illustration diagram of light beam locations on a drag race dragstrip track
rollout wheel
rollout wheel on dragstrip
rollout wheel wit chalk marks

This illustration shows where the beams are located at a typical track. From the left are the prestage, stage, and guard infrared light beams that cross each lane. When a car crosses a light beam, the corresponding bulb on the timing tree lights up to indicate the car’s staging status. All measurements shown were made using a 22-inch diameter rollout wheel.

Race tracks actually measure out the distance between the light beams to help racers determine their rollout factors. Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park uses this 22-inch diameter rollout wheel for this purpose; it simulates the front wheel and tire of a race car. In this photo, the wheel is sitting across the prestage beam (indicated by the chalk mark). When your car’s front tires are in this position, the prestage light on the Christmas Tree is triggered. The tires must completely block the beam to trigger the prestage bulb.

The second chalk mark indicates the beam for the stage light. At this point, you are staged and ready to race. The rollout wheel illustrates shallow staging—both the prestage and stage lights will be lit. Shallow staging gives you the maximum amount of rollout—essentially a good rolling start that helps reduce elapsed times. The distance your car travels from the point of launch to the triggering of the ET clock is your actual rollout—the elapsed time clock does not start until your front tires are completely past the stage beam.

The third chalk scratch marks the location of the guard beam. This is an example of deep staging. At this point, you are past the prestage beam (which turns off the prestage bulb) and you are covering both the stage and the guard beams. If you roll further forward and uncover the stage beam, you will redlight and be disqualified. Deep staging allows you to trigger the ET clock much sooner and puts you physically closer to the finish line; the result is improved reaction times at the expense of elapsed time. Deep staging requires plenty of practice and is not recommended for beginner racers.

We taught you the basics of bracket racing in a previous post. Now, we’re going to give you the next lesson—how to stage.

There is more to staging than simply rolling your car up to the starting line and taking off. There are staging techniques and tricks that will help you maximize elapsed times or reaction times—and once you master them, you can use them to win more races, more often.

The Guard Beam
The starting line lights, or Christmas Tree, include two sets of staging lights—prestage and stage—that are linked to sensors that direct two infrared beams across each lane. When your car’s front tires interrupt the first beam, you trigger the prestage light. That lets you, your opponent, and the starting line official know you are close to the starting line. When you cross the second beam, you trigger the stage light, indicating you are ready to race.

Some tracks use a third infrared beam, called a guard beam. Its job is to prevent a part hanging underneath or in front of the car from blocking the stage and guard beams. This could result in giving a racer an unfair advantage by giving them a rolling start before the elapsed time (ET) clock starts and reducing the racer’s ET. A red foul light is triggered when the guard beam is activated while the stage light is still lit, automatically disqualifying the offending racer.

A big factor in a good staging technique is rollout. Rollout is the distance it takes for the front tires to move past the stage beam and trigger the ET timer during the launch. Rollout has a direct impact on your reaction times. (Note: reaction time is measured by a different clock; it starts when the green light flashes and stops when the car completely unblocks the stage beam). More rollout increases reaction times, while less rollout decreases it. As a general rule, less rollout will improve your reaction times by allowing you to start the ET clock sooner.

Determining how much rollout to use depends largely on how you race. If you tend to go for the quickest elapsed times, then you want to minimize your rollout. If cutting a killer light is more your style, more rollout is what you need. You can also adjust your rollout to increase your chances of winning against an opponent. For example, if you and the racer you are matched up with run similar ETs, you can use more rollout and attempt to beat him based on reaction time.

Staging Techniques
That leads us to staging techniques. There are two basic types:

Shallow staging involves rolling through the starting area until both the prestage and stage lights are lit. This maximizes the amount of rollout you have, which improves elapsed time at the expense of reaction time. This is the technique recommended for new bracket racers until they learn proper launch procedures.

Deep staging  is used to reduce reaction times. To deep stage, roll the car up until you trigger the prestage and stage lights, then move forward slowly until the prestage bulbs go out. This puts more of your front tires ahead of the stage beam—and less tire that needs to go through the stage beam and trigger the ET clock. That will improve your reaction time, but also increases your chances of redlighting if you don’t time your launch just right. Needless to say, deep staging requires plenty of practice; it may not even be allowed in some classes; check the rules at your track.

Like anything else, the best way to apply these staging and rollout techniques is to practice, practice, practice. Once you find a staging routine that works for you, stay with it. When you stage the same way for every run, the more consistent you will be—and consistency wins in bracket racing. Happy rollout hunting!

Share this Article
Author: Alan Rebescher

Editor, author, PR man—Alan Rebescher has done it all in a 25 year career in the high performance industry. He has written and photographed many feature stories and tech articles for Summit Racing and various magazines including Hot Rod, Car Craft, and Popular Hot Rodding, and edited Summit Racing’s Street & Strip magazine in the 1990s. His garage is currently occupied by a 1965 Ford Mustang.