Beam Trippers – Controversial or Commonplace?

Paddles, extenders, beam trippers – whatever you call them, small panels designed to trigger the finish line photo cells affixed to the front of drag cars are turning up more and more frequently. Once strictly a bracket racer’s “secret,” these devices are appearing on heads-up cars in every class where they’re not explicitly outlawed. While their popularity would seem to indicate they’re not too controversial among actual racers, some observers have framed their dislike for the appendages in a way that makes them seem like an unfair advantage.

While there’s undoubtedly a benefit (though small, as we’ll see in a moment) to being a few inches closer to tripping the finish line lights from the moment you leave the line, is it “unfair” if everybody’s working from the same set of bodywork rules? A good example is ADRL’s Pro Extreme class, where it seems like every car is wearing one. But then again, the ADRL rulebook is pretty clear:

BODY: …Maximum front end overhang of 45” as measured from centerline of front spindle. An ADRL accepted extension may be used to reach 45” if the front end overhang of the body is less than 45”…

Essentially, having a car that’s shorter than 45 inches from nose to spindle in Pro Extreme is equivalent to having a car that’s ten pounds heavy in a class with a minimum weight (which Pro Extreme doesn’t, in case you were wondering).

So if a beam tripper isn’t cheating, is it really an advantage? In bracket and index racing where robotic precision rather than raw speed wins races, it certainly can be. But in the kinds of heads-up racing so popular in ADRL and elsewhere, the margins of victory simply aren’t usually close enough to make a 6-12 inch extension the deciding factor in who moves on to the next round.

For example, at the most recent ADRL round at VMP, the Pro Extreme qualified field was trapping between 194.35 and 211.69 in the eighth-mile. On the low end, 194 miles an hour is a hair over 285 feet per second. Do the math, and that means that a 12-inch extension on the front of a car is worth 0.0035 of a second at the stripe. Measurable, for sure, but is it significant? A look at the final qualifying order shows that Bubba Stanton would have been 11th instead of John Stanley if he’d been .002 seconds quicker, but the rest of the field would have stayed exactly the same, regardless of whether they’d had a full 45 inches of overhang or not.

In eliminations, out of four rounds and fifteen pairs of cars down the track, the closest margin of victory was 0.010 for Joshua Hernandez in the semifinal against Frankie Taylor, in the fastest side by side match in Pro Extreme history. Did Hernandez’ beam tripper (Taylor runs one too, of course) make the difference at the stripe? Clearly not in this particular instance, but like any good racer, he’s making the most of the rulebook.

So what about other, less over-the-top drag racing classes? The late model Mustang is probably the most popular car in the history of drag racing, and a stock New Edge SN-95 has an overhang right at 40 inches. Would a 5-inch head start decide races? At 150 mph (220 feet per second) across the stripe, 5 inches is .00189 or a second. Picking up two thousandths of a second with some sheet metal and pop rivets might be worth it to some, but frankly you’re probably better off using the time and energy to practice your reaction times instead.

About the author

Paul Huizenga

After some close calls on the street in his late teens and early twenties, Paul Huizenga discovered organized drag racing and never looked back, becoming a SFI-Certified tech inspector and avid bracket racer. Formerly the editor of OverRev and Race Pages magazines, Huizenga set out on his own in 2009 to become a freelance writer and editor.
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