The life of a B.U.G. (the Back-Up Guy) - or Girl!
by Rick Krafft
“She’s lookin’ goood…..c’mon forward….forward….over this way some… she looks real good, now straight in, c’mon in and now, letter’ rip”!!
Your arm flies up as you move aside giving the driver room for burnout time! You spin your body away from the car, holding your ears while the nitro blast from the headers uproots your hair nearly pulling your shirt out in the process. But in just a few seconds it’s near silent again, as the car you’re tending to gently cackles to a stop. You’re already thinking though.. “hope the driver finds reverse ok”, as you’re mind reviews how to dive through the side window to fix any reversing problem - while they have the clutch pedal nearly pushed through the floor and their right leg up showing you their foot’s off the gas! All is good though, as you see the escape hatch pop up letting tire smoke out and the car slowly start to back up, until they roll just past you towards the starting line.
This time you’re only about 80 feet out from the starting line because you see the car is nearly in your lane’s center when you step out front to give hand signals…of course being guided by the REAL driver of the car - that being the person behind the car with their arm in the air! It’s good you gotta couple wrenches in your pocket too, just in case you see any leaks going-on, as you scan the track for any fluids or debris then glance to the car’s fuel lines while quickly following the car with your arm up relaying signals from the person behind.
Depending on the driver’s peripheral, the car is sometimes moving faster than you can run without leavin’ yer shoes stuck to the racetrack, whereby you often need to slow the driver down a tad. When a driver backs a funny car up, they first give the car some clutch to get things moving, but then pushes the clutch back in, then out and in as necessary - coasting as much as possible to control clutch heat while also sorta timing car speed with you - the “BUG” trotting out there in front. You also make sure you’re far enough “away” from the car so the driver can see your arm movements thru that skinny windshield, but not too far that it slows down their response time to your signals, yet still guide them right on top of their burnout tracks - or wherever the track is deemed best. Then, about half-way through the burnout area you motion them to stop.
Sometimes, if the driver waited abit too long to start their burnout and you suspect water residue behind the starting line, you have to stop them aliddle short to prevent water on the rear tires yet still give them room in front to make final directional adjustments if need be. At this point - if you’re the Bug and only the Bug, your job is pritnear done…but if you’re also in charge of pulling them forward to the line that brings up another set of issues - that being the car in the other lane.
Drivers and teams generally have a routine to get their car to staging, which doesn’t always coincide with your team’s routine so adjustments might be necessary. As your car has now been stopped then popped into forward gear to assure the cars direction, other crew members will usually give the hot rod their last pokes, like removing the throttle-stop off the injector throttle linkage, snapping down the escape hatch buttons, checking for any new leaks or misbehavior, final wheelie bar adjustments, computer activation, rpm checks and adjustments, rear tire wiping, removing any parachute retainer clips, heat gun (temperature) readings of rear tires and track surface, etc. all prior to pulling the car to the actual starting line.
The car should now be ‘bout ready to go, so the Crew Person in front of the car (we’ll call them...the CP) usually places their foot about 1 foot from the pre-stage photocells, then pulls the driver forward to that spot and holds them there. As stated before, funny cars sometimes lack good driver visibility, so in certain cases finding that exact pre-stage spot can be kinda touchy. (ie: the driver is sitting in the middle and towards the back of the car with the side windows often ahead of you, the track’s christmas tree may be situated “closer” to the line than it should, so you hafta cock your head sideways to see the stage bulbs thru the top edge of the windshield, your starting-line helper may be mistakenly blocking you from seeing the tree all-together; your visor or windshield might fog-up or a whisp of nitro fumes or sweat gets in your eyes, heat exhaustion, no sleep, (and you’re not supposed to be..) thinking about when you’re gonna eat again, etc. etc. So finessing the car forward…especially if the car is getting cranky, is certainly helped by the CP placing the driver a consistent distance away from the first bulb, as they should be able to judge things purty good from there.
With that liddle procedure done, a quick look to the other teams CP and a mutual “nod” indicates both cars are good to go. Your CP would then likely pull a tiny airbleed plug from a quick-disconnect port in the injector hat (or a small strip of silver tape from a pre-drilled hole in the injector) which instantly kicks the engine speed up about 300 rpm. This compensates for when the driver ultimately pulls forward into the pre-stage bulb then activates a second fuel lever in the cockpit sending fuel through a enrichment valve, which by nature drops the engine rpm back down to a more normal rpm…where then the driver nudges the car forward that last 9 inches (or so) into the stage beams.
Now - is the time of reckoning. Where everything you’ve done comes down those last few moments, where all you can do is stand there and watch. All your crew’s work, sometimes for days and weeks at a time, plus keeping the truck/transporter running well so you can get your operation to the racetrack, then setting up your pit space with all your tools and extra parts prepped and race ready, setting up awnings, feeding everyone, hotel’s, maybe airplanes, car rentals, merchandise, getting nitro and special oil, sponsors and P.R., social media, meeting track personnel, certainly trying to keep the family happy, etc. etc. - it all comes down the next few seconds -- of win or lose. And all you can do now, is pray that win-light comes on in your lane.
Nostalgia Drag World - by Rick Krafft, Race Car Driver; photo by Martin Libhart