DRIVING A POWERFUL DRAG RACECAR – part 3 – Staging
by Bob Szabo
IHRA DRM - 2007 Issue #8
Continuing from the previous two articles, my racecar is at idle, just after a long, smoky burnout. I am behind the wheel and all pumped up for the continuation of the race.
BACKING UP: I see my crew person in front and to the side of my racecar. He motions me to back up. Again I am reliant on that person for eyes side-to-side and behind. The main goal is to direct me back over my tracks or over the center by following hand signals from another crew person behind the line who is motioning the backup direction. Those eyes are required also for clearance that it is OK to back up. I have seen an occasional parachutes open by mistake on the burnout. I have seen an occasional competitor in the next lane cross over into the other lane. Those eyes are needed to make sure the pathway is OK. The crew is also looking at the racecar, watching for leaks or anything else that might be out of place. In the driver’s seat, you are so enclosed that it is sometimes difficult to modulate speed. In addition, you have anxiety to backup fast and get going. The forward crew person is keeping me from going too fast by lowering his hands that indicate to slow down. As we back up the forward crew person must keep aware of staying within my eyesight that is limited by the blower & injector, the window forward pillar, and the roof of the racecar. In evening racing, the crew may be carrying a cloth to wipe off the windshield or my helmet lens from dew buildup.
CREW BEHIND THE LINE: Our line crew person is examining our black tracks over the starting line. He or she directs the forward crewperson to steer me over those tracks if they are near the center and sticky. It is more difficult when those tracks are not in the center. The line crew person has to decide whether to line up the car off center over the tracks, ignore them & line the car on center, or line it off center in an area with better “stiction”. That is often determined by walking the track just before the race or while the racecar is backing up. The line crew person twists his foot and gages the shear strength of the track. You will feel stickiness by walking on the track with your shoe sticking to it and feel shear strength by twisting the toe end of your foot. At times, good shear strength resistance is felt from one side of the starting line to the other side, and the alignment is not important. Yet, often the track has higher shear strength on one side or the other. This “stiction” issue can get complicate. The racetrack is prepared with a coating of sticky VHT. Then old race tire treads are normally dragged over the track to lay down a surface of rubber. In addition, other racecars have spun their tires over the surface, leaving a coating of rubber. On a hot day, with track temperatures over about 120 deg. F., the glue is sticky but there is less shear force. The responsibility for a crew person is to find the best track shear strength and to line the car up in that groove. In addition, some cars may drift repeatedly to one side or the other when they launch. In that case, the line crew person may line up the car on the opposite side of the lane for more room to drift. In this case the center is fine, and the crew person directs our car in that groove. I have seen some experienced teams line up a racecar way to one side or the other. If you line it up too close to the tree, the starting line official may intervene if he sees your alignment decision without any previous trend from your routine. Many starters learn the idiosyncrasies of the racers and see your alignment bias practice. My crew chief walks that track and assesses the condition as best he can, especially when there is any show interruption before our round. I have no conscious awareness of where he is lining me up, but I am dependent on it being the best groove. Any subsequent conversation with him always reveals his assessment of the track. He establishes a good relationship with the starting line track workers and often solicits their observations & recommendations. That attention to detail takes a large load off my shoulders at the races. I am now backed behind the starting line. The line crew person waves his hands back and forth as a signal to stop my racecar. The front crew person waves his hands in response, and I stop. I change gears from reverse to forward.
READY TO STAGE: I glance at the oil pressure gage. I double-check that my racer is in first gear. I slowly drag the clutch to make sure I am in forward. I blip the throttle a couple of times. This is what it is all about. All that work. All that money spent. All that help. All in preparation for this moment and the next 15 or so seconds of pure adrenaline and subsequent euphoria! My crew chief is at the front side of the racecar. I always ask my crew chief to be on the side opposite the starting tree. I want to see that tree in my sight for as long as possible before the start, to get used to the location and appearance. My crew chief makes a last minute look over the racecar and exhaust color. He and the others are watching for leaks. With no problems, he gives me the thumbs up. He is also holding his hand up halting my progress, looking over at the other racecar. He is watching that it is ready to stage. Our racecar carries a couple extra gallons of methanol. If our competitor is not ready, and we idle the engine with a cool, rich mixture, we can wait as long as it takes. In those rare instances the starter will intervene if the wait is excessive, shutting down the opponent and giving us a one finger up signaling a solo pass. In this run the opponent is ready, and my crew chief motions me to pull forward.
STAGING: With my hand dragging the brake handle, my foot lets up on the clutch pedal a bit to drag the clutch and slowly move the racecar forward with my crewman’s hand ahead of the racecar. This is at the location of the staging lights. I pull forward until the crew chief stops me a few inches from the first stage. He gives me the final thumbs up and then walks out from my eyesight. That is a moment that always startles me. I am completely on my own. A brake handle, throttle, clutch pedal, and a couple shift levers are my tools of the run. They are all in my control from my brain, hands, and feet. What will happen in the next few seconds to 2,000 pounds of racecar running on a few gallons of methanol in front of a crowd of enthusiasts?
FIRST & SECOND STAGE: I creep forward and my first staging light is on. My opponent’s light is now on also. I bring up my revs to about 5,000 RPM, holding the hand brake tightly. The clutch pedal is pushing up against my foot from the centrifugal engagement mechanism. I am holding the pedal down with a hefty leg force. I drag the clutch a bit to creep forward to engage the second staging light. My competitor’s second stage is lit also and his engine is revving. All of my attention goes towards those amber bulbs below the staging lights that will signal to start the race. We are ready to go.
As a courtesy from IHRA to our readers, previous Tech Stop articles can be viewed or downloaded from our website www.racecarbook.com click on Articles.
About the Author
Bob Szabo is an owner / driver of a blown alcohol drag racecar and one of the few technical racing book authors. His new book: “5,000 Horsepower on Methanol, with Nitro, Racing Gas, Nitrous, & Ethanol Technology” covers fuel injection, carburetors, normally aspirated, supercharged, and turbocharged setups. His current book, “Fuel Injection Racing Secrets” provides added tuning info for methanol. Both are becoming popular gifts for birthday and anniversaries such as that first 9 or 8 or 7 second ET! Check the DRM Yellow Pages for Szabo Publishing or look on the Internet at https://www.racecarbook.com or call (916) 419 6649.