Reacting to Status Threat? Rank Proximity and Performance in Professional Drag Racing

David M. Yaskewich

This paper used data from professional drag racing to study how proximity to another competitor in a status ranking affected performance. The one-on-one format of races in National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) tournaments provided a setting to analyze pairs of higher- and lower-ranked drivers when status differentials were either large or small. Based on panel data from the 2009 through 2019 seasons of the NHRA’s Top Fuel and Funny Car divisions, results indicated that rank proximity improved absolute performance on reaction times by higher-ranked drivers. However, this effect only occurred when contiguously ranked opponents were paired together. Lower-ranked drivers, or underdogs, did not experience any improvements in absolute performance due to rank proximity. In the main findings, I observed that a threat of status loss can motivate performance for a focal competitor, but this effect primarily occurred when a status rival was physically present during a task.