In the world of sports, human factors and even manufactured structures share similar impact on winning. Comparing drag racing to bowling might seem at first like matching lakes to rivers, but a close look might surprise.
The first gaze is the perspective of measurement. Bowling lanes and drag strips share straight alignment, of course, but Wikipedia and sanctions NHRA and PBA provide differentiation in rules that relate dimensions.
The width of a bowling lane in the Professional Bowling Association is 39 inches. The foul line to head pin measures 60 feet. The width of a National Hot Rod Association drag strip is 60 feet wide including one foot walls on each side. Drag strip lanes are a minimum of 4,000 feet, where gasoline competitors race for 1,320 feet. Nitromethane cars race for 1,000 feet.
It’s obvious these numbers reflect human versus machine competition, but closer analysis with 12-time PBA champion bowler Danny Wiseman, 43, and four-time NHRA Pro Stock Car champion Jeg Coughlin Jr., 40, explains much. Coughlin bowls for recreation and invited Wiseman to his NHRA pits twice in 2010. Both have more than 20 years experience of intense competition at their sports.
“You have to be able to apply everything that the lane is telling you do and make the shot while you’re walking four or five steps swinging a 15 or 16 pound object,” Wiseman said. “There is a lot to our sport that people don’t understand.”
Wiseman was quick to point out intricacies that go unexplained to PBA viewers owing to time and budget.
“They have not shown what happens to the lane as it depletes, as the oil is taken off the lane because of the bowling balls,” Wiseman said. “It’s friction–how the bowling balls traveling through the lanes deplete the oil and changes the unseen oil pattern.
“We make adjustments like the race team does in their setup on the car to match the track, we do it with speed control, rev rate, different balls, surface changes on the ball and many more. You always see a lane, a ball, pins and a guy throwing it, but on that lane there’s oil and there are different patterns.”
Wiseman also pointed out what legitimate PBA oil conditions would do to local bowlers.
“Local houses put up lane conditions where there is friction to the right and oil to the left. It’s basically a guide to the pocket. These local guys are up to 230 and 240 in their leagues. These same guys can’t average 170 and 180 on legitimate PBA conditions.”
Coughlin understands what Wiseman shared about lanes as NHRA track preparation is a detailed process too. He compared PBA and NHRA lanes.
“They both are definitely straight and they both have a groove you need to narrow in on or adapt too,” Coughlin said. “But one is built to spin and then roll and the (Dragstrip) is made for maximum traction.”
“The two sports are more similar than most would think,” Coughlin added. “For example, once you start the race car it is all in the driver’s hands and bowling is very similar once you step onto the lanes. I believe that the mental prep for both sports is very similar. I also believe reading the 'track' is very similar in both sports.”
The analysis shifts here to a weight and speed perspective. For comparison, baseball statistics add clarity to the mix.
The average speed of a 15 to 16-pound bowling ball tossed by professional bowlers is 18 to 25 mph, the record is around 35 mph.
The weight of an MLB baseball is about 5 1/8 ounces. The fastest known speed of a baseball is a 103-mph pitch by Mark Wohlers in 1995, but most fast balls are below 100-mph in the 90-mph range.
NHRA rules place a Pro Stock Car at minimum weight of 2350 pounds (driver included). The fastest run by a PS car is 212.46 mph in 2010 by Greg Anderson, although it’s elapsed time that counts most in drag racing. That record is 6.509 in 2009 by Mike Edwards.
One last human-machine comparison: Michael Johnson ran the fastest human quarter mile at 43 seconds on a circular track going 18 mph.
So much for numbers, human factors are often most significant. Coughlin commented on bowling and drag racing.
“We have talked several times on how the sports world is so competitive and in our worlds how we both work to be the best at what we know and what we enjoy,” Coughlin said. “The fans don’t see the preparation of thoughts or practice that goes into our profession and when displayed on TV; it much of the time looks effortless…it is far from that.”
Wiseman defined the passion that often separates champions from contenders.
“I’ve loved the game my whole life,” Wiseman said. “It’s never been about the money. It was always beating the best at what I love to do and what they love to do and beating those guys.
“You’re on TV. You need a double in the 10th to win. What are you thinking? I’m thinking I want that chance to win if it's in front of me. This is what I thrive on. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes it doesn’t. Get up there. Make the best shot you can. If they fall they fall. But the drive, you thrive on that—the pressure of wanting it. ”
Wiseman will never forget his first perfect 300 game at the tender age of 15, but these days it’s all relative.
A normal 300?” Wiseman said. “I shot one at the World Series of Bowling (Nov. 2010). It was like no big deal. To me it’s like another 100 pins over, meaning that 200 is par and I shot 300 so that another 100 pins added to my cumulative score. It’s just another game to me. It doesn’t happen all the time. I’ve got 63 perfect games, but how many have I bowled in my career? How many times has Jeg run 6.50’s and how many times has he been down the track. You look it that way.”
Wiseman also visits NASCAR races when possible and shared his thoughts.
“I was talking to Chad Knaus, (Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief), talking about bowling balls to him and he had no clue, but once I started about RG values, differentials of the cores, technical aspects of balls and the internal properties and how that applies to the lane and friction, his eyes lit up, ‘Really. You do all that?’ “I’m everything your whole team is individually. Imagine doing it that way with performing for very little money comparatively to other sports. All love.”
Coughlin understands what Wiseman does.
“I can appreciate the passion and training that goes into to every shot, every strike, every spare or game win,” Coughlin said. “The challenge is to be the best at what you do and at the same time earn a living doing what you love.”
Wiseman understands well the mental aspects in all sports.
“Our game is very mental. You have to be able to apply your mind to your physical game and make your body do things that the lane conditions are telling you to do in adjustments on the fly. You can't second guess.
“All the best in the world in any sport, there are very similar mindsets, very similar circumstances regarding their individual sport. We all kind of ball it all up. It’s very similar about what our minds are about. I’ve talked to quite a few people. I’ve never read a book on how to win, but it takes a special person to be able to apply regardless of their sport.”
Fast minds seem key to success on fast lanes no matter what width or length.
Photo credit: PBA and Danny Wiseman equipment