Dirt Late Models have a number...
Dirt Late Models have a number of sanctioning bodies and high-paying events. photo by Tony Hammett
Turn on your TV on a weekend during racing season and a vast majority of what you see is being run on pavement tracks. You name any particular series--Nextel Cup, Craftsman Trucks, ARCA, Hooters Pro Cup, and Trans Am--and most times the action is on asphalt. If you check your television listings, you might be able to find a taped Dirt Late Model race, but that's about it.
Many television viewers probably think that it's always been a pavement surface for the fendered sport, but that is certainly not the case. Stock car racing began in the '30s in a primitive manner and continued to mature up until the start of World War II. Most of the racing was done on dirt, and that trend continued following the war.
Consider this about NASCAR: when it was formed by Bill France Sr. in 1949 and no superspeedways were around. Cars were practically stock street, and drivers competed in rough-and-tumble action. During that first year, all eight of the Grand National races were run on dirt. In 1950, there was only one pavement race, at the then-new Darlington Raceway, and only four paved races the following two seasons. If dirt tracks had not been around for NASCAR's formative years, it could have been much later before the sanctioning body came along. During those early days, teams would run the same car on both racing surfaces, and few changes were made.
NASCAR continued to run dirt races until the beginning of the '70s when the sport's modern era evolved. That was also the case with the two other major stock car series, USAC and ARCA, during the period. Even though ARCA runs a number of its races on the same tracks as Nextel Cup, the Midwest-based sanctioning body continues to include a small number of dirt races in its championship series. Currently, those include the mile dirt tracks at DuQuoin, Illinois, and the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield. As was the case in earlier days, the teams use the same cars used on the pavement tracks.
Many drivers who reach Dirt...
Many drivers who reach Dirt Late Model ranks got their starts in Modifieds, as thousands of the cars compete at tracks across the country. photo byJeff Huneycutt
Up until the mid-'60s, the pavement and dirt stock cars remained somewhat similar, using modified street cars and hopped-up powerplants. But it was during this period that the birth of the so-called Dirt Late Model concept was born. It involved a complete car that was optimized to run on rear-end-loose dirt tracks. Today, a dozen or so manufacturers build these super-quick machines.
Since the mid-'60s, a tremendous evolution has continued, and the Dirt Late Model stock car of today is a pure racing machine that is highly endowed with advanced technology. The modern Dirt Late Model is probably the most popular style of short-track racing in the country, with thousands of them being raced across the country. In addition, there are dozens of traveling series traversing the nation to thousands of enthusiastic fans, along with numerous other series supporting other types of dirt stock car types.
A measure of the popularity of dirt racing in this country comes through the examination of the number of dirt tracks nationwide. This number, in fact, may surprise the average stock car fan.
"Right now, there are about 1,040 tracks in the country and about 75 percent of them are dirt tracks," says Allan Brown, publisher of the National Speedway Directory. "The number of those dirt ovals continues to increase, but there have been about 15 pavement tracks closed in the past two years. A majority of the dirt tracks are shorter than the pavement ovals, being mostly in the 13- to 38-mile distance."
There are even locations where dirt tracks have been built in close proximity to NASCAR tracks, such as Talladega, Texas, Las Vegas, and Charlotte. It allows dirt fans to get their Dirt Late Model fix in between the NASCAR Cup races. That NASCAR/dirt connection was carried to the ultimate in 2000 when Bristol Motor Speedway was coated with a heavy layer of good old clay, and a Dirt Late Model race was held.
With the huge number of dirt tracks, and with most concentrating on stock car racing, it's not surprising that there are a multitude of different types of dirt racing vehicles. Those types include (besides the Dirt Late Models) Limited Late Models, Modifieds, Street Stocks, Mini Stocks, various truck classes, Legends Cars, Dwarf Cars, and many other dirt machines.
Another comparison can be made between dirt and pavement tracks. A majority of the time, there are many more race cars at dirt track events than at their pavement counterparts. When you consider the huge number of dirt tracks, you get an idea of the overpowering popularity of the dirt warriors.
A distinct characteristic of the dirt stock car scene is the enthusiasm and dedication of the fans, possibly the best in motorsports. Dedication to a particular driver is amazing, and you will see that affection with the huge number of T-shirts and other memorabilia. Presently, there is also a growing interest in die-cast models of the top Dirt Late Models and Modifieds.
Following are discussions of each of the major dirt stock car types and what makes them tick.
Whether they're called Hobby...
Whether they're called Hobby Stocks, Street Stocks, Pure Stocks, or some other name, a number of entry-level classes dot the dirt landscape. photo byJeff Huneycutt
Dirt racing today is personified by these low-slung, super-wide, high-powered machines. In fact, they have a national following of large proportions. Competition with the cars in both the traveling circuits and at the local tracks has increased through the years. One of the main reasons is that speed can now be purchased from a number of manufacturers providing turnkey cars. For that reason, the winner no longer has to start on the front row, as he is capable of advancing from deep in the field.
Performance is available in gobs from a number of aftermarket engine manufacturers. These builders produce high-compression V-8s capable of generating as much as 800 hp to push the 2,350-pound haulers. The prime engine builders include Draime, Malcuit, Baker, Cornette, Custom, Fisher, ProPower, Dickens, K-Motion, Gaerte, and others. Besides the expected monopoly of Chevy-based mills, there are also some Fords and Mopars on the scene. Many teams will tell you that the engines are generally capable of 1,000-1,500 laps before a major teardown is required.
