Just because they are small, don't confuse these little race cars with cute toys. The Minicup and Baby Grand race cars sanctioned by the Miniature Motorsports Racing Association (MMRA) are the real thing and a fantastic teaching tool for any inexperienced racer looking to drive and set up a race car before moving to the upper levels of racing.

The MMRA is broken up into three divisions and two different types of race cars. The first two divisions are dedicated to the Minicup car and are known as the Future Stars and Open divisions. The Future Stars division is for racers between 8 and 16 years old and is designed as a stepping stone up from Karts and Quarter Midgets. Once a racer has graduated beyond the basics and is at least 12 years old, he or she can move up to the Minicup Open division. The Open division uses the same cars as the Future Stars, so the costs of moving up are contained. The biggest difference between the cars is that the Open division is allowed to use a larger carburetor to give the sealed Honda engines more power. The Pro division is the land of the Baby Grands. With greater power and size, Baby Grand race cars require the most skill to race and attract the best competition.

As an organization, the MMRA is only 10 years old but growing quickly. Events are held all over the country, and although the majority are oval-track races, there are several road events held in the Open division. One of the MMRA's most popular programs is its oval track touring events. In 2005, there were seven major touring events, including an East Grand National event at Friendship Motor Speedway in Elkin, North Carolina, and a West Grand National Event at Douglas County Speedway in Roseburg, Oregon. To get a better idea of what the MMRA is all about, we paid a visit to Friendship's 11/42-mile speedway for the East Grand National Event.

MinicupsThe Minicup race cars are designed around the idea of giving racers their first experience in a full-bodied race car. They also become familiar with the full complement of safety features found in a full-sized race car such as a rollcage, a five-point restraint harness, and a fuel cell. It's even possible to install an in-car fire suppression system.

According to Joseph Meyer, the '05 MMRA champion in the Minicup Open division, one of the big advantages that comes from racing a Minicup race car is the opportunity to learn how setups affect a race car. Division rules for both the Future Stars and Open divisions are focused on keeping costs down, so competitors aren't allowed to make changes to the sealed Honda engines, the shocks, or the springs (400-pound springs on the front and 140-pound springs on the rear are required), but there are a lot of other things that can be done with the car.

"The front wheels are fully independent," Meyer says, "so you can adjust the caster, camber, and toe. The back of the car is on a solid rear axle, so there isn't as much you can do there. The big things with these cars is making sure that they roll free and working with your tire pressures. Once you get that as good as you think it's going to get, then you can just concentrate on your driving.

Meyer and his dad agree that the MMRA has done a good job keeping costs contained in this series. Racers we talked with almost universally said they have had no trouble with the Honda powerplant (which is worth about 18 horses with the larger carb allowed in the Open division). Competitors also aren't allowed to shave or otherwise modify the Hoosier tires mandated for the cars, and Meyer says he has raced on one set all season.

Still, the car's relative complexity compared to a Kart means this is much more a race car than a toy. While it's possible to park a Minicup race car in the corner of the garage after a Saturday of racing and not look at it again until it's time to go to the track the next week, a little more maintenance will be required if the goal is to be competitive.

"My dad and I spend several hours working on the car every week, even if we didn't have any mechanical problems," Meyer says. "The sealed motor eliminates quite a bit of maintenance and keeps the competition balanced, but you still have to change the oil and do some other things. After a race, the first thing I will usually do is clean the car up. Then we'll check all the nuts and bolts to make sure everything is still tight and put it on the scales to make sure everything is the same. Then we'll check and set caster, toe, and camber and make sure all four wheels are rolling free. The power is really limited in these cars, so you have to always make sure the brakes aren't dragging and the wheel bearings are good so that the car will roll as easily as possible.

After winning the '05 championship in the final race of the season, Meyer isn't sure what he will be racing next season but definitely hopes to further his career in motorsports. By the time you read this he will have started his freshman year at Tennessee Tech and will have begun his studies toward a degree in mechanical engineering. It's a career path that he says was greatly influenced by his love for race cars and his desire to get a better understanding of how they work. No matter what series he's racing next year, he says the knowledge he's gained in Minicups is invaluable.

"This is my fourth year racing," he says, "and the Minicups have taught me a lot. When I first started I didn't know anything. My home track didn't have an outside wall, so if you messed up you just slid off the track. I remember I couldn't make a lap at first and stay on that racing surface. I've learned a lot since then-how to drive, how to set up a car and what chassis changes will affect how a car handles. You name it.

