Burnout Box Manager
What Few Racecar Drivers, Team Owners, Or Crewpersons Know
About This Important Position If They Have Never Done It
by Bob Szabo
IHRA DRM - 2006 Issue #5
RACING EVENT PEOPLE: Drag racing was always a passion. As I attended the
many racing events starting in the ‘60’s, the abundance of race vehicles filled my
memories. Yet, racing event personnel were always present, and I often did not
notice or recall their work or responsibilities. They made the events go on, sometimes
with difficulty, but usually with little problem and a lot of entertainment. Then a few
years ago, I became acquainted with one of the local racetrack officials who invited
me to participate in running various races.
THAT CRAZY BURNOUT: My first assignment was the staging or burnout box
manager. At IHRA events, that assignment is usually for racecars located from 60 feet
before the burnout box to 20 feet after it. To those unfamiliar with the lingo, the
burnout box is a ditch or area of the racetrack with a pool of water. Racecars drive
through it or around it and back into it. Then they spin the drive tires to clean them.
As the water patch thins out, the tire starts smoking. Some cars lock the front brakes
and hold the car in position. The rear tires then fill the air with tire smoke. Then the
driver releases the front brakes and the car goes forward a few feet spinning the
drive tires. Some racecars drive through the burnout box. A few feet after the drive
tires get wet, they nail the throttle and smoke the tires. That smoking gets the tires
hot when the racecar screams out of the burnout box towards the starting line.
Some drivers smoke them over the starting line. This burnout is a crowd favorite and
has become a standard in the sport.
OCCASIONAL DUTY: I have had many experiences driving through the burnout
box behind the wheel of my blown altered. I have also had occasional experiences
with standing next to a fellow competitor’s drag race car watching that burn out.
Occasionally a driver would ask me to coach a burnout. I would stand there, motioning
the driver up to a location on the burnout box area where the pavement is wet.
Then, when the track starter or burnout box manager approved, I would motion the
driver to proceed.
BURNOUT BOX FUNDAMENTALS: The first starter I worked with was a polite
associate who must have understood the insecurity from the new assignment. He
said to stack them up. In racing terms, that meant to run them through as fast as
possible. The trigger for directing the next pair of cars up to the burnout box was
when the pair of cars on the racetrack staged on the starting line. Then when they
were released and got to the half-way point, the racecars in the burnout box were
signaled to start their burnout. A clinched hand signal held the cars in the burnout
box. An open hand spinning the arm released the cars. After the burnout, the cars
would stage at the starting line. The starter took over at that point.
BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE: In the beginning, the starter motioned me for the timing
of when to pull up the next pair. Soon I caught on to the pace. I watched every
pair go down the track to the half-way point. Then I would release the next pair of
cars in the burnout box. There was usually a staging manager in the staging lanes. I
motioned that person to pull the next pair of drag race vehicles forward to the
burnout box. People would walk up to me after their runs and ask how their cars
looked going through the finish line and I realized that I never saw them after the halfway
point. My pacing job focused on the next pair of racecars. It was interesting to
me that here I was in a key position of viewing the racing but instead I became consumed
in the task of pacing and the burnout.
SAFETY FOREMOST: The first confusion for me was getting the right cars in the
correct lane. There were various rules from time to time. One was to run street-cars
with street tires in only one of the lanes. Those street tires would tear up the remnant
rubber on the racetrack so we kept them in only one of the lanes. I had to double
check cars coming from the staging lanes to get the drag only cars with slicks on the
right and the other street-cars always on the left lane. Often drivers would ignore the
staging lane manager and try to sneak into a lane of choice while approaching the
burnout box. That confrontation would peak with the burnout box manager who was
responsible for straightening out any unauthorized lane switching.
AUTHORITY: I was soon impressed with how most of the competitors relied upon
me to motion them up to the burnout box. Some ignored me and acted like they
knew what to do. Occasionally my teacher, the track official, would walk up to them
and say wait for your release from him (pointing to me). After a few of those, I gained
confidence to manage my own responsibility and would maintain control over all of
the cars, including the know-it-alls.
