Editor’s Note: Recently, Ben Griffin, long-time Texas nitro racer and National’s winner, posted the following story on Facebook about a period when the front-engine dragster he piloted was making some not-quite-so-straight passes. We thought it interesting enough that we asked our friend from Big D if we could reprint it here, and he graciously said yes. After reading it, you FED racers might even want to check yourself for an “S Curve” at the next event……
"S" Marks the Spot!
by Ben Griffin
One day Ronnie Ussery, Charles "Dummy" Smith and I were racing what I call the “GUS” car (for our initials). I had just made a solo qualifying run, after which Dummy took me back behind the starting line and pointed out the tracks I had made on my run. As I looked down the track where he was pointing, he was telling me, "See how your tracks make an "S" curve? We can run a tenth quicker if you would go straight instead."
I wasn’t aware that I was doing it but he was absolutely right! To non-racers this can sound relatively unimportant. Only one-tenth of one second? A person can't blink an eye in that amount of time. But many a drag race has been won or lost on that one-tenth of a second between cars. I’ve won a lot of races with a tenth-of-a second (.10) holeshot. When I won the NHRA Nationals in the YAC car (Foster Yancey and Brad Camp A/FD), it was by four-one-hundredths of a second (.04). That's how important it is!
In the pits, as I was sitting in the car and thinking about this “S” curve happening during my runs, I suddenly figured out what caused me to do that. I sat so low in this car I couldn't see over the injector tubes and the space between the injectors was blocked by the magneto and wires. After leaving the line, my eyes had to shift from looking at the tree to down track at the finish line. Unlike some guys who look at their front tire that’s near the centerline, I have very good peripheral vision so I was able to aim for the finish line and still see the centerline. But when I shifted my vision straight down the track, the injector tubes and mag blocked my vision just like a blower case does in a front-engine Top Fuel car. So what I was unconsciously doing was “moving the car out of the way” by steering slightly to the side so I could see the finish line!
When I did that, however, I became pointed towards the guard rail, so now I had to steer in the opposite direction and look around the other side. The roll bar was so close and the seat belts so tight, I had no other option. My brain was doing it to protect me and I didn’t even realize it was happening. And there you have it…the lost tenth-of-a-second “S” Curve!
The next three cars I drove had a higher seat position and the problem disappeared. The 426 Hemi helped too. Chrysler moved the mag drive to the front of the new engine and slanted it so it was no longer in my line of vision. And later, the rear engine dragster configuration cured the problem once and for all. I went straight as a string from then on.
Nostalgia Drag World - by Ben Griffin; photo courtesy of Ben Griffin