The Chevette was General Motors' less-than-stellar attempt at a mini-compact. Built between 1976 and 1986, the Chevette was intended to be a lightweight, economical, basic mode of transportation. There certainly wasn't any thought of racing for the Chevette, but in the 21st century, it has happened.
In mid-America, these mini-machines have been coming on strong as a very low-buck, entry-level type of stock car racing. Ask any of the drivers that are running these cars in the Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, and Kentucky area, and a majority will emphatically tell you that this is the only way they could be racing, period. Now here's the hot deal about these race cars: You can go racing for as little as $3,000. I'm serious. In fact, there are a few builders around that can approach that figure for a complete turnkey car. But there are many of these cars assembled in garages by amateurs. It should be noted, though, at this time these cars are raced almost exclusively on dirt tracks. But that is changing as a small number of paved tracks have now accepted the tiny stock cars. On either surface, though, the cars run on street radials.
First starting to buzz around tracks in the mid-'90s, the cars run on bullrings of 11/44- and 31/48-mile tracks. They are surprisingly quick on these small ovals. As we are talking low-budget here, the first stop for both professional and homemade creations starts at the junkyard. Even though it's been some 17 years since production ceased, Chevettes can still be found. But one builder of the cars indicated that they are starting to be harder to locate in the Midwest. Usually, when you can find one, $150 will get the complete car for you.
There isn't an overall sanctioning body for these unique racing stock cars, but the rules are fairly consistent from track to track, allowing the cars to travel to different tracks with only minimal changes required. Pro-builder Steve Leonard of Bethel, Ohio, explained that not much can be done on the stock body. "But you are allowed an aftermarket fiberglass nose, a 6-inch, fixed rear-deck spoiler, and full-body skirts. Also, the doors must be welded shut. The wheelwells can also be enlarged, but that's about it," he noted. Once assembled, the Chevette racers are reasonably sound and durable machines. One builder noted that he was aware of only one car that had been crashed hard enough to total it.
The stock coil suspension must be retained, although some teams prefer to use heavier springs, but no racing-style springs or shocks are allowed. A majority of the tracks require the use of street tires, and with the car's light weight (about 1,500 pounds), they last a long time. One driver noted that he had been running the same tires for four years. That would qualify, but we wouldn't recommend it.
The cars are initially modified by stripping out the interior-to lighten the car as much as possible-and installing a complete rollcage. These cars are so small that a sturdy rollcage is very important for safety. Some teams also use angle iron in the door thresholds to stiffen-up the car. It's also necessary to have an on-board fire extinguisher, an interior-mounted battery, and a steel-encased fuel cell.