Crate Engine Late Models

The use of an inexpensive crate engine in a Dirt Late Model chassis is a concept whose time has apparently come. It has been considered for a number of years and is currently showing promise in several venues, in both touring series and at particular tracks.

Here's the deal. A Dirt Late Model engine could cost as high as 35 big ones, a figure that only a small percentage can manage. But take a standard crate engine from one of the Big Three manufacturers, seal it so that it can't be modified, and you have the makings of close competition. Oh, by the way, did we mention that such a powerplant is normally under five grand?

A serious effort in the crate arena is the Fastrak Champions Series, which carried out its second season during 2005. Headed by Stan Lester, the series was divided into three regions: the South, the Mid East, and the Mid West. In all, some 50 total races were run, including such tracks as Eldora Speedway, Volunteer Speedway, and others.

"We see a real future for the crate engines in dirt stock car racing," says Lester. "We try to keep the rpms in the 6,300-6,700 range for greater length of service. There are some two dozen dirt tracks, mostly in the South, that have crate engine cars, with a number of them using Fastrak rules."

Dirt Modifieds

These familiar full-body dirt machines fill dirt tracks across the country by the many thousands. They go by a number of names, depending on the particular sanctioning body or track where they compete. Major sanctioning bodies for Modifieds include IMCA, UMP, AMRA, WISSOTA, NARA, and others. Most dirt fans, though, know them as E-Mods and just plain Modifieds. Like the Dirt Late Models, the rules for these strictly dirt machines are very similar across the nation.

These cars often serve as the second rung in the careers of many dirt drivers. These cars come with appreciable performance, but it comes at a very reasonable price.

The cars have an interesting external configuration, combining a full body with an open-wheel look. The body is missing its front quarters, which completely exposes the sides of the powerplant. But the greatest difference in these cars is the frame. The front clip is of factory construction, including the stock A-arms and other hardware. The remainder of the frame is normally fabricated of tubular material.

A majority of these approximately 2,300-pound cars use small-block (350- to 400-cid) Chevy carbureted engines, with alcohol being the most common fuel.

The remainder of the powertrain usually includes aftermarket two-speed transmissions and 9-inch Ford rearends. Depending on the part of the country, some quick-change rearends are starting to appear.

At many dirt tracks, the Modifieds are a support class and often don't even qualify, and for a majority of Modified teams, the crews are mostly volunteers.

These cars handle well on the soil when the setup is correct. A standard feeling about these machines is that they are over-powered and lack the wide tires required for the horsepower produced. Many times, on the shorter tracks, the Modifieds turn laps very close to the times recorded by the Dirt Late Models, and they're considered a great learning tool for those cars.

Although Modifieds have the implication of economy and a learning vehicle, there is one race for these cars that certainly is far from that. It happens at Batesville Speedway and pays the winner the princely sum of $100,000. It's not surprising that a number of Dirt Late Model drivers find a Modified to run the event. That was the case last season as Dirt Late Model regular Terry Phillips brought home the big money.

The Dirt Modifieds also participate in the IMCA Speedway Motors Super Nationals at Boone Speedway in Iowa. The event this past season drew an amazing 400 Modifieds, the most of a particular car to appear at a single event. Even though the winner is paid just $2,000 for his efforts, it's the prestige of winning this huge challenge that brings them in.

In the northeastern United States, though, the Modified name means something entirely different. On the Right Coast, there are a pair of quite-different Modified types.

First, there are the DIRT Big-Block Modifieds, which have high-tech big-block powerplants and a body that carries significant aerodynamics. They are best known as a traveling series with the DIRT organization, although there are a number of local tracks that also race the cars. Performance-wise, they are similar to that of the Dirt Late Models.

When that same basic chassis is equipped with a small-block powerplant, the resulting vehicle carries names such as Small-Block Modified, 358 Modified, or Limited Modified, depending on the track.

Entry-Level Dirt

Under this broad category, there's a variety of entry-level dirt stock cars that have a variation of names and rules. They go by such names as Street Stocks, Pure Stocks, Bombers, Hobby Stocks, Factory Stocks, Road Hogs, and so on. Exactly what a particular name might mean depends entirely on the track being run.

The sophistication of this multitude of dirt stock car models again varies all over the lot. It should be noted, however, that in certain parts of the country the Super Stocks are very sophisticated machines, looking much like Dirt Late Models.

But the multitude of different car types and rules isn't the most important aspect of their existence. The fact is, these thousands of cars enable a huge number of dirt people to compete in and/or watch races weekly at hundreds of dirt tracks. These cars are one big reason dirt stock car racing is number one in the racing business.

Dirt Trucks

Since the introduction of race trucks in NASCAR, there has been a growing interest across the country in these particular race vehicles. The premier dirt truck traveling series that races trucks on dirt during part of its schedule is the ARCA Truck Series which, like ARCA's Super Car Series, runs basically the same trucks on both pavement and dirt.

There are also many dirt tracks across the country running many types of dirt trucks, both mini- and full-sized, with many different sets of rules. Go to just about any dirt track that runs pickups, and you might see trucks that are the barest minimum of a racing machine, probably a truck that might have been retrieved from a junkyard to one that might sport a tubular frame and a high-tech powerplant. These low-budget trucks go by many different names, such as Hobby Trucks, Stock Trucks, Pickups, Trophy Trucks, Dirt Trucks, and so on.

Needless to say, there is no national sanctioning body to control the rules for this montage of quite-different pickups, and that's probably the way it will remain for the foreseeable future.


