The crate Late Model class is a great place for newcomers or those with limited experience who want to advance as quickly as possible. These cars offer the same setup options and virtually the same driving styles at the Dirt Late Model class, but the crate engines cut costs and limit horsepower. Also, many big-time Dirt Late Model racers cycle through their equipment quite quickly, so a smart racer can usually find a good-quality used rolling chassis on the cheap, install a new crate motor and be on the track with minimal expense.
Learn To DriveMike Duvall teaches a school for dirt racing. One of the most important things young racers need to learn, he maintains, is to drive with their head and not just their muscles. "Good driving is about being consistent every lap," he says. "A lot of the new guys I see say, 'I'm macho, I've got lots of muscles so I should be able to drive my car fast.' But then they cannot get the car where it needs to be, they aren't hitting their marks, and they wind up being slow. The first thing you have to do is learn how to hit your marks on the track consistently, then you can start picking up the pace as you get comfortable running a consistent lap."
Duvall also points out new racers have to learn to drive with their right foot as much as their hands. "The steering wheel will only turn the car right and left," he says, "You don't control the car with the steering wheel in the middle of the corner. You control it with your foot. You have to learn what you can do with the car with just your foot. It's the gas pedal that makes the car go forward, and that is what you have to use intelligently to drive a fast lap."
Tire TricksIn dirt racing, tire management is just as much of a science combined with a black art as it is in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The big difference, however, is that where asphalt racers always use slicks whenever possible, the design of the tread on a dirt race tire is critical.
The tread design is so important in fact that top-level Dirt Late Model race teams often spend between four and five hours modifying a set of tires for a particular track or set of conditions. You can purchase race tires for most classes in a variety of compounds. Obviously, softer compounds provide more traction but are also prone to wearing more quickly. Modifying your tires by cutting tread patterns (known as grooving and siping) is really only common in the upper-level classes, but if your rule book does not specifically prohibit it, grooving and siping does not cost money and can potentially help your on-track performance.
The trick to creating traction with tires is to create as many edges as possible to catch the track surface. Siping is simply the process of cutting slits in the tread of the tire with a razor blade. Siping tools created for this purpose can hold multiple razor blades at a specific depth so that you do not cut deeper than the tread block. The number of sipes you can cut into a tire is limited by the car's horsepower and the traction available. Cut the sipes too close together and you will be throwing little chunks of rubber all over the track.
Grooving is essentially the same thing, except instead of cutting a slit into the tire you cut a U-shaped groove or channel with a specialized grooving tool. Grooving is useful on muddy tracks because grooves will "shed" or sling off mud more easily than a sipe will.
Finally, you may want to occasionally take a power sander to your race tires. Repeated cycles of heating the tires in race conditions can harden the outer layer of rubber. This is called "glazing over." You can remove this glazing and return your tire to like-new status by lightly sanding its surface.