RACING ALL OUT

An older story from 2010 about NHRA's Comp Eliminator CIC system with some old photos. There have been changes made to the system since then but this is a generally good read for a winter day.

NHRA’s Competition Eliminator class has probably the most widely diverse group of cars in any of the sportsman categories. It’s here where you’ll find everything from front-engined dragsters to street altereds to coupes, sedans, trucks, whatever; all competing on a handicap basis against one another. Powerplants can also run the gamut from big cubic inch Pro Stock style engines to four cylinders with and without power-adders (turbocharging, supercharging, nitrous oxide).

Attempting to maintain some sort of parity amongst the combatants falls to an index system much the same as used in the Super Stock and Stock classes. As an example, the A/EA (A/Econo Altered – a sort of misnomer because there is nothing “Econo” about this class) of David Rampy which is powered by a small block Chevrolet engine carries a quarter-mile index of 7.86. The Chevrolet Cobalt of 2009 Comp champion Bruno Massel, Jr. uses a turbocharged 136-cubic inch powerplant and runs in the BB/AT (BB/Altered Turbo) and runs off a 7.27 index. When Rampy lines up against Massel, Rampy receives a .59-second headstart which is dialed into the ‘tree.

In that respect, the similarities to the Stock and Super Stock classes, or even any simple bracket race, are the same. But it ends there. Whereas in the aforementioned classes, a break-out policy is in effect where if a competitor runs faster than their index or dial-in, they’re disqualified. Comp racers have no break-out to concern themselves with and can run flat-out, as fast as they can to the finish line.

As can be expected with that sort of arrangement, the fastest car under his or her respective index then becomes the winner, which in itself is not a problem, but… Money always seems to win. We all know that horsepower takes money. An example would be both Rampy and Massel; both of which are far from big players in the money department, but if they were; an endless bank account could have both running far faster under their respective indexes than they are now.

In order to control that situation and maintain some sort of parity in the class, officials have long sat around a table and arbitrarily “awarded” fast racers a deduction in their index. In the Stock and Super Stock classes, horsepower is awarded which forces the racer to add weight to their cars because they are classified by horsepower to weight. In Comp, the cars are classified by cubic inch to weight. Therefore a reduction in their index takes away some advantage.

NHRA Division 1 Director Bob Lang said, “We needed a way to get away from egos and opinions and come up with an arbitrary method in order to make fair index adjustments.”

The Stock and Super Stock classes use the Automatic Horsepower Factoring System (AHFS - see Triggering Horsepower – DRA January ’10) which was actually formulated after the Competition Index Control (CIC) system.

As written in the NHRA Rulebook, the CIC System is described as: “In an attempt to control runaway index situations in Competition eliminator, the Competition Index Control (CIC) system will be in effect during eliminations at all NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series national and NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series divisional events (National Open or any other non-points events will not carry a permanent CIC adjustments). Once a competitor adjusts a class index in two classes through a permanent CIC, that competitor is restricted to competition in the affected classes only and will not be allowed to compete in any other Comp class for the remainder of the current season. If a competitor adjusts a single class or does not adjust an index permanently, he/she will be allowed to compete in any comp class. Any contestant running .50 or quicker under their respective index during eliminations (not during qualifying or time trials) will have his or her index adjusted by the amount he or she exceeds -.50 for the following round of eliminations.”

“Any contestant who runs -.610 or greater in official eliminations will cause his or her respective class index to be permanently adjusted by an increment equal to the second decimal of the infraction, to a maximum of .10-second, following the event. At events conducted at altitude-corrected tracks, all relevant altitude factoring will be used for event CICs and permanent CICs. Example: A contestant runs .629 under the altitude-corrected index. This will cause a permanent CIC adjustment to the sea level index of .02.”

Lang said, “When we initiated the AHFS for the Stock and Super Stock classes, the thought process was to pattern it after the CIC system which had been in effect for a couple of seasons.”

NHRA’s Vice-President of Racing Operations, Graham Light, said, “I used to run Comp Eliminator when I started racing so I’m well aware of how complicated the class is. Back then we were handicapped off of the national records, which wasn’t always a good thing.

“When the index system came around in the mid-‘70s, “Light added, “it marked a great improvement to running off records. I was still working in the Tech Department at NHRA then and we would sit around for hours debating index changes to certain classes in order to maintain parity and it was truly a no-win situation. I don’t know that any one of us simply woke up one morning and invented the CIC system, but we all knew there had to be a better way, a mathematical formula to institute an index change.

“The system has been tweaked over the years,” he says. “As an example, a run of .720 under would get you an index change of .12. Now a run from .650 to .709 is awarded with a maximum of .05 and the maximum index adjustment is set at .10, regardless of how far under you run.”

Is the system fair? “No system is perfect,” says Light.

NHRA’s Division 3 Director Jay Hullinger says, “Comp is the last no-breakout category that exists, other than the alcohol classes. But if left to run all out with no balancing procedure in place, there would be certain combinations that dominate. The CIC system allows for the performance of each individual combo to dictate the balancing, which helps to maintain parity amongst the players.”

One of the complaints of the system is when “mindshaft” conditions exist. When atmospheric conditions favor fast runs, the CIC system can sometimes appear to be working overtime. Knowing full well that certain engine combinations are affected differently with weather, it’s this time when the system can appear unfair.

But as Lang points out, “What exactly are the parameters of ‘mindshaft’? How could we ever adjust for meteorological conditions?”

Massel Jr. said, “If there is one thing I believe about the CIC system, it just appears too aggressive. I’d rather see a permanent hit at .65 rather than the .60. Other than that though, it does work correctly.”

Sometimes it’s heard that a certain combination is capable of running much faster than what is seen. In the case of Massel and his 136-cubic inch engine with a turbocharger, someone might comment that they feel his car is capable of runs much faster than what it runs now, although we’re sure Massel might have a legitimate dispute about that. But therefore, it’s those same people who claim that index should be hit much harder.

Light says, “Whether he or anyone else can or can’t, the CIC system is set up to control it. We’re not going to arbitrarily hit anyone’s index. If a car runs fast, than the system monitors it and will control it. And that goes the same for anyone.

“The beauty of it is the fact that all the racers know how it works and what the numbers are,” Light added. “They know how the game is played and it’s pretty much eliminated the phone calls and complaints.”

What the Competition Index Control system does is act as a leveling mechanism for the last bastion of flat-out drag racing. It might not be totally reasonable and impartial, but there’s little in this world that is.