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Finding The Key Statistic In Drag Racing

In the last 20 years we’ve seen a wild increase in the number of data analysts being hired for sports teams, companies, you-name-it. Amazon currently has over 200 full time job openings just for data scientists. The Philadelphia 76ers have 10 data scientists in their organization. The NHRA recently started a driver ranking index in National Dragster and has had Lewis Bloom providing stat quips on the national event broadcasts for years.

LinkedIn Job Growth report from 2012-17 lists numerous data-related positions towards the top

But how do we as bracket and index racers capitalize on this kind of data? Is it even useful to us? How do we even get it?

Of course we have access to numbers. The obvious ones are on the timeslip. But let’s dig a little deeper. Here are some questions I believe a high performing drag racer should be able to answer:

  • Do you know your average stripe when you decide to take the stripe? You want to say it’s double-0-something, but is it?
  • Do you know the percent of rounds you convert to wins if you get the tree? What about when you don’t get the tree?
  • What’s your median and IER reaction time spreads?
  • What happens when you decide to finish second?

It’s easy to get caught up with “Round win percentage” and think that’s the end-all statistic. Winning is the goal, right? You don’t even need anything fancy for that, you can figure it up right now with your phone calculator app and log book.

What about the rounds you knew you had a great run, but the other guy was just a little bit better? You can’t beat yourself up over those – and even though you lost, you want to count it because you had a .016 package! As superstar drag racer Luke Bogacki says, “Process over results.”

We just need a good way to measure the process separate from how many times you just-so-happened to be better than the other guy. Every racer has won with a pretty terrible run and lost with a killer run. That alone doesn’t mean you’re doing a good or bad job on the track.

With “Sabermetrics” – all the stats that revolve around baseball – it’s easy to get lost in the weeds. But which ones can we safely ignore? I mean, we’re all pretty busy, can we distill it down to just ONE key statistic?

Each player in baseball has a ton of stats just by default.

In Moneyball, Brad Pitt’s character Billy Beane argues that the Oakland A’s can build a great team while looking at only one metric: on-base percentage. The scouts try to argue, obviously confused and a little offended that Beane is disregarding decades of scouting experience.

Not to spoil a nine year old movie, but eventually Beane is proven right. The methods he uses to acquire underrated (and therefore cheaper) players led his team to success.

A focus on player statistics changed the game of baseball entirely, and the Red Sox used a similar system to win the World Series two years later.

Basketball has changed too, with the three-point shot becoming more and more frequent. When the three-point line was introduced in the 1979-80 season, the first five years with it saw about 2.5 three-point shots attempted per game across the league.

As teams slowly started to see the value, it’s been slowly rising every year since. The 2018-19 season saw an average of 32 three-point attempts per game across the league1.

How does that affect us as racers?

Let’s try it like this:

If the goal in [sport] is [outcome], and you get [outcome] by [action], then [calculation] is the key statistic in [sport].

If the goal in baseball is runs, and you get runs by getting on base, then on-base percentage is the key statistic in baseball.

If the goal in basketball is making baskets, and you make baskets by scoring during a possession, then effective field goal percentage is the key statistic in basketball.

…and so on. But how do we fill in the blanks for bracket racing?

What is our goal? How do we get to that goal? And most importantly, what can we look at in order to tell us if we will be the best at hitting that goal?

We know the ultimate goal of bracket racing is to get a better package than the other guy. In top-bulb 1/8 mile racing, this is pretty much the only focus because packages can be so tight.

However, the dial-in or index can throw a wrench into things. We aren’t in a lane-shaped bubble, after all. If we get a .05 advantage at the starting line, we should have room at the finish line to give ‘em the ol’ whomp whomp. What’s on the ticket isn’t always the truth.