.21. Jim was dialed at a 10.56 which was .03 quicker than he had run the previous round. I doubled checked his MPH from previous rounds to determine that he had killed some ET in the previous round and in fact was only dialed down about .01 from what he had ran. With the change in weather I was still confident that he was going .02 or more over his dial in. As we went up to the starting line I was slightly more aggressive. It was a big race for me; my family was there, all my friends, and my dad’s customers. I wanted to win this round and make it to the final more than anything. The starting line chip was back where it was against Jimmy Defrank and I went for a light. When the tree came down I hit it good and as soon as I left I noticed that he had red lit. I was .007 and he was -.004 red. I ran the car to the 1000 ft mark to get numbers and check my dial in for the final.
Coming in to the final I had a very different mindset than any other race I had been in. This was Vegas, my home town, and the place that I grew up racing and won my first race ever at. To top all of that I was racing Brad Plourd. Brad is probably the best racer in the country that has never won a national championship. On any day he can win and he does a great job racing. The weird thing about this race was that coming in to the final round he had been red once and his average green light was .067. He was also parked right by me and he and I are good friends and I had been trying to help him fix the miss that he had in his car all weekend. In my head and on paper it looked like I had a huge advantage and that if things kept going the way they were and I didn’t change my driving I should have an easy win. Then when I took a second and though about it, this is Brad. He is capable of winning and making something happen at any moment. As we pulled up to the final my plan was to take a different approach. My thought was that Brad would most likely expect me to hold a little. I had been all day and I know that he pays attention. I also had no idea what Brad was running as his dial in varied about 0.20. I felt the best decision was for me to hit the tree average. Not take a chance at going red but to go for a teen or twenty light. I also didn’t feel that holding was the right idea. I was confident that I would have a better light and that the car wouldn’t let me down so I dialed a 9.19 which was exactly what I thought I could run.
Well as the smarter side of me suspected the race was nothing like the previous rounds Brad had won. I left the starting line confident that I had a good light and as we went down the track Brad caught me very early. He was right next to me at about 800 ft and was doing a great job pacing me. He was staying about a foot ahead and all I could think was that I wish I was holding to make him take more. I got a little bit away from my plan at that point and decided that I need to kill a little to make sure that I didn’t break out. We got down close to the finish line and I killed only about 4 mph which is not what I would normally do. At the same time I did that Brad dropped very hard. I would assume this was in anticipation of me killing a lot more than I did. In the end I got to the stripe first by .0053. Brad had a great .016 light to my .023 and he was .03 over his dial to my .02. This was a great example of a race that doing homework and looking at previous rounds are irrelevant. Sometimes it’s better to go with your gut and know that a guy like Brad is always good when he needs to be. No matter how much he is struggling he can find a way to win and put together a good run and you can never let your guard down and take for granted his previous bad runs.
This was probably the biggest win of my career. Getting to share the victory with friends and family at my home track was really special!
To conclude this was a great race for me. It was probably my most memorable race to date and I had a lot of tough rounds to get by to win. I hope that I wrote this in enough detail to explain my thought process both on and off the track and maybe it can help one understand the way I approach a race and all of the different factors that go into decision making. Thank you for taking the time to read my article and again thanks to Luke for giving me this chance and for creating the great website that we all use and enjoy.