How to Bracket Race Successfully – Part 1, The Basics

The MoparMax Maulin’ Magnum staged and ready to race a round in the NHRA Summit Series under the lights at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Do you like running your car at the local drag strips on test and tune days? Of course you do. So do we. But let us tell you something, if you think test and tunes are fun, actually entering and racing in a bracket style competition will blow your mind. Everything steps up a level, your adrenaline rush as you wait in the staging lanes for your first real elimination round; the feeling when you turn on a win light for the first time and advance another round is absolutely euphoric. Every success is a big time high, the first time you tree an opponent, the first time you make a quarter final, a semi, or a final round. Running the quarter mile when there’s actually something to win or lose is like a test and tune to the tenth power.

So it is that we embark on this new, ongoing series. We know there’s an intimidation factor to racing for the first time — you’re worried about screwing up in front of everyone, you’re worried if you’re doing it “right,” you really want to do well but don’t know quite how to do it much less succeed at it. We want to help you cross the threshold and discover the joy of bracket racing for yourself. And for you readers that bracket race currently, we are going to cover “best practices” used by a lot of successful bracket racers, so you’ll get tips on stepping up your game.

Surgeon General’s Warning: Bracket racing is dangerously fun and may be habit forming. Studies have shown a high level of racing addiction in bracket racers.

What is bracket racing?

The main draw to bracket racing is that its handicap formula allows for true “run what you brung” racing. An SUV that does the quarter mile in 20 seconds can race and beat a V8 muscle car that runs 12 seconds. You can race on street tires, drag radials, or slicks of any size or width in most classes. You don’t have to invest a dime in your car or equipment if you don’t want to. If you think you’re having fun at test and tune days, wait until you feel the rush and thrill of lining up against an opponent for a real elimination round where you know if you win you advance and if you lose you go home. And we can’t even describe what you’re going to feel like when you get your first round win — it usually includes a lot of happy yelling and high fives.

Rule number one: never be afraid to ask questions of anyone. Every racer at the track had to have a first time, a first season. Once upon a time even your local track champions were noobs and made rookie mistakes. We’re not saying everyone is going to be helpful, but in our experience very few racers or track personnel won’t be. Everyone is afraid of asking a “stupid” question, but isn’t it better to ask the question and learn the answer than to risk actually doing something stupid? That’s our philosophy anyway — if you ask someone a stupid question, then only one person hears it. If you make a stupid or dangerous mistake on the track then everyone sees it. So ask, open your question with something like, “I’m new at this,” or, “I just started racing and was wondering…” In our experience almost everyone responds well to this and wants to help new comers.