TROPHY STREET TIPS
by Dale Wilson
Tired of racing Super Pro and getting a run slip that
shows you just lost to a .005 or less package, and you just ran a dead-on-with-a-nine
and had a .510 reaction time? Is $4.75-a-gallon 114-octane racing gas
getting to be too much on the ol' racing budget? Here it is, mid September
and you mean to say that you've gotta spend another $400 for new slicks
when you just bought a set in June? Do you really, really need a change
in your racing program, even if it's only for a couple of weeks?
Consider Trophy Street. I did this past year, and I'll
have to admit, it was some high fun. It all goes back to a year or so
ago when I had to cover a B&M Racer Appreciation Series race at
Memphis Motorsports Park for a defunct magazine that I used to edit.
Showing up at the track on Friday morning in a low-mileage Buick rent-a-car,
friends talked me into racing it in the Footbrake class. Turns out I
went to the final round the next day, losing to the guy who just about
dominated the class for the whole weekend, early Ford Fairlane racer
Larry Seals from Indiana, who out-treed me off the starting line.
I learned something about racing that weekend that I'd
never considered before -- that today's low-horsepower, front-wheel-drive
family coupes and sedans can make a darn good footbraker in the trophy
bracket class. B&M traveling preacher Artie Fulcher taught me that.
See, when I go out of town, I'll get lost just going around
the block. When we went out to eat that night, Artie, being from Memphis,
said he knew where there was a great barbecue place across town. "Okay,"
I said, "Let's go. But you're driving. I get lost just going around
We pulled into the barbecue parking lot, and just for
kicks, Artie pumped up the brakes and mashed on the gas, and the Buick
just sat there, pap-pap-papping at 2,500 rpm, like it was on a rev limiter
and a trans brake. A light suddenly went off inside my head -- I can
race this thing! Yeah! I can put it to the floor with my right foot,
hold the car in the staging lights with my left and play like I'm racing
a stick car! When I see the last yellow of the Christmas tree, I'll
yank my left foot up and away I'll go. Heck, my right foot is on the
floor already, so there's no lost motion, no "I see yellow, okay,
one, let off the brake with my left foot, two, stomp the gas with my
right" ... well, you get the idea. For some reason, Buick engineers
installed a rev limiter to kick in on the engine when the brakes are
applied. The car made a perfect Trophy Eliminator sedan.
So I lost to a potent Fairlane and Mr. Seals with a .70-something
tree to his .520-whatever and dead-on-with change. I still had fun,
and racing in the B&M Footbrake Eliminator, I made a little spare
change, too. Could other cars treat me as well as the rent-a-Buick did?
I raced our newest grocery getter, the 2002 Mazda Protg
5 that we call "Little Zoom Zoom" a month after wife Fran
brought it home. At Atlanta Dragway, an hour and a half from home, I
went out in the fifth round of the track's Trophy Street class on a
Saturday night when Zoom Zoom decided to go an 18.91 off an 18.80 dial-in.
Okay, so Zoom Zoom isn't the most consistent car around, but it was
still fun to cut .530 reaction times (which I was doing) in a slow,
slow car in the deep stage mode. We'll bring it back when we figure
out how to make is more consistent (which it was, until the ambient
But how do you make a car like Zoom Zoom consistent? How
do you prepare your family grocery getter and school kid picker-upper
for the drags? I asked around, and here are the answers that I got.
ENGINE TEMPERATURE IS CRITICAL
First, I talked to Tim Griffiths of Virginia, the guy who showed up
at the 2000 NHRA Division 2 bracket finals in his family's Jeep Cherokee,
won the Sportsman crown and with it, an expenses-paid trip to the NHRA
World Finals at Pomona, where the "world" bracket finals were
presented. He won that race too! Griffiths then loaded up his family
in the Jeep and drove it back to Virginia. That's impressive.
"Hey, Tim," I asked him later, "I have
this new Mazda wagon and I wanna race it in Footbrake or Trophy. Got
any tips?" Yeah, Griffiths said, two. "First, wire up your
fan so you can bypass it automatically, and put it on a toggle switch,
so you can control it. Second, get yourself a 160-degree thermostat
and put it in. With the built-in computer in these new cars, engine
temperature is critical. You want to control it yourself. Do those two
things and I'll guarantee you you'll win." Hmmm, I said. Sounds
like a good wintertime project to me.
