Dead on 

Are announcer and racer race descriptions confusing spectators and crew?


I was thinking the other night at a race where they had a really large crowd, maybe 3,000 people, and before the Big Show of jets and funny cars there was a Big Bucks bracket race going on. I am sure this is very common across the country as tracks try “special spectator events” so they could have a good profitable event.


I was thinking as I stood by the PA listening to the announcer, I wonder how many spectators understand what is going on? As announcing has gotten more technical and descriptions have become a lot different in the past few years (mainly thanks to guys like Jed Pennington and other announcers who really do a great job verbally “painting a picture” of the race going on right in front of you or on your computer, thanks to Live Streaming.)


Twenty-five to thirty years ago, NHRA used to provide their sanctioned tracks small brochures that were basically a “Description of Bracket Racing”. I think it was designed to help people new to bracket racing understand what they might hear at the track from racers and announcers. It covered things like how the track was laid out, how the Christmas Tree functioned, staging beams, intermediate and finish line photocells, and it covered the terminology and words used at a dragstrip. I don’t have the memory to recall a lot of them. It had the basics the person new to drag racing would likely hear at a drag race at that time.


Pre-stage and Stage beams, Dial-ins, Burnouts, Roll-out, Reaction Times, Break-out and Double Break-out, True-Win Light, Super Pro, Pro, Sportsman and other classes. If you were new to racing and heard these terms it would be like a foreign language. If you are a racer who dealt with these terms you might think it is a waste of time to put them in a flyer and hand them out.


I think a small brochure explaining what the spectator is watching in today’s bracket racing could help bring back and keep spectators. I have always felt that if you wanted to stay interested in something you MUST understand it. Some sports are simple: stock car racing where one guy gets the checkered flag, football when a player takes the ball across the goal line, soccer when the ball gets inside the net, hockey when the puck is in the net, and golf in which the strokes quit when the ball is in the cup. Of course a LOT goes on in these sports before the goal, the final lap, etc., but overall it is simpler to watch and listen to, at least I think it is.


If you watch a bracket race today or watch one that is being “Live Streamed” from a Big Bucks event like the Million or the dozens of other bracket races you hear the announcer bringing up terms that only the most savvy racers can quickly relate to.


“The driver is carrying-four”, “That driver is going to need a throttle cable, he is wearing it out at the stripe”, “Spraying up to his/her opponent then cutting them loose”, “dumped them at the finish line”, “could have won that round but took seven-thou too much stripe”, “Seven-thou Package for the Win”. It goes on and on and if I were new to watching bracket racing I would not have a clue what the heck the announcer is talking about. What happened here: “Right lane was trip zip on the tree but hogged it up at the stripe and broke out by 4-thou”? Or “Bob was 7 on tree and 6 over for a 13 pack”, “John was 18 on the tree and mathematically ineligible to win that race”. Think a spectator or even 25% of the pit crew understood that? I love that type of announcing but we have to give spectators a chance to understand.


Why is that? Because tracks and sanctioning bodies have given up on getting spectators to watch some of the closest side-by-side 140 to 190 mph racing on the planet. I feel the terminology that gets sent out over the PA and talked about amongst racers would be easy to explain in a small “Bracket Racing Intro Book”. Explain the basics and the details. Tell them WHAT they are watching.


The NEXT BIGGEST ISSUE with bracket racing and attracting spectators to help pay the purses and provide tracks with profits so they will keep running the bracket race program and not have to do so by covering all expenses just from the racers is “The Races Take Forever to Finish!”


The tracks and racers need to work together to make their local races a form of entertainment. Getting the event done in a reasonable amount of time with No Empty Track Time is the only way to keep spectators interested. I see this “dead time” at every race I attend. Why not run two or three rounds of the biggest brackets basically non-stop. Then bring in the smaller classes for about 30-45 minutes of back-to-back rounds? Then the bigger classes can run two more rounds back to back and so on.


The track does not need a tractor with a tire-drag and traction compound spraying from it on track every round doing whatever it does because spectators and racers know it doesn’t need to be out there, race cars need to be out there. Who wants to pay $10-15 for a ticket and watch a tractor make laps on the track for 10-15 minutes five or six times during a race day instead of watching race cars?


“The Fix” could be very simple. It is all about scheduling the elimination rounds and informing the racers and spectators EXACTLY what they can expect at your track. Will that mean the racers need to have a spare battery ready, better radiator, larger trans cooler? Could be, but only if they want to win.


If I had to do it over and had my own track again I would make it a mission to never have more than two or three minutes of down time once eliminations start. Save the Sportsman, Jr Dragsters and Street car eliminations until later when the faster cars need a few minutes to cool down and refuel. Run a Consolation/Gambler Race as filler in later rounds. No race cars on the track means there is “no show” to watch and how many spectators like looking at an empty track while probably sitting in the sun?


If a track is OK with the profits they are making with no spectators, then good for them. Most tracks I go to are barely making it or losing money on bracket races. That scares me because how long can that continue? When it ends, so does bracket racing at local tracks. It will take cooperation between racers and track owners to “put a show together” that has no 10-15 minute empty track times. I hope tracks will try something to bring more revenue in to prevent local bracket racing from slowly disappearing, but it must be more than just bigger purses because that won’t work on the local level.


It is also on the racers’ shoulders to “become part of the show” by coming to staging lanes quickly, having their cars lettered with local sponsor logos, and becoming part of the solution not part of the problem a track has trying to stay open.


We have a very intricate sport that happens at speeds of 90 to 190 mph. Are we worthy of “being the show” when we race for $250 or $20,000? I think we are! It will take cooperation between the track and the racers but WHAT IF the spectator gate brought in $10,000 in admissions and now your $5,000 to win race only cost you $40 entry fee and not $199? That would make racing a bit easier, right?  


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