When Stock was called to lanes over the loud speaker, my focus scattered like birds from a howitzer. Like a robot, I stepped into my fire suit and put on my helmet, gloves, and shoes in an order I could not remember. I proceeded to start and stall the car enough times that I eventually noticed that Calvert had stopped his own start-up ritual and was standing in front of the car with his arms crossed. I managed to make friends with the car and rolled to the end of the staging lanes, where I sat without noticing the 100-degree desert heat and attempted to clear my thoughts.
Calvert's car is about the easiest car you can drive that still wheelies out of the hole and runs in the 130s. Next to my right hand was a small switch that activated the line-lock. After I was directed into the burnout box by the track official, I pushed the brakes with a jumpy left leg, depressed the switch, and gave the throttle a quick stab to get the tires smoking. Calvert's cars don't do burnouts on the rev limiter, so it was up to me to not hang the rods out of the Cobra engine with panicky revs. I let go of the button and glided forward.
Because I had already made my first mistake by rolling to the staging lanes first, I had to follow a contraption from a street class with what looked like two different track widths, one of which was far off to the left. I thought for a moment about high school auto shop where my teacher, Mr. Renner, had described the concept of dog tracking, where from the rear, cars with frame damage looked like a running dog. Calvert later explained that following another, more experienced class racer helps you find the groove. Therefore, I had no idea where it was. My ace in the hole was the fact that I had seen the car I was driving hook at tracks where no one believed it could be done. My mechanic/crew chief was none other than John Calvert, inventor of the CalTrac bar and successful owner of Calvert Racing. I figured I could be out of the groove a bit and get away with it. Since Stock is a foot-brake class, my right foot was flooring the throttle and my left was on the brake. I left on green instead of yellow and posted a hideous 0.301 light. The car thankfully did the rest, running a 10.54 at 128 mph with striking grace and a small wheelie to qualify No. 1.
I couldn't believe it, me, No. 1 qualifier in a points race against guys with lots of money and experience. I clutched the time slip like a schoolgirl's first love letter and whooped into my helmet.
The ladder is split where the No. 1 qualifier runs the No. 11 qualifier in the first round. Once you are on top of the ladder, there is no place to go, and therefore no way to maneuver away from superior drivers. Calvert explained I would have to race a former Stock World Champion in the first round. The guys had seen me coming.
There was one qualifier left, and I was already running out of options. With a 20-car field, I could hope that another car entered the race, giving me a bye, or someone else would step up and take the top spot from me.
With an hour or so until the next round, I learned about the car. At the end of each run, all cars need to report to the scales to be weighed, and the driver is given a cup that is to be filled with fuel for testing. The CJ uses C25 racing fuel and, after the first run, weighed 3,590 pounds.
With a green light from the tech inspector, I returned to the pits to connect the battery charger, top off the fuel, and attend to the log book. Each run is carefully logged in a racing log book you can buy from Summit or Jegs. All entries are arranged in a matrix against the run number. In addition to the time of day, lane, and session, there is a detailed account of every marker on the track. If you want to look at your 60-foot and 330-foot mph and e.t., it's in the log book. But only if you put it there.
Calvert uses a handheld weather station from TAG Systems Racing Products that gives you air temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and corrected or density altitude (DA) at the push of a button. Experienced car owners and crew chiefs will know how the weather will affect the speed of his car. To simplify the explanation: As the DA gets higher, the air gets thinner, the AF ratio gets richer, and the car slows down.
Armed with five rounds of information from two time-only passes and three qualifying passes, it was time to sweat the dial in. As a street machine guy with a few runs behind him, I looked at the log book thinking that the car and I were consistent. The fastest run was 10.45, and the slowest was 10.75, and I was thinking in the 0.10 scale when the rest of the field was playing one decimal to the right at 0.010. My sloppy shifting and sketchy lane alignment was going to catch up to me in a big way. I needed to run within 0.050 of a dial of my choosing, and I had nearly 0.30 to choose from. I estimated that Round 1 of eliminations would take place about 10 a.m. the next day, so I simply chose to dial in using the time from that run. The e.t. on the window would be 10.55 based on a 10.549. I hit the practice tree until I had a string of 0.040–0.060 reaction times and hit the sack.
The wheelie bar is a Calvert design that doesn’t unload the tire. Instead it adds pressure
The Cobra Jet uses a C4 automatic transmission in Stock or a C3 in Super Stock. The crossm
Racing is about consistent rituals. Before each run, I went through the checklist in my he
The weather station calculates density altitude based on temperature, barometer, and relat
In order to be consistent, the tire pressures need to be exactly the same on each side, on
During competition, lane choice is decided by the drivers with either a coin toss or a sim