RESPONSIBILITY: This may seem trivial, especially to National Championship
seekers, however, you have no idea what it is like to do what looks like a simple job.
One common occurrence is brakeage in the starting line. Without management of the
burnout box pacing, you quickly end up with racecars stacked up ahead of the box
waiting for the pair on the starting line. One is broken and the event stops. I saw
occasions where we had to back one or more cars out from the burnout box to make
room for the broken car to be pushed out.
DANGER: Awhile back, a racecar was started in the staging lanes. Some type of
accident occurred where the throttle stuck. The racecar jolted forward and hit one of
the starting line crew causing serious injury. I was not there but recalled all of the
times I stood in front of or behind a starting racecar. I recalled all of the times I saw
crew persons and track personnel standing near the front or rear of various racecars
as they started.
THE BIG PICTURE: The burnout box job responsibility became even more obvious
in my mind. At the various local track events I have attended since, I often see new,
young people managing that burnout box. Some have a lot more experience than I
have, but some are without even my limited experiences. I see most racecar drivers
and crew following their guidance. The occasional Top Eliminator wanabe’s who
ignore the commands of those important track officials simply have no awareness of
the events that go on around that position when those racers are off in the pits doing
their own thing. Those events affect the pace and the burnout box management
decisions when “Sir Top Eliminator” pulls up into the staging lanes for another world
THE RACE EVENT EXPERT: When I continued, I really enjoyed the position. Often,
I would observe a car with a peculiar handling problem. As a courtesy I would advise
the driver or a crewmember that was present. Many really depended on my observations.
I also became aware of the track condition. Some would approach me and
ask how the track was. I got better and better at predicting the condition simply from
watching the racecars go down the track straight or out of shape.
MAINTENANCE MANAGER: I also soon experienced the leaker; the car that
leaves a trail of fluid as it travels up to the starting line. I was the one responsible for
catching that one as soon as possible to avoid a major cleanup. I quickly became
aware of the oversights from some of the drivers: forgetting to buckle-up, put on the
helmet, fasten the helmet, latch the hood, trunk, door, remove the hood scoop plug
or cover, have a working tail light during night time racing, a tire going flat, and others.
A big one was one night when a front wheel drive compact bracket street car
was running about 115 mph. During his second round, I looked at his small rear tires.
They were both spares; you know, the little ones rated at 55 mph max. I pulled him
out from the line. The inspector who approved the car with street tires joined me in a
safety instructional class for this participant. Yes, those tires are light. No, they are
not safe. Then there was the fellow who left his door open and I watched him pump
the brake pedal to build up brake pressure so the pedal would not go to the floor.
No, you are out.
What reinforced the enforcement of all of those incidents was the many times I
was called out to the racetrack to help clean up either fluids from something that
broke or a racecar brush with the guard rail. After seeing wreckage from time to
time, the importance of my job became even more entrenched in my mind.
THE TEACHERS: Sportsman racers are often the professionals of the self-starting
racecars. When I was new to the staging assignment, many an experienced sportsman
racer set the pace and anticipated my command or the ones I was supposed to
do. I learned fast and went on from there.
I’LL NEVER DRIVE THE SAME: Often all of the stakes are on a race, and the staging
manager must try to hold the odds even for both competitors. It is a central job
in the running of the race. Most of the emotion and experience I have cannot be
described, but after that period in my drag racing participation, I became a more
respectful driver. At an event, I would sometimes walk up to the staging manager,
watch him or her, and get to know any peculiarities. But now, I know enough about
that position to respect the responsibility that it has. Hats off to all of the IHRA event
folks who do that job. And thanks for doing what you do.
Thanks to Skooter Peaco for editorial contributions for the burnout box management
customs and policies of IHRA events relative to this article.
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