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How Kye Kelley “Redlighted” When He Didn’t, And How To Keep It From Happening Again

If you’ve been on social media at all the past couple of days, you’ve likely seen something about Kye Kelley redlighting against Ryan Martin at the Street Outlaws Live filming in San Antonio this weekend. The debate rages on, fueled by the fact that a great number of social media warriors have no idea how the christmas tree itself works, though they certainly seem to think they are experts. I’m going to break it down as simply as I can, but I want to be thorough enough to cover all of the key issues and offer a couple of solutions to keep any racers from getting screwed in the future. And make no mistake, Kye got shafted for doing nothing worse than having lightning-quick reflexes.

To hopefully paint a clear picture for everybody out there, I’m going to use some terms that may need to be clarified. They are as follows:

  • Pro Tree: The typical heads up sequence used by the NHRA and most heads up race classes around the world. After both cars stage, the three amber lights on each side illuminate for .400 (four tenths) of a second, then the green lights come on. If you leave the staging beam before the amber lights go out and the green light comes on, you redlight. This is simple stuff, don’t overthink it, but pay special attention to what the three lights above the green light on each side of the tree do, it’s important later.
  • Beams: the laser beams that cross the track, creating the actual starting line. There is one at the starting line itself and one approximately 6″ before it to let the driver know they are approaching the starting line as they roll up to the line. These are the stage and prestage beams, respectively.
  • Redlight: In every OTHER race ever held, a redlight has meant a driver left the starting line before the green light came on. Pay close attention to this wording because it matters later too.

Now, in a typical drag race, the driver approaches the starting line. Just before he gets to the actual starting line, the prestage light will come on. This means his wheel has blocked the beam crossing the track approximately six inches before the starting line. This light has absolutely nothing at all to do with the actual timing system and is just in place as a courtesy to let the driver know he is within 6″ or so of the starting line. The driver rolls forward a few more inches and the stage light comes on. At this point, the driver is staged and should be prepared to leave the starting line. After staging, either a human starter presses a button that activates the tree, or the timing system itself activates it. Whichever method is used, a second or two after he’s staged, the driver will see the three amber lights illuminate. As we discussed earlier, these lights are on for .400 of a second, or four tenths of a second. After that .400 of a second, the amber lights go out and the green light comes on. If the car left the starting line before the amber lights went out, instead of the green light, the driver will see the dreaded red light.

This is how every heads up series that I’ve ever heard of initiates their races, but for whatever reason, the Street Outlaws Live promoters saw fit to change this system, and I’m going to explain the change they made and why it was a terrible idea next. They took out all of the amber lights and moved the green lights up to where the amber lights were. Keep in mind, however, that the timing system has no idea what color light is in the socket, it just sends a signal to light the bulb. So what they’ve done, literally, is caused the green light, which is still supposed to signal the driver to leave, to behave like the amber lights do in a normal tree. The green light now comes on for .400 of a second, then goes off. This is only a problem if you have a car and driver that, collectively, are able to react quicker than .400 of a second. That’s exactly what happened to Street Outlaws New Orleans point man Kye Kelley this weekend, resulting in him being unfairly disqualified because *** READ THIS CAREFULLY *** HE LEFT BEFORE THE GREEN LIGHT WENT OFF, NOT BEFORE IT CAME ON. Since the green light was in the amber bulb’s spot, his leaving before it went off triggered the redlight, thus disqualifying him even though, as you can easily see in the video, he DID NOT actually leave before the green light itself came on.

If you’re still unclear on why this is a problem, read that last paragraph and watch the video over and over until it clicks, because no driver should be disqualified for leaving before the green light GOES OFF, only if they leave before it COMES ON. There’s a very clear distinction there that makes this whole thing very cut and dry.

Now, on to my suggestions to eliminate this from happening again, of which there are two. The first, and most obvious, is to use the same exact tree that’s been used by every other sanctioning body around the world as well as an independent heads-up event for decades: the .400 Pro Tree. If it’s good enough for the NHRA, the IHRA, NMCA, NMRA, SCSN, Duck X Productions, Outlaw Street Car Reunion, and every other heads-up event, series and class around the world. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when this is a system and procedure known and understood by racers from 8 to 80 and as slow as 15 seconds in the quarter to 3.60’s in the 1,000 foot. It works, so why mess with that. In my opinion, the only other alternative is to use a procedure built into every timing system ever installed at a drag strip called “Instant Green”. This is basically as close as anything a track can offer to a flashlight start, which seems to be what they’re looking for. As it sounds, after the cars stage, the only lights that flash are the green. If the driver leaves before the green light comes on, it’s pretty obvious and the red light will still indicate a jump and disqualify that driver. This doesn’t address the issue of the car “cracking the tire” before the light is on, something we’ve seen on several episodes of Street Outlaws. The issue there is, a car can “crack the tire” before the light comes on, and due to the flex in the sidewall, the compression of the suspension, and the actual distance the car has to roll before the tire moves far enough to leave the starting line, the drive can actually leave as much as .200 of a second before the light comes on and the car not leave the beam and trigger the redlight. It would be an absolute guess on the drivers part under an instant green system, but it could happen. In the case of that being suspected, I would recommend every race be filmed in slow motion where both cars rear tires can be seen as well as the green lights on the tree. Those calls would be up to the producers and promoters, obviously, but that’s the only two alternatives I see to this situation.

If you’re still reading, I appreciate you taking the time to try to better understand the situation and help solve this issue. I feel like the Street Outlaws Live promoters, in an effort to recreate the street on the track, have let the wrong people make these decisions. I’m certainly not nominating myself, but I would suggest they speak with a man named Bob Brockmeyer about the best possible solution to their problem. Brockmeyer, the founder of Compulink timing systems, is one of the most well-known and well-respected men in the world of drag racing timing systems and knows how the Christmas tree works better than anybody walking the planet. Compulink is the global leader in timing system for drag racing facilities and is built on Brockmeyer’s knowledge of the needs and functions of the systems.  The promoters need to communicate exactly what they want from the system and I can all but guarantee Bob can come up with a solution for them. Until then, keep those keyboards ready, because it’s almost a certainty that this will happen again if they continue to use this system.