"One of the best things my dad and I did when I started racing was go to every practice session and get as many practice laps as we could. We'd go to the track early and just start making laps. He'd make a real big change to the car and say, 'OK, I've done this and the car should be a whole lot more loose, or tight, or whatever.' Then I'd go out on the track and try to drive it. That really helped me understand how different setups changed the car, and it has been useful now knowing how to get the right setup in the car when we go to different tracks.

Baby GrandsThe Pro division in which the Baby Grands race is the MMRA's version of Nextel Cup. Compared to Minicups, the Baby Grand race cars are bigger, more complex, and faster. The Baby Grands that race in the Pro division use the same Yamaha four-cylinder motorcycle engines that power Legends Cars. However, they are different from a Legends Car in that the Baby Grand uses a quick-change rear that makes gear changes when traveling to different tracks much easier. They also use Hoosier slicks, which helps make them quite racy. At Friendship Speedway, the fastest Baby Grands were turning 16.0-second laps on the 11/42-mile track. For comparison, a good Late Model Stock time is around 15.5 seconds.

Lindsay Daniels just completed her first full season racing Baby Grands and finished Fifth overall in points after moving up from Minicups. For 2006, she plans to race Baby Grands in the MMRA and Late Model Stocks in NASCAR's Weekly Racing Series.

"I think the Baby Grand is the best learning car that's out there," she says. "It has all the adjustments my Late Model Stock car does, and it's fun to race. The lessons I learned in Minicups I'm using in the Baby Grands, and I can use them with my Late Model."

The adjustability built into these small cars is quite surprising. They come with a full tube frame and a double A-arm front suspension, which allows caster, camber, toe, and ride height adjustments. There is also a front antisway bar. The quick-change rear is suspended on a three-link with a Panhard bar. The mounting points are adjustable on the chassis for all the rear suspension hardware as well. The amount of adjustability offers an incredible learning opportunity for racers hoping to eventually move up to fullsize cars, but it is also easy for beginners to "adjust" themselves right out of competition. Daniels' dad, David, is also the owner of the company that manufacturers the cars (called Baby Grand Racing), and to help new racers he offers a basic setup that should be good at most tracks.

"It's the same setup that we have on Lindsay's car right now," he said before the Friendship race. "On the springs we run a 250 right front and 200 left front, a 225 right rear and a 175 left rear. It's a basic shock package-nothing special there. We run about 52 percent crossweight, and the left side weight is just whatever we can get over there. Tire pressures will change a lot, but we usually start with the pressures at 25 and 15.

Like Meyers, Daniels hopes to have a professional career in racing and points to the Minicups and Baby Grands as a good place to learn before moving up where the stakes are much higher. "My first year of racing, I don't think there were too many weeks that I didn't wreck," she says with a wry smile. "Finally, my dad sat me down and said, 'If you want to be a race car driver, you are going to have to stop wrecking. I'm not going to be able to afford you as a driver if you don't stop tearing up your cars.

"After that I started working harder to improve as a driver. I stopped trying to race every car and started concentrating on my line, how to drive the car in traffic, everything. When I was able to do that, I started getting some wins and finishing in the Top 5 more consistently. Now I take pride in being able to race people clean and take care of my equipment.

Another driver in the Pro division, Chris Wilson, splits his time between Legends Cars and Baby Grands. In 2005, he estimates he's raced 65 events in the two cars. Although they share the same engine package and are approximately the same size, Wilson says racing the cars is quite different.

"The Legends Car is a lot harder to get hooked up," he says. "That's not to say one is better or worse than the other; they are just very different to drive. With the slicks, the Baby Grands stick better going through the turns. You can carry a lot more speed through the corners.

The Stat SheetHere are the specs on Minicup and Baby Grand race cars as provided to us by the MMRA:

  Minicup Baby Grand
Length 10' 12'
Height 30.5" 42"
Width 47" 55"
Weight 680 lbs.* or 700 lbs.* 1,500 lbs*
Engine Honda Gx390 Yamaha XJR1300
Horsepower 13 or 18 125
Transmission Centrifugal clutch Five-speed
Rearend Sprocket and chain Winters quick-change
Wheels 8" Douglas 13" Aero
Tires Spec Hoosier slicks Spec Hoosier or Goodyear slicks
Brakes Discs Discs
Suspension Double A-arm w/coilovers Adj. A-arm, control arm, coilovers
Chassis 111/43" 0.083 steel tube 111/42" 0.095 steel tube
Cost New $8,500* $18,000*
Cost Used $3,500* $8,800*
Web site www.minicup.com www.babygrandracing.com
*Denotes approximate numbers

SOURCE
Miniature Motorsports Racing Association