If you are racing in an entry level class, at some point you have to consider the next step in your racing career, unless you are content to stick with what you're running. If, indeed, you are looking to make a career of racing you need to race in a multitude of different types of cars, or you should determine a logical path to what you may consider the top of the racing food chain.

Mod-Lite classes are evolutionary, insomuch as they have evolved or developed into a more technical or advanced type of car. They have their roots in Dwarf Cars, which utilize motorcycle engines, coilover suspensions and rearends that have their genesis in early Toyota passenger cars. Dwarf Cars are relatively quick but they are not known to be the best handling cars on the track. Legend Cars and Dwarfs are very similar from a visual perspective in that the body styles are reminiscent of passenger cars from the 1930s and '40s, just much smaller.

The Mod-Lites also utilize a motorcycle engine and employ coilover suspension on all four corners. They have a modern quick-change rearend that makes gear changes much easier and less costly than using the Toyota rearend, and you can collect all eight of the available ratios so you can change gears to match the track. The cost of the quick-change gears is about 20 percent the cost of the Toyota gears, not to mention having to build and transport the third members for the rearend. The cars have onboard fire suppression systems and are equipped with fuel cells. They are real racecars right down to the last nut and bolt, just a bit smaller.

The Mod-Lite engine is impressive. If you don't follow the motorcycle world, the engine in a late model "Rice Rocket" is a highly developed powerplant. They have dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, dry sump oil systems and for the most part they have some very advanced fuel injection systems. They also have a high specific power output given the displacement of the engine. It is not uncommon for a 1,000cc engine to make in excess of 150 to 160 horsepower in stock trim on pump gasoline. That works out to an engine of about 61 cubic inches making in excess of 150 horsepower. So, the horsepower power per cubic inch is approaching 2.5 per. Consider that a Nextel Cup engine is 358 ci and is making in excess of 750 horsepower, giving an output of 2.09 hp per ci. Short story, these four-cylinder motorcycle engines are pretty stout.

The durability of the engines is a bonus. It is not uncommon to go an entire season or two without even opening the engine. In fact, there are racers out there who have over two years of run time-in one case 162 nights of racing and practice-without even working on the engine, just doing the normal fluid changes and valve adjustments. But we need to remember these engines were intended to endure the 19- to 30-year-old motorcycle racer wannabes beating them up on the street and tracks all over the world. In other words, if the engine was designed for 70,000 to 100,000 hard street and track miles, they should do just fine on a dirt track.

The engine option is just that-an option. The brand of motorcycle engine is up to the racer when building the car. The majority of the cars I've seen had either a Honda or a Suzuki engine, with the fastest cars being powered by the Suzuki GSXR 1000 engine. The only rule is that the engine be stock, as no engine modifications are allowed, and no more than 1,000cc's.

Sooner or later, with racers being racers, powerplants are going to become an issue. Racers will always look for ways to improve the power. But the Mod-Lite rule makers are trying to hold the line and the only modifications allowed involve adding a header or removing the fuel injection and installing carburetors. Removing the fuel injection system seems like asking for trouble as the stock FI system works great. When you are watching the cars race, power-or the lack of it-is not the issue. Like with circle track racers everywhere, the real issue is not about power but getting the car to handle and getting the power you do have hooked up and getting the car off the corner.

Two brands of tires are allowed on the cars, either a Goodyear or a Hoosier. Both are specced for this car and both offer a good balance between durability and performance.

The cars are racy and seem to be equal on the track, with speed and close competition. I have watched the cars on several different tracks of varying size and shape. The one thing that stands out is that there is racing going on. There are lots of passing and re-passing and the field seems to stay fairly tight. Cars are not getting lapped seven laps into a heat or feature.

By visiting one of the shops that constructs these cars, Peter D Motorsports in Phoenix, Arizona, I was able to see several cars in various states of construction. These are well-made cars and have many features that make them serviceable by the racer. The one thing that was very apparent was that this shop has some real manufacturing experience. Every part on the car has a part number, including the individual frame tubes and the sheet metal that forms the body. The chassis is in Solid Works, a CAD software program that allows the car to be built on the computer prior to ever cutting or welding a tube. This allows the racer to completely support the chassis. If, for example, a part is bent in a crash, he or she can get the individual tube and make the repair themselves. The same goes for all of the bodywork and suspension parts. This gives the racer a very supportable car and it lowers the price of maintenance, as parts are not required to be custom one-off pieces.

Tracks in the western part of the country are starting to see growing numbers of these cars' owners looking for a place to race. They have a very strong presence in Arizona, California, Colorado, Texas and Wyoming. The day I visited Peter D Motorsports, there was one car almost completed and ready for delivery, one getting some work done between races, and three in various fabrication stages. Judging by the numbers at the track, the class seems to be growing.

When you stand back and look at the cars from a racer's perspective you get a car that is fast and good looking with plenty of space for signage to help with attracting sponsors. The competition is close and the cost to compete is not unreasonable. The tires seem to last a long time with some drivers claiming almost a full season. But the faster guys use more than one set per season. The fuel bill is fairly low, about three to four gallons per night of racing and that is pump premium not seven-dollar-a-gallon race fuel. None of the racers I spoke with had any real engine costs. There are shops out there that specialize in "blueprinting" the stock engines but the real difference seems to be in getting the right setup and gearing under the car and being able to adjust the car for the conditions that day.

Most tracks do have a fairly comprehensive post-race technical inspection. The engine is checked for displacement, with a bore and stroke measurement accomplished through the spark plug hole without disassembling the engine, and it is fairly straightforward. There is also an engine claim rule allowing a racer to claim a competitor's engine for $2,000.

Having started in 2005, the series is still in its infancy. So the big question: How much do these cars cost? It depends. There are some options that are left to the individual racer. Do you buy a complete car ready to race? Or do you purchase all of the components and assemble the car yourself? If you are an industrious racer, you could buy the chassis, locate your own engine, and do all of the assembly and paint work yourself. A chassis can be purchased in the $5,000 range, or you can buy the complete car ready to race and spend between $14,000 and $19,000, depending on the bells and whistles you desire. Remember, just as with any racecar, you will have to spend some money on tools and spares.

The ability to campaign the car is the real cost. The Mod-Lites look like a real value for the racer, though. The overall cost is fairly reasonable when compared with other forms of manufactured racecars. The costs of competing are very low when you factor in that these little racers will fit in the back of a normal pickup truck.

Arizona Mod-Lites
Peter D Motorsports
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