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An Introduction To Bracket Racing

Updated on September 3, 2011

The ultimate bracket racing car

A 4 link dragster is widely considered the best car for bracket racing.
A 4 link dragster is widely considered the best car for bracket racing.


Most people know what drag racing is but when it takes the form of bracket racing most people are confused or just uninterested.  The thought that the cars that participate may start at a different time and the first car to the finish line doesn’t always win, usually leads to a comment about how they like heads up drag racing better.  I will admit that it is more fun to watch than bracket racing, but the beauty of bracket racing is that anyone can participate.  That’s right anyone can go to a local track and win, even in the car that they drove to the track in.

First, let me explain the basics of how bracket racing works.  Two cars drag race but the driver predicts how fast he will run.  Therefore if the driver predicts his car to be two seconds faster than his opponent, then the other racer will get a two second head start. This is called “dialing in” where you put your predicted time on your car window. I know what you are thinking!  That will be so easy.  I can just predict my car is four seconds slower, when it is only two seconds slower.  Well this isn’t Pinks.  If you run faster than your predicted time, it is called a break out and the other car wins.  If both cars do this, the car that “broke out” the least wins.  So now you are starting to see what this bracket racing is all about.  It is a combination of driver skill and a consistent car that determines the winner instead of the fastest car. 

Bracket racing, also known as ET racing and sportsman racing, has several different classes.  The most basic is Trophy or Trophy Street.  This class has all but disappeared from race tracks around the country.  It usually runs for a low entry fee, $20 or less, and the payout is usually just a trophy.  If there is a local track close to you this is the way to get your feet wet in bracket racing.  This class usually requires the racer to race what he drove to the track and is meant for beginners.  There has been decline in the number of participants over the past few years and I don’t know if it’s all because of the economy or if it is because this class isn’t available at all the tracks to bring in the newcomers. 

The class that is most prevalent now as a beginner class around the country is Footbrake.  This class also is called Pro and No Electronics in some areas.  This class can be raced with slow or fast cars and anything in between.  However, there is confusing aspects with this class.  Besides it having a different name depending on what part of the country you are reading this from, the rules also vary.  Some tracks allow the driver to have an electric or air shifter that will automatically shift the transmission when the engine reaches a predetermined RPM or at a certain time.  Other tracks will not allow this and make the driver shift the car themselves.  If you are interested in this class, I suggest you check with your local track to see what they allow.  This is a great class that usually pays the winner around $500 and you can still compete in something you drove to the track in.


Pro is the upper class at most tracks.  This class may also be called Super Pro (when Footbrake is called Pro) and Electronics in other areas of the country.  This class usually contains the fastest cars at most tracks and allows the use of starting line electronics and electric or air shifters.  This also provides the best entertainment for most spectators as several cars usually perform wheel stands when leaving the starting line.   On most cars this is accomplished by a transbrake that is released by a delay box.  Stay with me here while I try to explain it to you.  A transbrake is activated by a button that is pushed that activates a plunger in the transmission.  The plunger redirects the fluid in the automatic transmission and locks it reverse and low gear at the same time until the switch is released.  It basically has the same effect as “dumping” the clutch in a car with a manual transmission.  The delay box is used to delay the time from when you let off the transbrake button until the plunger moves and lets the car leave in low gear.  This one development changed bracket racing more than any other invention.  Statistically, a driver has more consistent reaction times by releasing the button when he or she sees the first flash of the first amber bulb on the “Christmas tree” than waiting until the last amber bulb.  This class usually pays $1,000 or more to the winner.  Several tracks across the country put on races that pay $10,000 to the winners, which will be loaded with racers that make their living off this stuff.

I’ll briefly talk about the track for those of you who are unfamiliar with a drag strip.  The starting line contains two infrared beams that the car’s front tires will line up in.  The tire breaks the reflection of the beam from the sensors that set on each side of the lane the car is in.  The starting line tree, which is referred to as a Christmas tree because of the different color light bulbs, has a pre stage and stage light that will light up according to which beam your tire has broken.  The pre stage beam is first and the stage is second.  The tree has three amber lights under the staging lights that come on .5 seconds apart and helps a person time when to take off.  Next on the tree are the green light and the red light which is only used if you take off too soon or take too long to stage and disqualifies you.  The finish line will be the last block or cone on the track which is preceded by a cone or block before that will starts a timer to determine your mph.  Always remember that you are racing to the last cone.  There are many beginners that have made the mistake of letting off at the first cone and losing the race because of it.

Now you may still be wondering why not just race heads up classes and the reason is money.  Anyone can race just about anything in trophy or footbrake class, even the car that they drive every day.  If you want to race heads ups, you are going to have to spend tens of thousands of dollars on an engine and car.  Along with that usually comes testing to make the car faster and maintenance that can cost as much as the car each year.  That is basically a short summary of what bracket racing is all about.  I really could have written a 20 page article about what I went over, but I tried to hit the high points.  If anyone is interested in hearing something in more detail please let me know.  There are also a few books available that goes into detail.  As a disclaimer, please realize that even though drag racing is fun it does come with risks.  As with other forms of motorsports, cars can and do crash and people can get hurt or killed.  It is important that you consider all risks and also purchase the proper safety equipment if you chose to participate.


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