I remember several years ago at the Division 2 bracket
finals at Atlanta Dragway, the guy who won Trophy Street showed up earlier
in the day in his family's Honda or Suburu or something like that, and
he controlled the temperature the "poor man's way" -- he never
shut the car off throughout the entire day and night of eliminations,
and that was a long, 14-hour day.
Okay, so what else does one do to go Trophy Street racing
in the family gas-sipper? We asked Brenda Taylor of Raleigh, North Carolina
that very question. Taylor, a school teacher married to the famous long-time
bracketeer Steve Taylor, won a Super Chevy race at Rockingham Dragway,
a B&M go at Atlanta, plus several runners-up at big money Footbrake
races, and many local meets. She had some answers.
"We have six identical (early 1990 model) Cavaliers,
so that if any break, we can go to another one and not miss a beat,"
she said. Every one is equipped with a water temperature gauge, a tachometer
-- essential for staging, Mrs. Taylor says -- and a fan that is wired
through a toggle switch, so she or Steve can control the engine temperature.
"You don't need to worry about heat now," she said.
The Taylors race on soft tires (Bridgestone is their preferred make),
and the numbers and compounds are learned through experience, she said.
A harder street compound will spin in the winter, and spinning equals
inconsistency. Air pressure? Since she goes in deep, she runs from 30
to 32 pounds in the front tires. One racer whom she has gone up against,
she said, is TV commentator and racing personality Bret Kepner of Missouri,
who often pumps his fronts up to 50 or pounds. "But he shallow-stages,
so he has to have a lot of rollout. We always deep-stage our Cavaliers,"
She lets her Cavaliers shift by themselves, and she knows
each by heart. "A lot of times, when I'm in deep, I don't have
time to look at the tach, so I know by hearing and by feel what rpm
the engine is at," she said. Her leave rpm of choice is about 1,800,
and the Cavaliers can't be raced like my Protg or that Buick
-- they have to leave at a certain rpm, because they won't stall when
the gas is matted.
Last year, Mrs. Taylor raced a rented, four-cylinder Taurus
at a B&M race in Texas and went four rounds in Footbrake, and that
car could be matted. "But I lost because it was inconsistent,"
she said. (Which brings up the thought -- would it be worth it to bring
your own wiring and toggle switch and rig up the rent-a-car in the pits?
Naaah, the legalities alone would be just ... oh, my goodness ... mind-boggling.)
For the rear-wheel-drive contingent, we now turn to Mrs. Holly Rutledge,
who for years raced Trophy Street exclusively until she was told that
she had to move up to Sportsman Eliminator. Same thing, except the competition
is tougher but the money is better (Trophy Street is usually just that
-- you race for a trophy).
Holly's mount of choice is a '98 Mustang GT that has been
slightly tweaked by her Ford mechanic- husband, Jacob, a man who won
the Atlanta Dragway Sportsman crown last year, then finished No. 2 in
Division 2 points, and wrapped up the No. 1 spot again this year at
Atlanta by mid-August.
Mrs. Rutledge's Stang is a 4.6-liter rear-wheel-drive
coupe that always gets a fresh tank of BP 93-octane gas when she goes
racing. Why? "I've heard that it burns cleaner and better,"
the school teacher said. The Ford has a 4.10 rear gear, a 2,800-stall
TCS converter and a 180-degree thermostat that keeps the engine at 165
to 170 degrees when hot. Holly always lets the rear tire pressure down
to 15 pounds, and she runs on BF Goodrich Drag Radials, 275-40-by-17
in size. She lets the trans shift itself, stages at 1,800 rpm and stares
hard at the last yellow bulb on the tree, then goes when it flashes.
Her best finish at a race this year has been at five cars, but that
was racing her "new" Stang only part-time.
And Holly always wears an approved helmet -- the Mustang
runs below the 14.00-elapsed time break that NHRA set as mandate for
safety helmets. That's another advantage in racing slow, slow footbrakers
-- no helmets. Plus you always get the clean Christmas tree.
And that's it. I've always said -- let's put the fun back
into brackets. I think Trophy Street is one way.