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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 the block."

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 ProtŽgŽ 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 air changed).

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.

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," Brenda said.

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 ProtŽgŽ 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.

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