By VICKI BROWN
Bracket racing is a form of drag racing that is much more difficult, and Leroy Murdaugh, 57, thrives on the challenge.
“You don’t need a lot of money or special equipment to bracket race,” said Murdaugh who has been racing since the early 80’s. “It’s all about consistency.”
In bracket racing, everyone starts out equal. Consistency is very important, because you don’t win by outrunning your opponent. According to the National Hot Rod Association, bracket racing rules place a premium on consistency of performance of the driver and car rather than on raw speed. It is also more dependent on a driver’s mechanical and driving skill, reaction times, shifting abilities, and controlling the car.
Murdaugh is one of those drivers. He has a wall full of trophies and awards to prove his prowess in bracket racing.
“My father got me interested in racing,” said Murdaugh. “I wanted my own drag race car so badly, but I promised my Mom I would graduate from college before buying one and competing. So, I finished college, got a job, and two weeks later, bought my first car. I have been driving on and off since then,” added Murdaugh, an auto tech by trade.
He stopped for a while, selling out and just working at his career, but he felt he had to get back to racing. He missed it.
“I love the adrenaline rush, the excitement, the competition. I pace the entire time I am there,” laughed Murdaugh. “But that’s not all I like about it. I also love the racing community. We are all friends.”
He reflected on a time when his car broke down at the track while waiting to compete. “I went to the local auto parts store in the town where we were, and when I got back, two other racers I didn’t even know were there helping my son and working to help fix my car. We all do that for each other, even though we are competing,” he said.
Murdaugh’s own family is part of that racing community. His son, Troy, has his own car and competes. Sometimes his wife, Tracy, races and his daughter, Christian Bailey, wants to race but right now is busy raising Murdaugh’s grandchildren.
They are a close family, and their love of bracket racing is part of what keeps them that way.
According to Murdaugh, bracket racing is a drag race contest between two vehicles from a standing start over an eighth-of a mile. But here is where the racing gets tricky and unpredictable.
First, drivers predict and choose a “dial-in time” before the race. This dial-in time is determined by the driver during time trials where they make practice runs on the drag strip. They receive their times and predict what they will do on race day. Their chosen “dial-in” number is written on the car’s windows.
Next, two racers warm up the cars in the “burnout box”, the area just before the starting line that is sprayed down with water for a quick burnout to warm up the tires better traction and get rid of any debris lodged in them.
Then, they line up in front of an electronic countdown starting device known as the Christmas Tree, or just tree. The yellow lights on the “tree” indicate that the driver is close to the starting line and should be ready to race. The bulbs are triggered when the front wheels cross a beam of light set to photo cells. These cells trigger the timer when the car leaves the light beam.
When the cars leave the starting line, electronic timers record how long it takes each one to reach the finish line. This is called elapsed time, or ET for short.
The first racer to reach the finish line without going faster than their dial-in is declared the winner.
Though he is known among this racing world as being tough, Murdaugh was born with an unusual handicap: a lack of joints in his arms and fingers. “I was always told by others that I couldn’t do certain things, but now I ride a motorcycle, I’m an auto tech, and I drag race,” he said.
For now, Murdaugh can be seen at Darlington, Rockingham, N.C., Union County and other serious drag tracks across the state as he travels with his car, wife and family.
“I love drag racing,” said Murdaugh. “It’s my passion…it’s always been my passion.”