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Practice Tree racing

27 Jan 2016
Kevin McKenna, National Dragster Senior Editor
The Sports Report

Who says you need a dragstrip to have a drag race? Or even a car for that matter. Today, many racers have found a way to fulfill their need for competition and socialize with friends by attending organized practice Tree events. Practice Tree races are certainly not new, but they’ve exploded in popularity in recent years, particularly during the long winter offseason. Some of the biggest gatherings are well-organized events that feature things like corporate sponsorships and lucrative payouts that are normally reserved for “real” drag races. Arguably, the biggest Practice Tree event is the annual Southern Practice Tree Showdown presented by Plourd Racing Products and Huntsville Engines, which has been held for the last three years at Camp Meadowbrook in Cullman, Ala. Established and promoted by multitime national event winners Brad Plourd and Todd “Bones” Ewing, the event features a guaranteed winner’s prize of $10,000, and not surprisingly, it recently attracted more than 400 entries.

The format for the event is fairly straightforward. For a $50 entry fee, competitors get to compete for the $10,000 prize. Racers may enter up to four times, and buybacks are offered to anyone who loses in the opening round. Using a cockpit simulator wired to a full-sized Christmas Tree, competitors leave using a steering wheel mounted button. Each “race” is contested using a full three-amber Tree, and each competitor has the option to fine-tune their reaction times using a delay box. The racer with the quicker reaction time advances to the next round. In the event of a tie, the race is rerun until there is a winner. The “race” uses a single elimination format, much like any normal Sportsman event. Since there are no vehicles involved, there is also no age limit, so the event is open to everyone.

Plourd has strived to deliver the best experience possible for his customers, and to that end, he includes free food and drinks and has provided a live video feed on the popular bracket racing website www.dragraceresults.com. He also added random cash drawings and other prize giveaways.

“It was a big success,” said Plourd. “We had 426 entries for the first round of eliminations and 181 buybacks for round two. We took a bit of a risk this year by guaranteeing $10,000 for first place, and I was a nervous wreck all week. We were supposed to open the doors at 1 p.m., and we had a line of people waiting outside by 11:45 a.m., so we opened early. I felt a lot better after that. We actually had people fly in from places like Pennsylvania and Kansas. In the end, we went through 50 pizzas, five gallons of chili, 45 cases of Coca-Cola products, and 15 cases of water. I think everyone had a great time, and we honestly didn’t have any disputes. For as many people as we had, it all ran very smoothly.”

Plourd first got the idea to hold a practice Tree event in his hometown of Cullman after participating in several other similar events across the country. Given the large population of bracket racers in Alabama, and the prospect of warm weather, he figured the event would be a success.

“I’ve always enjoyed these deals, and I always wanted to promote one on my own,” Plourd said. “After I moved here to Alabama, I decided to just go for it. The first one paid $1,500, and I was a bit scared that day as well. The first 20 people who showed up, I didn’t know a single one of them. That’s when I figured we’d be OK. The next year we moved to a bigger venue, and then this year, Todd came to me and said, ‘You need to pay $10,000 and the people will come.’ At first I didn’t think he was serious, but he was willing to come on as a partner, so that helped split the risk.”

After several hours of open practice, along with football and pizza, final eliminations began for the 426 competitors at this year’s Southern Practice Tree Showdown. After nine tough rounds of competition, the final round came down to Brandon Carr and Glen Seymore, who are interestingly both local bracket racers from the Cullman area. Just before midnight, Carr claimed the hefty first-place prize with a .011 reaction time after Seymore red-lighted with a -.006. Each of the semifinalists received $500, and the quarterfinalists were awarded $250. There was also a free race for kids that was won by Laruen King. Other award winners were Jason Plourd Enumclaw (long distance) and Justin Earwood (first perfect light).

“We really had a great time, and I think everyone who came out felt that way as well,” Plourd said. “Heck, I was a bit jealous because I wanted to enter, but I’m also pretty happy working the other side of the fence as a promoter. It definitely makes me appreciate what real track operators go through in order to schedule and promote events. It can be pretty nerve-racking, and we don’t have to worry about rainouts or oil downs. We just need to make sure the electricity stays on and that the Christmas Tree works like it should.

“I’m sure we’ll have another event next year,” Plourd added. “We might even look into having a couple in other parts of the country. People seem to enjoy having a chance to get out of the house and hang out with their racing friends, even if their car is at home on jack stands. It was fun, but I’m really looking forward to getting my race car back on the track. Thankfully, I live in Alabama, so we’ll probably be racing in the next three or four weeks. That can’t come soon enough.”