Transmissions are mostly two-speeds, with just about everybody using either the Brimm or Bert brands. Rearends are Sprint Car-style quick-change units, with Franklin and Winters being the main suppliers.
There is stiff competition for customers between the major chassis manufacturers. The high-tech pieces are fabricated of chrome-moly and provide considerable driver protection in a crash. Major chassis builders include Warrier, MasterSbilt, Shaw, GRT, Rocket, Swartz, and Rayburn.
The aluminum bodies are quite generic with their slab vertical sides and flat topsides. Discussions have been held through the years about making the bodies stock in appearance, and there has been a small movement in that direction with stock-appearing fiberglass nose pieces that match the engine brand being used.
Dirt and mud are as much a...
Dirt and mud are as much a part of the sport as drivers who work on their own cars. photo byJeff Huneycutt
Aerodynamics plays sweetly with these sleek machines. The rear end is completely open and allows airflow. Downforce is provided by a spoiler on the rear deck.
The handling of a Dirt Late Model is many times the difference between winning and losing with these cars. Shock and spring companies are constantly researching to improve the suspension system. Coilover shocks are the standard for today's cars, with the drivers noting that they are much easier to turn with that type of suspension.
The Dirt Late Models have a large number of high-paying races, far exceeding the lower levels of pavement racing. There are many dozens of $10,000-to-win races, many with the traveling series' groups.
With the national Dirt Late Model organizations, there are a number of national sponsors, including Lucas Oil, Budweiser, PolyDome, O'Reilly, Sunoco, and Amsoil.
The biggest money in this class comes from a number of big races that bring huge money for these cars. A list of the biggest includes the Dirt Track World Championship at K-C Raceway in Chillicothe, Ohio (with $50,000-to-win), the Show-Me 100 at West Plains Motor Speedway in West Plains, Missouri ($40,000-to-win), The Dream at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio ($100,000-to-win), the North/South 100 at Florence Speedway in Union, Kentucky ($50,000-to-win), the Topless 100 at Batesville Speedway in Arkansas ($44,000-to-win), and the Grandaddy of them all, the World 100, also at Eldora ($38,000-to-win). In addition, there are the UMP Summernationals providing a complete month of high-paying races in the Midwest.
One of the oldest races is the Hillbilly 100, which was held this past season at Tyler County Speedway in Middlebourne, West Virginia. This year it paid the country's largest one-day purse for Dirt Late Models, which included $25,000 to the winner.
There is big money to be won in the Dirt Late Model arena, certainly far exceeding that which is available with the pavement machines, outside of NASCAR's three major series.
Through the years, there have been huge stars in this class, and the 21st century is no different. There are, of course, the familiar names of Donnie Moran, Billy Moyer, Scott Bloomquist, and others who bring immediate name recognition. In earlier years, the likes of Jeff Purvis, Rodney Combs, and Ernie Irwin parlayed their successful Dirt Late Model efforts into NASCAR careers.
Handling is often the difference...
Handling is often the difference in winning and losing in Dirt Late Models. photo byTony Hammett
They go by a number of different names--Limited Late Models, Sportsman Cars, Late Model Stocks, Super Sportsman Cars, Outlaw Cadets, and others--identifying this style of car at dirt tracks around the nation. The cars are located all over the country and compete in relative obscurity, with accomplishments on the track usually being unknown beyond the fans of a particular track.
No matter what they are called in different parts of the country, they all serve the same purpose--filling the dirt stock car class directly under the top Dirt Late Model-type cars.
Those late-model machines are certainly at the top of their game, but usually a driver's economic situation factors into the equation when driving one of these dirt haulers. Therefore, the step down to these limited stockers provides an excellent alternative. In fact, many drivers use these cars as a learning tool for a planned step up.
With the exception of what's under the hood, many of these cars are almost identical to the Dirt Late Models. It's not uncommon at a number of tracks to see teams switch limited steel engines and Dirt Late Model engines and race the car in both classes.
Appearance-wise, many of these cars look identical to their more famous big brothers. A majority of Limited Late Models use Dirt Late Model bodies and chassis. Unlike the Dirt Late Models, where the rules are pretty consistent in any part of the country, the Limited Late Models seem to have different rules depending on where you're racing.
One aspect of the cars, though, that remains fairly common is the post-race weight. Several tracks with this class indicated that the weight range is between 2,150 and 2,700 pounds, with a majority in the 2,300- to 2,400-pound range.
Frames vary from pure Dirt Late Model versions down to a pure automotive type. Others have a stock front clip or stub attached to a rear race-style unit. This amounts to a ton of difference in the cost of building a car. Also, the cost can be greatly reduced by using a used Dirt Late Model frame, maybe one that's 5 years old or older.
The biggest cost-cutter is the engine. Most tracks have engine rules that dictate what can be used. Practically all tracks and sanctioning bodies require an all-steel engine, including both the block and heads.
At Tazewell Motor Speedway in Tennessee, small-blocks are encouraged with a weight advantage. If the engine displacement is above 364 ci, it will cost you an extra hundred pounds. But then, there is West Liberty Raceway in Iowa, which has no displacement limit for its Limited Late Models.
Normally, you will find that most tracks dictate the use of a small-block V-8 powerplant. Usually, the 350-cid engines are used. Carb type is also usually dictated, but no consistency was noted with both two- and four-barrel styles being required. For the most part, the engines are required to use gas.
So if you are planning on taking your Limited Late Model to a strange track, call first because there is a good chance that your machine might not be legal.