At The Line

At The Line: Getting Started

The old adage says it’s not how you start that matters but rather how you finish. In drag racing, though, a smart start does matter as it’s a key factor in how the pass ends.

Tommy Johnson Jr., experienced in both an NHRA Top Fuel dragster and a Funny Car, and Hector Arana Jr., a 15-time winner and perennial Pro Stock Motorcycle title contender, understand that. Here’s how they explain their starting-line routines.

Johnson said of his Funny Car paces, “Once (the engine) rolls over and they pull the wire, I put the fuel on. And from then on, it’s in their hands. We don’t have any instruments in the car. The gauges are up front, where the crew can see them. They set the fuel pressure, idle, everything. Once the body goes down, you do the burnout.

“Once I do a burnout and stop the car, the crew member will push on the (injector) blades to make sure the idle is back to normal. Sometimes if it’s idling too high, you can’t get it in reverse,” he continued. “My crew chief will flip up the hatch to let the smoke out. Then I start rolling back. I try to keep as much heat out of the clutch as I can.

The “christmas tree,” which signals the start of all professional drag racing events.

“I’ll get it rolling and push the clutch pedal back in and bump it every now and then to keep a certain speed and watch where he wants me. (The backup person is) watching the guy behind the car. The crew chief will mark the track with chalk where he wants the rear tire. So he’s guiding me back to put the tire on that spot. They stop me and I put it in forward,” Johnson explained.

“Then they raise the body. Once the body goes up, I don’t do a lot. I watch to make sure they take the throttle stop off from the burnout. I look at the Christmas tree and look down the track. There’s somebody standing in front of me, so I can’t see straight down the track. When he nods and they pull the dash that has all the gauges out of there, it’s time for the body to come back down,” he said. “Once the body goes down, they roll me forward before they line me up. I take deep breaths. My crew chief reaches down and turns the idle screw, then it’s time to focus and roll it into the beams.”

Johnson says it’s key not to overthink the process.

“The less brainpower you can use on the starting line, the better off you’ll be,” he said. “The more thoughts in your head, the slower you’ll be. You need to be thinking about only one thing. You’re never going to think about only one thing, but you can think about three instead of six.”

It’s almost show time.

“Once they pull the wires on the starting line, I never hear a word,” Johnson explained. “I couldn’t tell you if there’s anybody in the stands. I couldn’t tell you the difference between a test run at the track on Monday with nobody there versus a packed grandstand. If you’re looking in the grandstands, you’re looking in the wrong place. You don’t have time to be looking up there.”

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