How To Spend The Day Bracket Racing Slot Cars

by Bob Herrick

From the moment you enter the raceway and pay your bucks to the time you pack up to go home, bracket racing is a blast. And it's not just about going fast; it's a very competitive sport that requires concentration and driving ability but has a heavy dose of entertainment thrown in. If you're intimidated by organized drag racing, don't be. There are indeed some very fast cars running at the Saturday night slot car bracket races, but the best part about bracket racing is that you can race anything, including a stamped steel chassis if that's all you have.

Bracket racing is not heads up, so your 3-second stamped steel chassis could actually beat an .500-second AA/FC to the finish line. It won't be as much fun as a quicker car, but you'll still get the prize. This story is meant for the first-time slot racer who is intimidated by the thought of taking his or her car to an organized drag race and letting it all hang out. Once you do, you'll realize two things: It's a lot of fun, and speed is highly addictive. You'll run 2 seconds and wish you could run in the 1 second range. Once you're in the 1 second range, you just have to break .990, then .890 and so on. Pretty soon you're hooked and officially addicted to slot car drag racing.

Bracket racing differs from street racing and the drag racing you've seen on TV because the cars don't leave the starting line at the same time. The start is handicapped, meaning that the slower car leaves first. After the practice or qualifying runs, you'll have a good idea of how quick your car will run the scale quarter-mile (55’), and you will write that elapsed time number on the tech sheet per raceway rules. That number is called your dial-in, and it dictates the starting-line handicap. The race director in the tower will use both cars' dial-ins to program the Tree for the handicap start. In other words, if one car's dial-in is 1.0 and the other's is 2.0, the slower car will get a green light 1.0 seconds before the other car. Assuming both cars run their dial-in and the drivers have perfect reaction times, the cars will get to the finish line at exactly the same time. But both cars running on the dial-in and both drivers cutting perfect lights almost never happens, so one car will get to the finish line first. That car is the winner. The reaction time is the amount of time between when the green light comes on and when the car breaks the "Stage" light beam, which we'll describe in further detail later.

If you don't pass tech, you don't race, so read the rules carefully. The first thing you should do is get a rule book for your track (usually SDRA rules apply). The following is a breakdown of what the tech inspectors will look for. If you have any questions about the rules (and even if you don't), get an SDRA rule book.

Let's say you've made three runs and the e.t.'s are 1.54, 1.55 and 1.57. If you're confident that 1.54 is the quickest the car will run, then choose that as the dial-in. If there's any doubt, and you think that you can do something better and run quicker, you might want to dial-in at 1.50 or so. Why? Because if you run faster than the dial-in, you "break out" and lose the race. The only time you won't lose after breaking out is if the other guy breaks out by a bigger margin or red-lights. On the other hand, don't set the dial-in too low, or the starting-line handicap will hurt you.

Look for the Staging beams and move in slowly. We've seen first-timers push their cars right through the lights and up next to the Christmas Tree, thinking that the Tree is the starting line. Once you're Staged, don't take your eyes off the Tree. For the first couple of runs, try to leave as soon as you see the last yellow light come on. The green will come on .500 second after that, and that's about how long it takes to get the typical car moving. If your reaction time is slow, try leaving on the second yellow. We've driven cars that are slow enough that you have to leave as soon as you see the second yellow in order to get a decent reaction time. If you red-light, try leaving a little later.

Once you've passed tech, it's time to get in some practice runs. You'll want to make as many runs as possible, so don't waste too much time. The practice runs not only familiarizes you with the track, but they also tell you how quick the car is and allow you to practice launching the car while watching the lights. You don't need a dial-in on the tech sheet at this point, and both cars will launch the same time (heads up). Listen to the race director to find out which Staging lane to get into. During practice runs, it usually doesn't matter which lane you're in, but during elimination’s it does. Also, as you're ready to go up to the dragstrip, watch the race director for directions on which side to run on. Once you've completed your pass the race director will call out your times and at some raceways there are LED readout signs that display your times.

You'll want to pay particular attention to reaction time, as that tells you how your starting-line technique is. If available the 60-foot time is an indication of traction or how well the car hooks on the starting line. And, finally, the all-important elapsed time (e.t.) and mph numbers. Notice that the car in the right lane ran .002 second under its dial-in, meaning that the driver broke out and lost the race. He was also slow on the lights, with a .150-second reaction time, while the driver in the left lane cut a very good light. Even if the right-lane car had run right on its dial-in, it still would have lost because of the slow reaction time. On a yellow-light-based system, these reaction-time numbers would be .512 and .650. You should make notes right on the time slip regarding any variables that may be important.

Say you got in four practice runs before elimination’s started. Your times were 1.30, 1.30, 1.29 and 1.30. Based on that, you would set your dial-in at 1.32. Why 1.32 when you already ran a 1.29? Your experience at this raceway has taught you to watch track power. During practice runs, the power was good. But as elimination’s grew near, conditions changed with a reduction in track power, which has proven in the past to slow the cars down a couple of hundredths, hence the 1.32 dial-in (a technique we call "dialing the charger"). For your first couple of races, don't worry about that, and set your dial-in right at your best pass or a hundredth quicker. An important thing to remember is that the dial-in can be changed after each run.

If you feel the car is running better for whatever reason, you may want to lower the dial-in to avoid a break out. Also, realize that as the temperature goes down, the car will usually go quicker (because the cooler air lets the glue react better), so you may need to adjust the dial-in. Whatever you do, never make any changes (such as tuning or starting-line techniques) once elimination’s start because your consistency will be shot, and bracket racing is all about consistency. If you see the other car red-light, run as hard as you can and don't worry about breaking out. If the other guy red-lights, you can break out without being disqualified. And running as fast as possible lets you know how close you are to your dial-in at that moment. To keep from breaking out, some racers lift on the controller at the end of the track so that they win by only a car length. That way, you still win but lessen the chance of breaking out. It’s a gamble and takes some practice to keep the other car behind you.

This document is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained in this document represents the current view of Drag Racing Specialties on the issues discussed as of the date of publication. Because Drag Racing Specialties must respond to change in market conditions, it should not be interpreted to be a commitment on the part of Drag Racing Specialties and Drag Racing Specialties cannot guarantee the accuracy of any information presented after the date of publication. INFORMATION PROVIDED IN THIS DOCUMENT IS PROVIDED "AS IS" WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EITHER EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND FREEDOM FROM INFRINGEMENT. The user assumes the entire risk as to the accuracy and the use of this document. This document may be copied and distributed subject to the following conditions. 1) All text must be copied without modification and all pages must be included. 2) All copies must contain Drag Racing Specialties copyright notice and any other notices provided therein. 3) This document may not be distributed for profit.

© Drag Racing Specialties 1990-2017