In Stock Car Racing's continuing efforts to help our devoted readers expand their appreciation and participation in our sport, we begin a regular feature with this January '04 issue: Get On Track! In it we'll tell you how to go from a Stock car enthusiast in the stands to a participant on track. This month we overview a great entry-level racing class for kids-Quarter Midgets.

If it weren't for the diminutive size of the racing machines, you would swear you were looking at full-size Midget race cars. The characteristic rollcages and open-wheel design of the cars, along with the tight competition, make it seem like Quarter Midgets are the real thing. Just read the resume of any top gun Stock car driver and you will learn that the tiny Quarter Midgets were quite often the racing career starting point. Many of these stars started getting up on the wheel at the tender age of 5.

In the modern Stock car era (1972-present), the number of top racers that started racing early in Quarter Midgets is incredible, including the likes of Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, John Andretti, the Labonte brothers, Jimmy Vasser, Ryan Newman, and Jason Leffler, just to name a few. Also, a number of current drivers have had their sons involved in Quarters, including NASCAR runners Mark Martin, Bobby Labonte, and Wally Dallenbach. Martin and Labonte have expanded their Quarter Midget involvement even further, both experienced in the building of Quarter Midget tracks.

The mini-racing machines have been around in some form or another for some 70 years! During the early '30s, it has been reported that unpowered soap box race cars were stripped down and equipped with washing-machine or other type engines to provide minimal power.

The first official meet, so to speak, occurred in 1934 at the Indy Motor Speedway,using cars built by the famous car builder, Pop Dreyer. There was actually a small racetrack set up on the front straightaway of the mammoth speedplant. Two years later, the Maytag Washing Machine Company built a similar car. Both cars used an arrangement in which the engine was located behind the driver, driving the wheels with a V-belt arrangement.

The Junior Midgets of America, organized in 1938, was the first sanctioning group for these mini open-wheel race cars. Most of the racers, though, were homemade and used wooden frames. Later, factory-built cars that looked like the front-engine open-wheel cars of the era, were constructed and named Midget-Midgets.

After World War II and into the '50s, the sport took off, led by activities in Los Angeles, California. During 1957, for example, there were 17 tracks and some 3,000 drivers.

With that type of diverse activity, it was evident that a single organization was needed as a governing body. Thus was born the Quarter Midgets of America (QMA), the national governing body of the sport today. QMA sets the rules for Quarter Midget engines, cars, competition, and safety. By the way, there is also Quarter Midget-type racing in Canada and New Zealand.

The QMA is organized into 13 multistate geographical regions, one region including a portion of Canada. The total involvement includes some 57 clubs and an estimated 3,400 families, which amounts to over 5,000 drivers and 8,000 cars. There are approximately 60 sanctioned Quarter Midget tracks in the U.S. and numerous "outlaw" tracks that offer the racing.

In 2001, the QMA brought Quarter Midget racing to a higher level of prestige when it was announced that the United States Auto Club (USAC) would become the new national headquarters and home for the QMA. That exposure can't do anything but help this "best-kept secret in open-wheel racing." The QMA is an all-volunteer operation, and that includes all the officers. Everybody involved loves the sport and is willing to give his/her time and money to make it work.

All Quarter Midget racing is carried out on 1/16- and 1/20-mile ovals. The banking can be whatever is desired, but the size and shape are fixed. Back in the '50s and '60s, there was some Quarter Midget racing done on road courses, but with the chassis offset of today's cars, that's just not practical.

The three big races for the Quarter Midgets are called the Grand National Championships (or Grands), and are comprised of an Eastern, Western, and Dirt Grand, all of which serve as the group's World Series. The locations of the Grands are changed every year. There are also a number of large state and regional races. These are not small race gatherings. The QMA Eastern Grand National event at Indy had upwards of 700 cars in 2003.

To assure that drivers have the skills to race, each must pass a so-called novice training program to participate. Safety is the number one priority of Quarter Midget racing. Through the seven decades, it's been the safest of all motorsports types.

QMA is defined as an early learning series, with an age eligibility of 5-16. Many Quarter Midget racers run all those years. For many, it's the end of their racing career, but for others it serves as a starting point to the next level.

Many professional drivers will tell you that their Quarter Midget experience helped build reaction times. Considering there are lap times as low as 5 seconds, on-track action happens quickly, and the driver has to respond accordingly. When some of these kids move on to bigger tracks, it's a lot easier because of this preparation. Other professional drivers also believe the experience of racing in heavy traffic is great training for the future.

Quarter Midget racing is a sport in which the whole family can take part and pitch in. Often times, more than one child in a family races, and the number of female participants-now up to 30 percent-continues to increase.

QMA President Curt Biro explains to SCR that the organization demands proper behavior at the races, both on and off the track. It's a great environment in which to raise kids. Also, it provides the young drivers an opportunity to work on the cars and learn what makes them tick, which, if Ryan Newman is any indication, contributes to future racing success.

The overall look of the modern Quarter Midget is true open wheel. The major difference is that the powerplant sits in the rear of the car, driving a chain to a sprocket on the rear axle. There is no clutch; push-off power is manpower.

Depending on the particular class, the engine horsepower ranges from about 4.515 hp. Car weights vary from 235-350 pounds, which includes the driver. Suspension consists of coilover shocks on all four corners of chrome-moly frames.

About 70 percent of Quarter Midget racing in North America is done on pavement. When the cars run on the dirt, changes to the cars include dirt tires, shock and spring changes, and axle relocation. But for many teams, it might just involve changing tires.

Quarter Midget parent Nick Poe explains, "The fact that these beginner cars have an adjustable suspension system is a huge plus. It allows these young drivers to work with a car that has many of the characteristics of the real thing."

Aluminum and fiberglass make up the flashy Quarter Midget body. There is no offset limit, but there are width and tread rules on the tires. Additional left-side weight during racing is accomplished by the driver leaning to the left in the cockpit. Besides the sturdy rollcages, safety also is addressed by requiring racing uniforms, full-face helmets, and racing harnesses.

There are two general racing classes, the Honda and DECO Classes, the former being the starter economy class. The Honda Class has five different divisions: the Novice (both Junior and Senior), Honda (both Junior and Senior), Heavy 120 Honda, Light GX-160, and Heavy GX-160. The age range of the Junior Classes is 5-8, while Senior is for drivers age 9-16. The price range of these cars is $4,500-$5,000, minus an engine, which costs $500-$700.

The more expensive and higher-performance DECO Class has four divisions: a Junior and Senior Stock, Light and Heavy Modified, Light and Heavy B, and Light and Heavy AA. The cost of cars in these more powerful classes fall in the $3200-$9000 range. There is also a Half-Midget Class that is basically a Quarter Midget with a bigger engine.

For More Quarter Midget Information, contact:Eric Bunn, QMA National Headquarters United States Auto Club 317/247-5151 www.quartermidgets.com/qma

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