500 Fever - Reason #7


 (over the next four weeks leading up to the ‘500’ weekend there will be two or three ‘top ten’ reasons to be excited about this event---check back often over the next few weeks and you too will catch  the ‘500 Fever’ ----) 

# 7.  ACT +/- system

Dave Dion taught me to always think about the fans. So let’s start with the fans regarding handicaps.

I believe fans spend their money coming to a short track to hopefully watch action-packed, competitive racing. Certainly they cheer for their heroes and become boo-birds for those they love to hate, but the bottom line is they pay to see RACING ….and that includes all racing-- HEATSCONSI(S) and FEATURES.

Here are some of the more popular handicap procedures used by various weekly tracks and tours around the country.  I have added a little commentary on each to try and give you my perspective on why I like some and literally hate others:

        1. TIME TRIALS—quite frankly I would rather eat the French delicacy ‘sweet breads’ (pancreas) than watch time trials ---oops, except once a year for the first segment of the traditional Thunder Road Milk Bowl—this time trial-type handicap is definitely not going to happen at the ACT International 500.


        2. DRAW FOR HEATS---this is a popular system used primarily for tour type shows (150 laps etc.) with lots of entrants. Draw a chip…if you draw #1, start the first heat on the pole. Win the heat, start the feature on the pole—win the second heat start the feature on the outside pole etc… throughout the starting lineup. It is a fair system, but I would argue there are lots of opportunity to ‘stroke it’, save tires, often not much real reward in risking taking another spot ---in other words if you are qualified in the top 12…settle in and save tires, save car, cause passing the guy in front of you is risky and you will only move up a couple spots in the feature. Over a 150 lap race those two spots are often not worth the risk.


        3. DRAW FOR HEATS –then wait for some kind of Draw to invert the top 6 or 8 or 4 or whatever…do you want to race or play “Texas Hold’em”, not much motivation to qualify better than to get to a top 4 or 5 (whatever the pre-set number of qualifiers is)—talk about a system made for ‘deal making…take those lucky enough on the draw to start in the top 4…race them for 10 or 12 laps..under this system there is absolutely no reason to try and pass anybody—just wait to see if you get lucky with the re-draw…I think you get my drift if you think about it.


        4. HANDICAP—this is really one of the best systems for weekly racers, club racing (a limited number of teams, generally the same ones week in and week out who tour together), but there are some downsides like the same people are in the front couple rows EVERY race. It does allow for fun racing for the fans to watch the top teams coming from the rear each race. It just doesn’t work for ACT where our formula for touring is combining tour teams, local weekly teams, and occasionally some ‘outlaw’ teams. But if done correctly, it can be a great equalizing and fair system for regular competitors. By that I mean if you are having a tough year, you head to the front of the pack which lets you claw your way back into better finishes---if you are winning—good for you—now ‘strut your stuff from the rear’, give the fans a thrill and get to the front again!!!


        5. ACT +/- ---

                   In order to satisfy the fan who pays his money, and equally important to give every driver a fighting chance in an event, we created the +/- system. [The idea came from hockey. I am a big hockey fan and most teams have four ‘lines’. On every shift they are scored by coaches-- plus for lines (and individual players) for the point gathers when a goal is scored--- minus when the line or player is scored against. That is oversimplified, but you get the idea.]


The ACT system was predicated on the amazing idea that fans should watch a race event that has given its competitors a REASON TO RACE EVERY LAP FOR EVERY POSITION POSSIBLE!!!!!! Screw the strokers, forget about the whiners that want to ‘save their equipment and tires’ ---race the damn cars. Now there’s a novel idea!


Here is what I love about the +/-. If we have to use a DRAW because of the number and variety of cars we have at races in the ACT US tour, I have no problem with that BUT---


Why reward the guy who, just by absolute luck of pulling a chip out of a bag, gets to start on the pole of his heat, or if he can’t win the heat, grab a top 5 or 6 starting spot ---more times than not he doesn’t race for this---he just got lucky on the DRAW (maybe we should charge an extra $10 per race for those fans who want to watch 40 guys pull a chip out of a bag---come on –that is not racing!!!


Here’s the bottom line of an ACT +/- system. The guy who gets lucky on the draw better race every lap as hard as he can, whether from the pole, second, third etc. If he doesn’t race every lap, he is not going to be ‘handed’ a great starting spot because he got lucky from a draw. His odds of getting into the Big Race are very good, but really because of the luck of the draw, not necessarily because he raced his heart out. Here is why---


          a)Example #1 pole sitter gets passed by two cars---that is alright—he still gets into the feature based on his ‘luck of the draw’. The benefit for him is he doesn’t have to put another heat cycle in his tires, he doesn’t have to put another 12-15 laps on his tires, he doesn’t have to race from the back of the pack and have added ‘risk’ of wrecking or getting whacked…he still gets into the big show.


Here is the cool part of a +/- system, IF the polesitter decides to stroke it and doesn’t race his butt off, he could still get in the feature by finishing 3rd or 4th, but he will put a -2 or -3 in the ‘FEATURE LINE-UP POOL’. In essence, his lack of racing flat out for the fans means instead of starting probably 12th to 18th with a neutral -0- by winning his heat at a race like the International 500, he probably will start 30th to 36th in the first 100 lap segment!!! Man if only I had raced my -#$$- off, I could have gotten at least 10-15- or 20 positions ahead of where I am starting. In other words, lots of motivation to race every lap and every position as hard as you can.


        b)Example #2 draw postion 5 or 7 oh boy, ask any veteran ACT driver what he wants to draw for a chip and it is not the ‘easy way in’ with chip 1-4 in a heat, oh no, give them a 5th or 7th and they are all smiles. These are the real racers; they are the ones that want to take advantage of the handicap draw by racing their royal behinds off. Why? Start 7 –pass 4 cars and finish 3rd — you put a + 4 in the ‘FEATURE LINE-UP POOL’, that will generally give you great odds of being in the Feature with a solid top 4 or 5 starting position!!! Best of all, the fans have seen a great heat race.


