Bracket Racing - The Basics of a Complex Game

What is bracket racing?

A bracket drag race is a contest between two vehicles, racing in straight-line form on a paved surface either a quarter mile or an eighth mile long. The vehicles leave from a standing start, usually at different times, and accelerate to reach the designated finish line.

To begin the race, the drivers line up in front of a colorful device, known as a Christmas Tree. In a series of three yellow lights and one green light, the tree signals to the drivers when to take begin. As each car leaves the starting line, inferred sensors trigger a timing system that will record how long it takes each car to reach the finish line. This period of time is called an elapsed time, or ET.


Burnout Box
The burnout box is area of the track surface just before the starting line. This is where a racer will perform a continuous spinning of his tires in order to warm the rubber, increasing the adhesion properties of the tire. To aid in the process, water is sprayed into small depressions or a trough. The water allows the racer to spin their tires with greater ease.
The Christmas Tree
In simple terms, the Christmas tree is a set of vertical lights that signal to each driver when to start the race. There are two small staging lights at the top the tree that indicate when a car is located at the proper point on the starting line. Then, there are three larger amber bulbs, one green, and one red bulb in consecutive order from top to bottom. The yellow lights will illuminate one at a time during a bracket race (usually .500 of a second apart) to warn a driver that the green light is coming. The green light signals the driver when to begin accelerating. If the car leaves before the green light is on, the red bulb will light up. A red light start is a foul start that results in a loss.
Countdown Lights
There are two types of countdowns, or starts. The pro start flashes all three lights simultaneously, with a .400 second difference between the amber and green lights. This is called a Pro or .400 Tree. The bracket start flashes one light at a time, with a .500 second difference between the last amber and the green light. This is known as a .500 or sportsman Tree.
Green Light
This is the light you're waiting for. When the green light flashes, a driver is supposed to hold the right pedal to the floor and smile. This is called the launch.
Red Light
When a car leaves the starting line before the green light is activated, this will result in a disqualification known as red lighting. A red light automatically gives the win to your opponent.
Many drivers will begin their launch just as the last amber lights goes off. That way, the car is in motion when the green light activates. The starting line where most bracket races are won or lost! So practicing your staging and launching techniques is very important.
60 Foot Timers
Inferred sensors are used to measure the time it takes the car to cross the first 60 feet of the track surface. This segment of time displays how well the car launched. The 60 ft. time also directly affects your overall elapsed times.
660-Foot Timer
The 660-foot mark is either the halfway point of a quarter-mile track, or the finish line of an eighth-mile facility. Sensors also provide your elapsed time here. At many tracks, your speed is also recorded and displayed in miles per hour. Other common points where your times are displayed will be the 330 and 1,000-foot intervals.
MPH Timer
Also known as the speed trap, this timer is most commonly located 66 feet before the finish line. Sensors here record the car's average speed between it and the finish line. Then, a mile per hour figure is shown on your time slip.
Finish Line
Usually the last painted line on the track surface, the finish line is the point at which your elapsed time is finalized. As your car breaks the final light beam, the ET clock stops timing. Your ET is then posted; the ET is the amount of time (in seconds) from the point you leave the starting line until you cross the finish line.
Shutdown Area
The paved surface where you can safely slow the car down after the finish is referred to as the shutdown area. Often, the shutdown leads to turnouts that will take you to the time slip booth. If your brakes fail or parachute fails to open and you can't stop the car, most tracks have an emergency sand trap, net, or other setup at the end of the shutdown to stop you.

Time Slips

After you make a run, you will be handed a piece of paper with a series of numbers on it. This paper is referred to as a time slip. The time slip will display how well you launched, how quick and fast you went at various points on the track, and what your final ET and mile per hour were. Unless you made a single pass, the time slip will post your opponent's information too.
Shows which lane you ran in.
Car Number
Cars are assigned numbers to determine which driver ran which times.
If you are competing in an official race, you will be assigned a class.
Before each round of competition, you are expected to write an estimated time called a dial-in on your windshield. The dial-in is the elapsed time you think your car will run. This number then transferred to the timing computer before you race.
Reaction Time
This number shows how quickly you reacted to the green light on the Christmas tree. In bracket racing, it is set as a .500 second or sportsman Tree. The goal is to achieve a RT as close to 500 as possible. If you react faster than .500, you red-lighted.
60, 330, 1/8, MPH, and 1000 ET and MPH Times
These figures give you the elapsed times at the 60-foot, 330-foot, 660-foot or eighth mile, and 1,000 foot marks. You also get the mile per hour figure at the 660-foot mark.
1/4 and MPH Quarter Mile ET and MPH
These are your finishing elapsed time and mile per hour numbers.

Race and Elimination set-ups

Bracket races and most other sportsman categories will operate on a handicap system, allowing slow and fast vehicles to compete on a level playing field.
During eliminations, drivers make elapsed time predictions. The slower vehicle will receive a head-start equal to the difference between the two vehicles' ET predictions.
To win the race, a driver must react better than his opponent or run closer to the ET prediction without going under the given time. If a driver goes quicker than the predicted time, this is called breaking-out and the driver loses. If both drivers go faster than their predicted times, the driver closest to their prediction wins. If a driver foul-starts, crosses the centerline, or makes contact with an outside track boundary he is automatically disqualified.
So a driver attempts to have a better light at the start, and run nearest his predicted time without breaking out. To make things simple, most tracks will install a win light at the end of the track. Whichever side wins, a light (often a strobe style) on that side will illuminate.