CONCORD – “Checking the lanes” has been a part of drag racing almost as long as the sport has been in existence, ever since two cars lined up side by side to race.
But that's reached a whole new level in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), with most Top Fuel and Funny Car teams employing “track specialists” to assess conditions.
Part art and part science (but that's growing as technology advances), track specialists have become vital for the top-level NHRA teams looking to shave fractions of a second off of a run.
“I don't perform magic or anything – I just give information to the crew chiefs,” said Dave Fletcher, track specialist for Don Schumacher Racing's three Top Fuel and four Funny Car teams. “I'm dealing with seven teams, and they all want different information.”
That will be important this weekend at zMax Dragway, where the NHRA Carolina Nationals is the opening event in the six-race Countdown to the Championship. A thousandth of a second can spell the difference between winning and losing, or even qualifying.
“We're looking at the temperature of the race track, first of all,” said Rod Centorbi, assistant crew chief and track specialist for Morgan Lucas Racing's two Top Fuel teams.
“At the starting line, the way some cars leave, it takes rubber off, so we're looking for bald spots and where our best spot would be to leave from. Then, we're looking at where the rubber might be peeling up or bumps in the track, or the rubber condition on the rest of the track.”
Schumacher Racing was at the forefront, hiring Lanny Miglizzi as the first track specialist in 1999. In 2010, Miglizzi moved to John Force Racing, where his expertise is utilized by 15-time NHRA champ John Force's four teams.
Miglizzi has taken things to a new level – he's used creepers to get a view of the track at eye level, remote-controlled cars to check bumpiness, and has gotten on hands and knees to taste the track.
All that work, according to team officials, results in a book of data for the crew chiefs to use in chassis, transmission and engine setups, and in making lane choices during the elimination rounds.
“He is the hardest working guy in racing,” said Force, who gave Miglizzi his trophy after winning the Funny Car title at the inaugural NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway in 2010. “He lives it, he loves it, and he sleeps it. He is crucial to the crew chiefs for the decisions so these dragsters can go up and down the track.”