HANDICAP RACING AN A/FD AND AN A/FC
by Ben Griffin
Many of my fellow racers have never raced in handicap eliminator categories where there are so many classes with different speeds and ET’s they have to give the slower car an advantage off the starting line to make it fair for all. That’s why the tree has two separate sides of yellow, red and green lights so they can let the slower car leave first, usually set by the difference in their national records.
In 1973 at The IHRA Dallas Nationals at Dallas International Motor Speedway I had to run Bobby Cross in his C/Altered Maverick with a Chevy engine. We both won our respective classes and were in the eliminator bracket. He maybe ran in the 140 mph range with an ET of around 9.50 seconds. I was in my Mustang A/FC (7 sec. ET’s at 185 mph) and had to spot him two full seconds - so long that I heard him shift into THIRD GEAR before my last yellow came on!
Seemed like he was almost halfway down the quarter mile when I left. Surprisingly enough I caught him before the finish line and won the race. We turned off on to the return road and both climbed out of our cars side-by-side. He came over with a big grin on his face and said, “I have NEVER been passed like that in my entire racing career! It happened so fast, it was like somebody just placed your car out front. I never saw it happen it was so quick - all I saw was your parachute opening in front of me.”
When I won the 32-car A/Fuel Dragster class for the second year in a row at the NHRA Nationals at Indy in 1969, I had to run Sush Matsubara in his AA/FA coupe - a supercharged nitro-burning national record holder - in Competition Eliminator. I got the spot since his class record was quicker than mine. I didn’t see him until he pulled alongside me in 2nd gear and then he disappeared. He got out of shape and had to back out of the throttle and didn’t recover in time to catch me. I was really lucky on that one as he would have passed me and won if his car had gone straight (but those short wheelbase cars like his and Wild Willie Borsch’s roadster hardly ever did!).
Then the following year when I won the NHRA Nationals in 1970 in the fantastic Yancey-Camp-AEECO A/FD, the final run was against a much slower car, Gary Koehler’s A/Altered Fiat. He got a big lead on the tree; I left on my light and finally caught him at about 1000 ft. Just as I passed him, I zipped by so quickly I thought he had shut off. But it was just an optical illusion or a “speed illusion,” if there is such a thing. When you are running 50 mph faster than the car you’re passing it seemed to me that they knew they were beat and were just shutting off. NOT! He was going full bore the whole time. When we got our National Dragster the week after we had won, the article said I had won by leaving .04 quicker on my light than Gary did on his! That was my margin of victory...four hundredths of a second. Much closer than it looked when I blew by him going 50 mph faster than he was.
I also ran some AHRA races when they used distance spots instead of time spread using the tree. That was interesting, seeing a car sitting out there 7 or 8 car lengths ahead of you when you both started off at the same time on the tree. I won all of my races with that type of handicap start, but pretty soon the association dropped that method.
When we won the NHRA World Finals at DIMS in Dallas in 1970, I had to run Jeg Coughlin in his A/FC. My class record was quicker than his so I had to spot him. I had never had to spot another nitro burning car as far as I remember, so it was going to be more of a challenge. But talking to him before the run I could tell he wasn’t too confident that he could beat us. And he was right - I caught him about 1100 ft. down track. I was so thrilled to be the World Champion, I stuck my arm up in the air and flashed the “V” for victory. BIG mistake! The wind pressure at 190 mph snapped my arm back into the roll cage and I thought I’d broken it. I couldn’t pull it back down against the wind pressure to reach the brake handle, kill switch or the chute release which were all on the right hand side of the cockpit. The car was still in gear so I got some compression braking until it slowed down enough to pull my arm down, hit the chute and grab the brake. DIMS had a nice long shutdown area and I was sure glad of that. Lucky for me my arm wasn’t broken, just bruised and very sore. I never did that again!
Nostalgia Drag World - by Ben Griffin - Retired Race Car Driver