HomeColumnsStarting LineThe Starting Line : Volume 1 - Issue 4

The Starting Line : Volume 1 – Issue 4

Motorcycle Drag racing Sportsman

The Starting Line is a biweekly column for our Sportsman drag racers brought to you by Schnitz Racing. Every other week we will feature a frequently asked question and have it answered by a panel of experienced sportsman racers, led by Ben Knight. Having questions answered by multiple racers will give our new racers several perspectives on the information they want. If you have a sportsman related question, submit it to editor@dragbike.com.

What is the difference between a pro tree and sportsman tree? And what is the best technique for cutting a light?

Jerry Turner

On most trees (NHRA events are the exception that I know about), from top to bottom, there will be 2 yellow staging bulbs, followed by 3 yellow bulbs, a green bulb and finally the dreaded red bulb. The difference between a pro tree and sportsman tree (also called full tree) is the 3 yellow bulbs. On a pro tree, all three bulbs light at once followed by the green bulb. Depending on the class and organization/track, the time between the 3 bulbs flashing and the green bulb will either be .500 or .400 of a second. On a sportsman tree the 3 bulbs come down in order. Normally this is a .500 second interval between bulbs.

Ask 5 racers the best technique for cutting a light and you definitely will get 5 different answers to that question. And it will be a different answer for each tree. While I don’t know if I have the best technique, I do have some suggestions. And I will say that I’ve seen more races won/lost on reaction times than I have running closest to the dial-in or index. First things first. Do the same thing until you get consistent reaction times (good or bad). When you become consistent with staging the bike, releasing the clutch, holding the rpm’s, etc… then you can start making changes to improve your reaction. But only change one thing at a time and see if it consistently helps. On a pro tree, you have to be ready to go when you turn on the 2nd stage bulb, especially on a .400 pro tree. You may have to stage deeper, drag your clutch or even make changes to the bike to get a good reaction. Theoretically, reacting to a .500 pro tree would be the same as reacting to the 3rd bulb of a sportsman tree. Most bikes will need to leave as soon as you see the 3rd bulb on a sportsman tree. It’s hard not to anticipate the 3rd bulb and red light. Concentration is king here. Some people have success watching the bulbs come down or counting, etc… I generally have my best reactions when I can completely ignore the first two bulbs and react to the 3rd bulb only. And I’ve tweaked my bike set-up over the years to react as soon as I see the third bulb. When you can block out what’s happening in the other lane, and everything else and just concentrate on your tree, then you can have consistent lights.

Janie Palm

The Pro Tree is when all three amber lights flash simultaneously followed four-tenths of a second later by the green light.

A sportsman tree is where the three amber lights flash consecutively five-tenths of a second apart, followed five-tenths later by the green light.
React or leave when you immediately see the last yellow come on. Honestly this is so individualized you really have to figure out what works best for you. Some days one thing might work and the next it won’t work. Its really a lot of trial and error to figure out what works best for you.

Dustin Lee

The tree is made up of three major parts. At the top of the tree, you see two sets of double yellow bulbs for each side of the tree (each lane). The top set is called the pre-stage bulbs. This is an indicator for the driver that he is approaching (and near) the starting line. The second set is called the stage bulbs. They indicate that the driver is actually on the starting line, and presumably ready to race. The next section is the three amber starting signals. In most bracket racing and sportsman classes, these bulbs will light in sequence, a half-second apart, this is called a full tree. Some classes, however, use a pro tree. A pro tree will light all three ambers simultaneously, with a four-tenths or five-tenths of a second delay between them and the green light.

The last two lights then, of course, are the green and red lights. The green will come on after the amber bulbs if the driver has not left the starting line too soon. Leaving the line before the green light will result in the dreaded red light… a foul start.

How to cut a light depends on how your bike reacts and how you react to the lights. It takes practice and a lot of it! Good luck and be safe!

Ben Knight
Once you and your competitor have pre-staged and staged (both sets of small bulbs are lit on both sides of the tree) you have three (3) larger amber bulbs that need to illuminate prior to the green. When the timing system is setup for a pro tree all three bulbs will flash on simultaneously (and usually for .400 of a second). When the system is setup for a sportsman tree, each of the three bulbs will flash by themselves and in consecutive order (with .500 of a second between each).

We’ll see you in two weeks for another addition of the Starting Line, in the meantime check out our column sponsor Schnitz Racing.


Volume 1 – Issue 1 : What is the best advice for someone going down the track for the very first time?

Volume 1 – Issue 2 : How do I decide what class to enter? Most tracks have a street class and pro bike class but I sometimes see streetbikes racing in the pro bike class with the bar bikes.

Volume 1 – Issue 3 : What is the difference between a bracket class and an index class?

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