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From Dale Wilson

Staging your race car is second only to getting a good reaction time in terms of taking the win light in a bracket, three-bulb handicap or Pro-tree race. Here are some tricks I've learned over the years, gleaned through experience, conversations and tips given by one of the great professors of the drag racing game, Frank Hawley of The Drag Racing School in Pomona, California and Gainesville, Florida (wife Fran and I were lucky enough to attend three sessions, through my work as an editor of Bracket Racing USA magazine).

With my '73 Datsun, built as a Super Gasser but now seeing action as a Super Pro bracket car, staging is critical. If I roll in just an inch or so past the flicker on the second bulb of the Christmas tree, I'll red light if I hit the tree the same on a shallow, flicker-flicker-flicker the second bulb stage. That car, even with Mickey Thompson 26-inch-round, 4.5x15-inch ET Front front tires, will red light to its heart's content if I don't stage ever-so-carefully. So, I learned to bump in to get the flicker, and I learned that from Hawley. Used to, I'd watch those fuel guys on TV and just go in like they do -- anywhere on the starting line. No bumps, just light the pre-stage bulb and then roll in until the second staging bulb lit. And I'd red light with a .475 on up. At one school we attended in Pomona, Hawley told us to stage his school dragsters ever so carefully, just a flicker, then set the trans brake and wait for the proper light to flash, then go. Ah, ha! So that's how you do it!

One bump on the brake pedal usually equals one inch, more or less, of rollout, and with the bumping concept now set in my brain, I can usually bump five or six times before the second staging bulb flickers, depending on the track. And yes, that's another thing I've learned over the years -- each track has a different rollout in staging, and it's up to you to determine how many bumps your car takes in order for you to get a good reaction time.

Here's another thing I've learned, this time by paying attention to what's on drag racing TV. At some NHRA tracks, officials have painted a blue line just before the starting beams, and the reason for it is to show fuel and alcohol crew chiefs where to stand, so they can help their drivers stage. Ah, ha! Another light went off. By leaning forward and looking for that blue line, I can know how much I have to go before the pre-staging light on the Christmas tree lights up. The blue line is usually painted in a six-inch width, so if I see it okay, I know I have about six inches or so to go before the pre-stage light goes on.

Don't laugh. At one outlaw track I went to years ago, I did my burnout in my old front-engine dragster, crossed the starting line, backed up and staged with my rear slicks. I didn't know where the starting line was. And of course, everybody had a big laugh.

I've even gotten to the point where I'll bump in on the first staging light. I'll flicker it, and know that I have about six bumps to go before the second light flickers on.

And it does pay to courtesy-stage. If you don't, your opponent could take his own sweet time about staging, taking up to 15 seconds or so if the Auto Start is on to stage, all while you're sitting there with your finger on the trans brake button and the trans solenoid getting hotter and hotter and your finger pushing harder and harder on the button. Hawley told us that the great Scotty Richardson can add up to two-hundredths of reaction time by pressing harder on the button. If you're set up for a .515 or better in your car, those two-hundredths can add up to a .525 or better reaction time, and in may cases, that's a late tree.

At the recently completed NHRA Division 1 points race at Maple Grove Raceway, I noticed that the starter had many class cars back up if they turned on two staging bulbs and their opponent hadn't turned one on.

Courtesy staging pays in more ways than one.



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