Every year you try to find what you lacked the year before that kept you from winning the championship and then try to improve on it. And, to be bluntly honest, I don't see a lot of areas that the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge team needs to work on for the 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Series.
We were there to win a championship in 2009 and we came close. If we can keep doing what we were doing and stay aggressive in 2010, that will be the main key to achieving success. Of course, we have two races under our belts already this season, we're third in points, and we fell just short of winning those races. But, when you look at the big picture, we're on the edge of winning a race early in the season and I feel good about our chances.
Right now we're on our way to Gainesville, for the Gatornationals. It's funny, because we're going to one of the biggest races on our circuit and the big talk right now is the four-wide race in Concord, N.C., at the Zmax Dragway at the end of this month. It will be the first time in history that we've had four lanes going at all once during a race. To be honest with you, it's got a lot of drivers shrugging their shoulders, kind of in anticipation of what's going to happen.
From the safety aspect, a lot of the drivers question whether or not we are ready for four-wide racing, but, in talking with the track owner, talking with the NHRA, I'm told they feel like they have accomplished as much as they could as far as safety is concerned in the shutdown area. I think a lot of the question marks, unlike in other racing divisions, is the staging process that we're going to go through.
One thing that the casual fan may not see when a drag race starts is a certain psychological aspect to the way we stage our cars, because in our sport, races are won and lost most of the time on the reaction time of the driver at the starting line.
There's a lot that goes into the staging process. It's a fine art and certain drivers are very, very good at it. While other drivers are also good at it, when you put two cars together racing each other it's always interesting to see what the outcome will be. Now we're going to put four cars out there and what happens is the 8000hp nitro cars are so dependent on the temperatures of the engine and the clutch, that the staging process is very, very important. It's going to be interesting to see how it's played out as far as guys trying to play mind games.
Certain drivers take longer to stage their cars. And like most drivers, such as those in F1, NASCAR and IndyCar, we develop sort of a notebook in our heads and a file on each driver. We know how a certain driver stages a car, how long he takes on the burnout. I guess if you went to any of the top NASCAR drivers they could tell you a little about each driver and what they expect when they get up next to him and they're side by side. They know how close they can get to the other driver, they know how hard they can race that driver. The same thing applies to drag racing. But, I think it's a little more important because what happens in the staging process could affect the tune-up of these cars. The longer the staging process is, the worse you can make the clutch temperature and the engine temperature.
So, it can be something that a driver can do to throw another driver off, but at the same time a driver can also get bit by his own trickery, or whatever you want to call it.
Each Christmas Tree we have to look at between each two lanes will now have pre-stage and stage bulbs for all four lanes. So, another thing that's an unknown is what our Christmas Tree is even going to look like. NHRA has not yet informed us of that aspect.
There's going to be a lot of challenges, a lot of unknowns for all the drivers and crew chiefs. We're so used to our usual regimen of working with the standard Christmas Tree and staging the car, and now a totally new Christmas Tree is going to be thrown at us that no one has seen before.
When I talk about the mind games and staging process, all the driver has to do mainly after he/she pre-stages is pull the fuel pump on, let his/her foot off the clutch, hold the car with the brake and then let the car roll in using the hand brake. It doesn't sound like much, but there's a lot of drivers who take a lot longer than other drivers, and whether they do that on purpose or not it can affect the tune-up of their opponents. So, the fact that we have a new Christmas Tree, we have three other cars that we have to worry about, and not just our own car, is really going to throw a monkey wrench into the learning process. And we're not going to know what will happen until we get there on Friday afternoon for the first round of qualifying.
There's also going to be another unknown. You only had to worry about the driver next to you, and whether or not he/she smoked the tires and you could see when you won. With four-wide, you won't know what's going on in those other two lanes because you won't be able to see them. A lot of drivers will be pedaling the car if it's in trouble or flat-out just holding their feet down and smoking the tires, even though the car next to them might be in trouble, because they're not going to know what's going on in the other two lanes. It's going to risk a lot of engine damage and it could cause a lot of cars to catch fire.
You're going to have to still try to get your car to the finish line in your own lane, even if you're in trouble, because you might still be able to win the race.
Also, when your crew chief brings you up to the stage car, Instead of looking over and making sure that the other crew chief has his car ready to bring the driver up, there's going to be two other cars to add to the equation. The more I talk about it, the more nervous I get.
I know the fans are excited about the four-wide racing. The place will be packed, and everybody is talking about it. But, I'll be honest with you, the people most apprehensive about it are the drivers at this point.
One cool thing for the fans is the race will go by a little quicker – they will be able to have more time interacting with the teams and the drivers in the pit area in between rounds. And I would imagine the TV time for interviews will be greater, because the racing will be over a lot quicker.
It's going to be a learning process for everybody – the ESPN TV crews, the crew chiefs and the drivers. But even the fans will have a hard time watching four lanes of action. They might actually miss seeing the winning run. It's hard to watch four lanes with only two eyes.