Don’t look now, but four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive jalopy racing is coming to a track near you sooner than you think!

Helping to drive the trend are the rising costs of fielding Late Model Stocks, the main division at most tracks. Racers have pressured tracks to raise purses to meet their expenses, but promoters know they can only increase ticket prices so much to raise that money before seats become empty.

What’s even more troubling is that the gene pool of those who possess guts and the desire to get out there and race is quite small. If you price these potential racers out of the game, you will put the squeeze on the so-called “back gate” profits.

The solution is a return to jalopy racing based on the ubiquitous front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder cars that are plentiful and cheap—and in the hands of bug-eyed, speed-crazed novices, exciting to watch. One promoter’s workshop referred to them as the “Monte Carlo” for the 21st century.

It’s amazing to see the crowd jump to its feet when the four cylinders hit the track (and the walls and each other). These are real stock cars—no bracing allowed, no racing tires, and stiff claiming rules that range from $150 to $250 for the complete car. The faster cars hit about 60 to 70 mph on the typical quarter- to third-mile banked asphalt track. The more sophisticated suspension system of the front-wheel-drive layout gives fairly decent handling in the turns.

Lake Geneva Raceway (LGR) in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, started a class called Basic International Cars, or BICs for short, this past season (2000). The inspiration for the acronym comes from a disposable cigarette lighter.

Progress was slow—just 14 to 16 cars were present at the first few races. By midseason, however, the car count rose to 30 as word got out. Today, while many show up for one race and are never seen again, a steady core of about 25 racers are hooked.

LGR’s owner and promoter, Kevin Dawson, treats the drivers as if they were Late Model racers. The program consists of two 7-minute hot-lap sessions, two-lap time trials, a fast dash, a slow heat, a fast heat, a semi-feature, and a feature. The heats are 10 laps, and the feature is 20. Dawson scheduled a 14-race season for the BIC class in which races take place on Fridays.

To keep things from becoming predictable, and to prevent drivers from spending money to set up their cars to run even faster, the feature race can run on the flat quarter-mile track, the banked third-mile, or on a makeshift road course that links the two tracks. Features also can run in either direction. For even more mystery, racers do not know which track or direction they will race until the pace lap.

Rules require a maximum 104-inch wheelbase, three or four cylinders (no cubic-inch limit), front-wheel drive, and mufflers. All running gear and engines must be left stock, with no parts mixing between models. Naturally, anything that can be easily ripped off and broken, such as mirrors, trim, headlights, taillights, and all side and rear glass, must be removed.

The races are reminiscent of the early days of stock car racing, with every model of every manufacturer—both foreign and domestic—represented. Everything from three-cylinder Geos and Justys to Yugos and Omnis and Rabbits compete. The fastest cars here seem to be Hondas. The Honda engine is rapidly becoming the next small-block Chevy. A Prelude or a CRX is a formidable ride in stock form.

A stick-shift car with a five-speed gearbox appears to have the edge over the automatics on starts and restarts. If you have to slow down, the stick car gets back up to speed quicker. The important thing for drivers is to keep their momentum going; the manual transmission is better suited to this task. And the added bonus of engine braking helps save the car’s brakes.