Imagine if 12 or 13 drivers ALL had a solid reason to race every lap for every position, not only to start higher up in a Feature that pays $25,000 to win, but also to avoid a consi or B feature, and most important, continue racing after you qualify so you can possible get enough ‘plusses’ to start on the pole, even if you had to come from 9th in your starting heat---virtually unheard of in any other system…gotta love it as a fan!


          c)Example #3 draw postion 11, 12 or back  let the whining begin about bad luck (there is that word again), I got screwed, I hate this +/- etc., etc., etc. The really smart guy is like that Grinch I talked about in the first of the top 10’s! He/she rubs his/her hands together, he/she wants to smile, but that might show his/her hand, he/she storms off to the hauler giddy and tickled that everyone thinks they are such losers because of their inability to draw a random chip out of a bag--- they call for a team meeting! THIS IS OPPORTUNITY KNOCKING-----


1. IF, and it is a big IF, the conversation with the crew goes something like this—“if we can race our duffs off, they are taking five to the feature out of this heat, we have a shot at the pole if we can pull off a +6!”-- Only in America..Only in ACT racing!!


2. OK, so things didn’t work out and this team raced in the heat up to 7th. Damn the luck (oops that word again)…not so fast. UMMM, ACT has another twist to the +/- system to give even more incentive to RACE every lap past every other competitor. A team is allowed to take their heat plus or minus to the consolation race.


Let’s say the procedure is that there will be 5 teams coming out of each consi that will qualify to the Main event. Out of those 5 teams, (3) three will be able to put their +/- from the original heat into the ‘FEATURE LINE-UP POOL’---remember that from above---ultimately that is how the Feature line-up will be set…highest + sits on the pole (tie breaker goes to heat first, then the consi), next highest second etc. When all the +/- qualifiers are placed on the Feature line-up sheet, the remaining consi qualifiers are listed and then “B” feature (if needed) and provisionals if needed.


This really is a unique system which puts value on hard racing. If the only fair way to run a handicap is to have a Draw, there should be some reward to those who just by virtue of lousy luck have bad draws. The +/- does that.

·         Good draws that qualify in the heat don’t have to use their tires up.

·         Good draw starting spots have less risk of getting wrecked or using up their cars like those who have to come from the rear.

·         Good draws don’t have to race in the consolation races.

·         Good draws are not necessarily good for accumulating good + numbers, but if a team draws in the top four spots of a heat their odds to get into the feature event are far greater than those who draw in the bottom 1/3rd of a heat.

·         Bad draws (bottom 1/3rd) are rewarded for racing as hard as they can to either get qualified or ‘position’ themselves to take advantage of a hard-driven heat race in their consolation race

·         Bad draws require more risk and usage of more tire wear.

·         Bad draws can be averaged by the harder you race, the greater the reward.

·         Bad draws provide those who race every lap and improve their positions an advantage to counter the much easier entry into the feature by those who ‘lucked out’ with a better chip draw.


 That is pretty much the nuts and bolts of the ACT +/- system. It is designed for both the fans’ racing entertainment and to provide equality for all teams, not just the lucky ones.


I have to leave this part of the Top 10 Reasons to be Excited about the International 500 hoping that you will attend, and especially during the heats, watch your favorite and figure out did he get a good draw to take advantage of the +/-…did he get a good draw that will give him pretty good odds of getting into the Feature event…is he in a draw position to actually race his way into a pole position, even if he has to go to a consolation race because by lousy luck he started way out back!!!


Finally, one of the great veterans of ACT, Brent Dragon had a 10th place draw a couple weeks ago. He raced his way all the way up to 4th  in his heat, which just about assured him he would be near or on the pole for a 150 lap Tour event. He got dumped at about the ½ way point in his heat and was put on the rear of the restart. He raced his way up to two positions shy of a qualified spot, but did manage a +4. In the consolation race he qualified to take his +4 to the Feature and started 4th or 5th as I remember. Now this is making chicken salad out of chicken #$%^!!!!


The ACT ‘super stat’ guy, who also is the Chief Scorer and full time employee of ACT, Nick Bigelow, looked at me when the consolation race was over and said “You gotta love that +/-!“ I knew exactly what he meant. An otherwise horrible race day turned into a decent day because a veteran had raced his butt off and took advantage of a system that is designed to give the fans great racing in qualifying and it neutralizes the necessary Draw, which really is an evil necessity!!


Have fun watching the most intense heat qualifying you will ever see at the ‘500’, and stay tuned for #6 later this week.


If you haven’t caught ‘500 Fever’ yet, your time is running out. It may be time to get the old golf clubs out, and then all you will listen to are the unbelievable stories coming out of Airborne Speedway the weekend of July 20-21 at the ACT International 500!! Hope you have no luck with the golf game if that is your choice!!!  FORE!!!!

NEXT UP— # 6 RESERVE FEATURE—(shorter than this… and that is a promise)