Madden bought a used Dirt Late Model 11 years ago and has steadily progressed since then.
You wouldn't think that his 12 years experience racing Karts would have applied to his excellent Dirt Late Model career, but Chris Madden will tell that it certainly did.
"It was the nature of the Kart, with its lack of a suspension system, that taught me to feel the racecar," says Madden. "With a car with a suspension system, you can feel the car move against the shocks and springs. But with a Kart, I developed the capability to feel the speed. I also learned with the Kart that you had to be very smooth to run fast.
"It also works that way with Dirt Late Models where you also want to drive smoothly and try not to scrub off the speed."
Madden, 33, must have learned that lesson well in the Karts because he was very, very good in those speedy little machines. "I ran on both the dirt and pavement and ended up getting about 150 wins with the World Karting Association," he recalls.
He says, though, that Karting came to a screeching halt when his best friend started running a Street Stock at the local dirt track. "That lasted for about a half season, but I certainly knew it was something that I wanted to do. But in 1997, I pooled my funds and bought an 8-year-old Dirt Late Model and continued to run locally. Even won a couple races and got to run against Hall of Famer Buck Simmons."
The 1998 season marked Madden's first full campaign in a dirt car, and he started traveling to events when he could find the time. It was still a weekend deal as his full-time job was driving a log truck in the area around his hometown of Gray Court, South Carolina.
During those early years and later in his career, Madden was driving for nearby Barry Wright Racecars. Wright is a real fan of Madden's driving skills.
The Dirt Track at Lowe's Motor Speedway has been one of Madden's best tracks.
"Chris has a lot of talent on the track," says Wright. "He drove my cars off and on for about 10 years. He is one of the few drivers that knows what is going on with his car. He knows what the problem is with the car and knows what it takes to fix it."
In 2002, Madden was driving a friend's car and was winning a bunch of races. But, he says, "Then the deal fell through and it left me hanging high and dry. At that time, I didn't know if my career was going to continue."
Fortunately, things really turned around in 2003. "I think it was the season that I came into my own. I won my first national race that year, an Extreme Series race at 311 Speedway. It was the most memorable moment of my career even though I have won bigger races later in my career."
A career-changing situation took place in 2004 when Madden befriended superstar Scott Bloomquist and drove one of his cars for another team. He won 11 races that season, with six coming with the Southern All-Stars (SAS) group. Another major accomplishment that season was a Sixth Place finish in the Eldora Dream, and things were really starting to come together.
He hit the road for the 2005 season and won the championship with the Southern All-Stars, where he notched half of his 10 wins. There were also a number of Top 5s in acquiring that title.
What was then his best season was topped in 2006 with another SAS title. His 15 wins came in both Barry Wright and Bloomquist equipment. There was also a big $20,000 win in the Gator 100 at Volusia County Speedway.
Then, there was a 16th Place effort at the World 100, but that wasn't the whole story. "I took the lead on Lap 28," recalls Madden. "The car was driving like a Caddy and I was passing everybody, but then I had a flat tire that was a great disappointment. I had set fast time and won my heat race from sixth starting place. I really thought that this could be my night, but it didn't happen."
One venue where he has really dominated in recent years is the Dirt Track at Lowes Motor Speedway. His accomplishments have included wins in 2005, 2006, and 2007, along with runner-up finishes in 2007 and this year. "I love that track because of its high speeds," he says. "It's not really that high banked, but we can really get around it. It's actually the shape of a big circle.
"It's really great going there because of the many Cup guys that come over to watch us race. I really think because of the increasing involvement of Cup guys with dirt teams that you could see some Dirt Late Model drivers really getting a shot at Cup. If I thought I could get good equipment and somebody wanted to give me a shot at Cup, I would probably give it a shot. But with the purses we have, I feel very comfortable in this kind of racing."
Madden will tell you that he thinks the biggest change in the Dirt Late Models over the course of his career has been in the suspension systems. "There have been tremendous changes in the shock and spring locations, along with different front ends, and a huge improvement in shock design. Of course, the engines have also improved greatly, now making well over 800 hp.
"As far as the current rules in the sport, I really object to inversions in the front of the field. I really think that it promotes sand-bagging during qualifications. You end up being penalized for your accomplishments."
Dirt Late Model Pointers From Chris Madden
A DrivingIf you are a young driver who is thinking about getting into a Dirt Late Model, the place to start would be in either a Crate Late Model or a Modified. The Modified has narrow tires and is an excellent vehicle to learn how to apply power. With the Crate Late Model, you can learn the handling characteristics of a Dirt Late Model because you are using a Dirt Late Model chassis, only with a less-powerful engine. One important thing to recall, do not stick to the same track all the time. You need to experience different tracks and learn which driving style applies to different track surfaces. Watch the good drivers on the track and the grooves they take. It's very important to keep up with the track. Remember, the driver is still very important.
If you don't understand how a Dirt Late Model works, you really don't need to be driving one of these cars. I really believe that you have to have that knowledge to win races. Hey, I know how everything works on my cars.
As Told to Bill Holder