Chad Poole leads the pack...
Chad Poole leads the pack in a heat race.
Starting as a support division in many areas in the late '80s, the pavement Economy Modifieds have quickly evolved into a prominent weekly division at just about every paved track in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. This division of racers has been widely accepted by both race fans and race promoters.
As with any successful racing division, the Mods have armed themselves with some very good, affordable rules, translating into racer and fan support. In an area of the country where Super Late Models once ruled, the Mods were initially a support class but quickly vaulted to the forefront.
With the high cost and demanding complicity of rules at just about all tracks, the Late Models seem to be in a tailspin as the Mods continue to gain in popularity. Many young drivers are stepping up to Modifieds, bypassing the Late Models, just as several veteran Late Model drivers have found success in the Mods and seem to be satisfied with the class.
Some tracks have dropped Late Model events, or severely cut the purses, and increased emphasis on the Modifieds. Year in and year out, the advantages and opportunities for the Mod racers keep adding up, and it does not look like it's going to change in the near future.
The Modifieds in general have been based on the idea of affordability. Most all Modified racers have regular weekly jobs to go to on Mondays, and they race purely for the fun, challenge and sport of it. Being affordable is likely the single most important thing to credit for the success and longevity of Modified racing across the Midwest.
As with most successful divisions of racers, not only are weekly venues at various racetracks a reality, but there always seems to be some traveling series that comes along and offers the racers some opportunities and possibilities to further advance their racing skills. For Modified racers in the Midwest, it comes in the form of the American Modified Series (AMS) and the O'Reilly USA Modified Series. These two traveling series offer strong purses, a points fund and viable venues for the racers and teams. At the same time, these series offer the opportunity for the Modified race fan to follow their favorite racers without traveling halfway across the country, making it affordable for all involved.
The BreakdownThough separate entities, the AMS group and USA group rely on the same basic set of rules, yet traveling seems to be at a completely different level. One thing that both series capitalize on is the ability for local racers to race with them at the tracks they visit. For the race fans, there is very little that is better than watching a traveling series come in and the local racers being able to compete on a level playing ground.
The USA Modifieds are based out of Fortville, Indiana, and headed up by car builder Steve Ellis. The USA group is an extension of the Dave Dayton Modified series that was formed in 1986. At that time, the original idea was for the series to take the place of the IMCA National Series, which had disbanded. The USA group races on tracks varying from a quarter-mile to a half-mile in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee.
"I am very satisfied with where we are right now," says Ellis. "Having signed O'Reilly Auto Parts as a title sponsor at the beginning of the 2007 season has definitely helped our group of racers. As with any racing series, you always hope for more purse money for your racers and more exposure for your sponsor. I feel we draw both open wheel and stock car fans alike as we are a cross breed between the two. Our racers are very loyal to the Mods and the series. They feel we have come into our prime. We are now looked at more and more as a main attraction on race night, but can still be a very good support group as well."
The Modified division has...
The Modified division has opened doors for former Late Model champion drivers such as Tim Ice (65) and young upstart Shawn Stroble, Modified champion at Mansfield (Ohio) Speedway.
The American Modified Series (AMS) is a different type of series with limited travel, yet it offers competitors some very nice venues and opportunities for strong purses. AMS is based at Shady Bowl Speedway in Degraff, Ohio. The Bowl owners and promoters, Charlie Stapleton and Jeff Herron, created and run the AMS.
The series has branched out in recent seasons to Columbus Motor, Kil Kare and Midvale speedways, all in Ohio. The AMS has also made two stops each the last two seasons on the high-banks of the legendary half-mile Winchester Speedway in Indiana, the biggest track AMS competes on. This limited travel offers the AMS group an attractive schedule and affordability. Along with an end of year points fund, the AMS pays $1,200 to win and $150 to start at each event.
"We have just finished our fourth year of competition," says Charlie Stapleton. "In the AMS we wanted a series that would be affordable for a guy to race, yet did not control their life to the point where they could not have a personal life. The AMS goal each year is to have 14 -16 events. The AMS will offer up these weekends to our tracks that we visit, and fill in the open weekends with dates at Shady Bowl. This makes us very versatile and attractive to outside interest. That is the key with the Modified division, versatility.
"The pavement Modified rule book is pretty much like the UMP dirt racing rule book. All the paved tracks are pretty much on the same page and very easy for the racers to adapt to wherever they choose to go race at."
Although the AMS is home based out of Shady Bowl Speedway, the Bowl also offers Modified racers across the Midwest some very lucrative non-sanctioned races. The Mods are a weekly division at Shady Bowl, even when the AMS is not present, and offer the Mod competitors a 50-lapper with $2,500 to win the Firecracker 50 on June 28, and a $3,000 first prize at the fall Shady Bowl Shootout.
"The Modifieds are a very strong class and just getting stronger each new season," says Shady Bowl co-operator Jeff Herron. "Even on our weekly regular nights, not AMS sanctioned, we draw an average of 30-plus cars. Not only are the Mods fast growing, but a lot of other weekly tracks are starting to pay more attention to the Mod division, making them the headlining division at their weekly racing venue. Although there always seems to be a push on the rules, if the track promoters can just keep them affordable it can only be good for both the fans and the racers."