For the short dirt ovals, the general category of Mini-Stocks works quite nicely. Again, economy is the key in this class, with the junkyard a low-cost source for many of the cars. Of course, the rules at many of the hundreds of dirt tracks that field Mini-Stocks (or whatever they call them) allow only minimal modifications. The Mini-Stock class is the only way many drivers can afford to race.

Most of the Mini-Stocks might contain a slightly modified powerplant, with small engine overbores, headers, and a larger carburetor (again depending on the particular track) being typical modifications allowed.

In the Midwest, there's a new type of dirt mini-machine that could be qualified as a Mini-Stock. This race car uses the diminutive Chevy Chevette, a compact built by General Motors between 1976 and 1986. Many of the drivers of these cars will tell you that they can go racing for as little as $3,000.

The hotbed for competition in these cars, which run almost exclusively on dirt, is the Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee area. Like other types of small dirt cars, little change is allowed. With the body, you are usually allowed an aftermarket fiberglass nose, a rear spoiler, and body skirts.

Dwarf Cars/Legends Cars

These types of 58-scale, motorcycle-powered `30s to '40s-style machines look pretty much the same. Outside, the Legends Cars sport full bodies, including the fenders, while the Dwarf Cars have more of an early modified look, sans fenders.

Both types of cars run in many states, and both run on dirt as a part of their racing schedules. When they are running on dirt, you can visualize how racing must have looked back in stock car racing's formative years (i.e., with early Ford and Chevy coupes).

One of the nicest aspects of both types of these cars is that they can be converted to run on pavement or dirt. With the Dwarf Cars, conversion to dirt can usually be made by changing the tires and making some suspension tweaks. Some Legends Car teams explain that they change the spring settings, install dirt tires, and usually raise the ride height.

Where to Find Dirt Late Model Racing

World of Outlaws Late Models
Mid-American Championship Series
Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series
Regional Racing Series
Colorado Late Model Association
Budweiser I-5 Challenge Series
Western Dirt Racing Association
NAPA-MDA Late Model Series
Southwest Dirt Racing Association
Western Dirt Late Model Tour
WDRL PolyDome Super Series
Northern Allstars Late Model Series
O'Reilly Auto Parts NCRA
O'Reilly Auto Parts TORA
Sunoco American Late Model Series
UMP Summernationals
O'Reilly Auto Parts MARS
O'Reilly Auto Parts MLRA
IMCA Deery Brothers Summer Series
Northern Late Model Racing Association
WISSOTA Amsoil Series
WISSOTA Tri Star Challenge Series
Show-Me Racin' Series
Mississippi State Championship Challenge
O'Reilly Auto Parts Battle of the Bluegrass
Carolina Clash Super Late Model Series
Southern Thunder Tour
O'Reilly Southern All Star Series
O'Reilly Auto Parts SUPR
Tennessee Thunder DirtCar Series

ARCA on Dirt

Have you ever thought about how cool it would be to see NASCAR Cup racing on dirt? Well, you can--sort of. In one of racing's best-kept secrets, the ARCA RE/MAX Super Car Series does run on dirt. The NASCAR connections are many, starting with the cars themselves. RE/MAX cars are basically NASCAR Cup clones, so when ARCA goes dirt racing, NASCAR-style cars are racing on dirt.

There's more. When ARCA hits the dirt at DuQuoin, Illinois, on Labor Day weekend, you can usually see a few NASCAR drivers. Tony Stewart and Ken Schrader routinely show up to race, and it's not because of a paid appearance, either. They are there because they want to race and have some fun, and race they do.

ARCA never really stopped running on dirt. The organization has sanctioned over 300 races on quarter-mile bullrings and on fast half-miles. ARCA still runs what former series champion Bob Keselowski called "The Superspeedways of Dirt"--the Illinois tracks of DuQuoin State Fairgrounds in DuQuoin, and the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield. Both are one-mile ovals and both also host horse races, meaning the tracks aren't always entirely dirt, if you know what we mean. Whether dirt or some other, ahem, material, teams try to avoid what clogs up the front of the cars. The "shake" screens used to keep the radiators clean vary in design.

Springfield's track hosts a packed house when ARCA comes to town, as the smell of freshly buttered corn on the cob wafts over the midway and the Ferris wheel stands as tall as the old covered grandstands. Two weeks later, it's the same at DuQuoin. Both are flat tracks with ARCA cars hugging the turns as they average over 100 mph. DuQuoin is the fastest of the two tracks by about 4 mph.

So why would ARCA keep a pair of dirt tracks on its schedule while NASCAR walked away from dirt racing over 30 years ago?

"Primarily because the events are successful," says Ron Drager, president of ARCA. "The crowds are good, the car counts are strong, and the racing is competitive. Plus, [promoter] Bob Sargent takes it seriously and provides us with outstanding, well-prepped tracks."

Despite a RE/MAX schedule heavy with modern intermediate speedway races, Drager stresses a connection to the sport's strong traditions. "It's always been important to us that we not distance ourselves from what we did in the '50s," he says.

Stewart, who last year bought famed Eldora Speedway, a half-mile dirt track, was asked a few years ago if NASCAR should host a dirt race. "I wish they would," he said.

At least one major track on the NASCAR schedule has hosted a dirt event, as Bristol Motor Speedway became a dirt track in 2000, hosting Dirt Late Models and World of Outlaws Sprint Cars.

"If the drivers get a vote, I can promise you I'd vote for [a dirt race on the schedule]," Stewart added. "I told the guys that when they put the dirt [on the track,] Bristol had been a perfect place. Since they put the dirt on there, they should just leave it on there and let us run the 500-lap Cup race on dirt."--John Carollo