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Drag Racing a First-Generation Neon

by Mike V

Stage as SHALLOW as possible. Some people will argue with me, but for you the driver, the most important set of lights at the track are the staged beams, or second set of beams on the starting line. As the driver, you can "cheat" the timers through smart use of the "staged" beams...


At the starting line, each lane has two light beams with photo cells. The first beam is nothing more than a warning that the actual starting line beam is near! After the top bulb lights, forget about it and concentrate on the next bulb. The staged light. It is the most important. It is second from the top.

The starter (unshaven fat guy with an attitude who runs the tree) waits for both vehicles to roll far enough forward to turn on the staged lights, then he flips the switch and the tree cycles down to green.

ROLL OUT - Term to describe the distance from the point that your vehicle "breaks" the staged (starting line) beam turning on the staged light, to the point (forward) that your vehicle allows the beam to reach the photo eye again.

Track employees occasionally check the roll out of each lane with a tape measure and a disk that is 15 inches for the purpose of this explanation. If you barely turn on the staged (second) bulb you are at the beginning of the "roll-out-zone". That means you can travel forward 15 inches before the timer starts! That is referred to as a very shallow stage. It is the opposite of a deep stage.

A deep stage is when you pull forward far enough that the top bulb (prestage) actually goes out. Remember, it is the second light beam that determines you have left the line and starts the timer. Now for the part you won't believe. It sounds like an algebra problem but bear with me.

My friend has a car that travels the quarter mile in 9.75 seconds when he shallow stages. But if he deep stages, the same car will earn a 9.90 time slip. Anyone who has to race against a hard index (7.90, 8.90, 9.90...etc) is very familiar with this principle. It allows you to fine tune your times. With a 9.90 car, the difference between a deep and shallow stage is 15 hundredths of a second. With slower vehicles, it's more. My 10.90 Vega gave up over 2 tenths if I deep staged vs. shallow. It had 1.45 60ft times.

It has a lot to do with how fast your car can cover the first couple feet of track. I bet you our Neons give up over 4 tenths of a second on a deep stage. That's because the slower vehicle takes longer to cover the first 15 inches of track beyond the starting line. The bottom line is; if you are careless about how deep you roll into the second beam, with a 15 second vehicle, you could be giving away 3 to 4 tenths of a second easy! It's safe to say you could give away a little over a tenth, just by rolling into the beams 5 inches too far.

Remember, even if you don't officially deep stage but aren't as shallow as you could be, the principal is always there, so shallow stage for the best time slip! Where else can you pick up a tenth or two while spending no money at all? A shallow stage (instead of a sloppy stage) will help your 60 foot time, your 1/4 mile time, your consistency and your MPH...It's like a legal head start. Experiment with this .. (after you get over the initial fear of the guy at the starting line).

Can't think of much to add, other than the ETs get better as the air cools at night. You should always be aware of what the "consistent" racers are running (faster / slower) as you get ready to run in eliminations. If they dialed down a tenth since their last time trial, and are still breaking out, the air is probably good enough for you to dial down more than a tenth.. and if everyone dialed down and can't run the number, don't be so optimistic that you'll be much faster than the last time trial.

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