In the beginning, the Economy Modifieds (E Mods) were built as combo cars to master both dirt and pavement with very little changes to run either venue. Technology always seems to slowly creep into every class, and in the mid-'90s it became commonplace that to run dirt you needed a dirt car and for pavement you needed a pavement car. That was just about the same time when a lot of the local track Late Model divisions started taking hits as the high cost to support a Late Model forced lower car counts, in turn contributing to the lack of fan support. So in order to offer their fans a selection of competitive upper level racing, a lot of the local tracks started picking up on the Modifieds as they became both more popular and available. The popularity came down to the affordability factor.
With the USA and AMS schedules seldom overlapping it is not uncommon to see racers from both series racing together when scheduling permits. In the fall of the two previous seasons, the AMS and USA have worked together to put together a 50-lap challenge event at Winchester Speedway simply known as "The Winchester." Two sanctioning bodies working together for a common goal is something that is simply unheard of this day and age.
Dave Stacy and Greg Stapleton...
Dave Stacy and Greg Stapleton (21) race for position in an AMS event at Columbus Motor Speedway.
The HardwareIn past seasons, both the AMS and the USA group had their own rule book. Though basically the same, there were a couple of rules that separated the two. Working together for 2008, the pair organized what is known as the United Asphalt Modified Rules. Utilizing a 2,400 pound weight rule with 58 percent left-side weight as well as a 108-inch minimum wheelbase and a maximum 112 inches, the new rule book produces common guidelines. Even the engine rules are simple in that any American brand engine may be used so long as the rear of the engine is mounted at least 72 inches forward from the centerline of the rear axle.
From ground to center of the crankshaft is a minimum height of 11 inches, along with a 2-inch offset of centerline of the front cross member. A two- or four- barrel carburetor is also allowed, and no fuel injections, electric fuel pumps, or magnetos are allowed.
Most pavement Modified engines these days are around 355 cubic inches to 420 cubic inches, producing 550 to 700hp. As the popularity grew, some rule alterations became unavoidable. For years, nine-inch rearends were the choice and the law. As the cars became more popular, and with the addition of traveling series going to various tracks, quick change rearends were allowed. The quick change makes it much easier on the traveling racer to change gears and adapt to the track he is racing any particular day. Weight used to be as low as 2,300 pounds versus the now mandatory 2,400-pound rule.
The $550 engine claim rule from the start-up days has long since been abandoned as well, and at one time a shock claim rule was in place. The bodies of the E Mod are basically from the firewall back, with some type of nose piece and a short hood. This body style and dimensions allow for some very unique looking cars and will definitely catch the eye of race fans. This also allows for the racers and crew to put a little of their own personality in the car with some sort of unique body hanging methods and styling.
One question that still needs to be addressed is the tube front clips for Modified racers. In the past, the AMS Series allowed them with a 100-pound weight penalty. The new rule book states that no strut front suspensions of any kind or tube front clips are allowed in USA events. However, under the new AMS rules, tube clip frames will be allowed for events in 2008 and 2009 only, along with the 100-pound weight penalty. Does that mean at the end of 2009 season this rule will be re-evaluated?
The factory front clips are getting harder to come by. Both Impala and Chevelle front clips are by far the most popular, and most chassis builders stock either clip as well as the bolt-on parts for each. Many racers keep tabs on their local salvage yards and stock up on parts as they become available. Cost seems to be a factor with the factory clips as well. By the time a factory clip is found, sand blasted and cleaned up for preparation and installation, there is just as much money spent on a new tube front clip. This is the biggest contributing factor to the coming popularity of the newer tube clipped cars. Racers seem to be okay with it, and that is just one of the Mod factors that different tracks and promoters will have to deal with in the future. The issue right now is that promoters don't want a few tube cars coming in and running off with the show.
Keeping the competitive nature is the basis of the division as a whole. With the factory clips, a racer and car builder only have so much they can do as they are forced to work with what is available. With a tube clip it can be produced to suit racer needs, such as A frames and steering gear box placement. Even with the weight penalty, most racers will tell you that the tube clip does have a distinct advantage. Without a doubt, this will be the biggest situation the division will have to deal with in the future.
AMS racer Dick Dunlevy Jr....
AMS racer Dick Dunlevy Jr. (0) and USA Modified racer Rodney Scott (97) battle on the high banks of Winchester Speedway in Indiana.
As the Mods gained in popularity, chassis builders started experimenting and producing some very nice, affordable products. The four that stand out are Ellis Chassis out of Indiana, Winget Chassis and Stacy Chassis out of Ohio, and in the last couple years veteran Michigan chassis builder Howe has joined the mix. There are several others, such as Lefthander, Windpushers, Harsen and Ewing, the new kid on the block, in Ohio.
So far the Economy Modified Division keeps going strong with additions almost every season. To remain this strong will require no lack of support from the racers and the track promoters. Let's hope that all involved can keep the pace and stay with what got them there-common sense rules and affordability.