Kenny Tremont (115) used one of the new PMC chassis this spring when the DIRT tour stopped
A saying in thoroughbred racing, "horses for courses," applies to the ever more popular PMC dirt Modified chassis developed by DIRT star Billy Decker, car owner Randy Ross, crew chief Scott Jeffery, and fabricator Pete Chuckta. The team's ancient but skillfully tweaked "big track" Olsen chassis has won the Eckerd 200 on the treacherous Syracuse, New York, mile three times. But while they were always in the hunt, Decker and Jeffery decided after the 2000 season that they needed something more to have a chance at dominance. Something besides the "cookie cutter" cars seen at the 100 or so short-track events they run on the far-flung DIRT circuit.
"We talked to Pete Chuckta and he was willing to get involved. We knew he was our man when he said that he didn't want to do something that everybody else had," Jeffery says. "He started by building the 'cage in halves, like a sprint car. Pete made a jig so we could lay out the whole side of a car. He welds the pieces together, then stands the two sides up and connects them.
"Pete also added bracing to help support the 'cage. DIRT requires 111/42-inch tubing in the 'cage and 0.120-inch wall thickness, so that's pretty standard, but he added side bars near where the radius rods mount and an extra connector where the sides and the top of the 'cage come together. We also wanted a double thickness around Billy's head so we narrowed up the 'V' in the roof. The driver can still get out through it, but a bumper won't fit in there if you're laying on your side and get hit."
"You wouldn't know it unless you measured it, but the 'cage is also taller than the other brands," Chuckta says. "That lets me mount the seat higher, which makes it easier to use the more efficient, non-quickchange rearends that guys use at Syracuse and more and more at their home tracks. The input shaft is higher on them so you need more driveline clearance. Plus, I also like having the body mass of the driver a bit higher to promote roll."
Versatile Rear Axle Locators
The resulting 106-inch-wheelbase chassis was "narrower than our Olsen but wider than a TEO (a predominant DIRT chassis) because we needed more room for the driver," Jeffery says. "We were looking for adjustability, so Pete incorporated brackets for both a panhard bar and a W-link to locate the rear axle laterally. The panhard bar works on dry, slick tracks, but we go to the W-link when the track is rough with a big cushion. It's a lot more forgiving. The panhard bar keeps the car bouncing around on a rough surface and makes it really hard to hold your line in traffic.
"The W-link plants the right rear while the panhard helps keep the left wheel on the track. Brewerton (New York) Speedway, for example, has a lot of bite and the TEOs with a panhard can't swap, so when they slide up into the cushion, it plants the rear of the car too well. When they bury the gas pedal, it lifts the front of the car and they can't steer."
The other unusual aspect of the PMC car's rear suspension is the use of a "Z" link to locate the axle fore and aft, making it resemble a dirt Late Model.
"We were trying to eliminate roll steer," Jeffery says. "We wanted to keep the car tighter off the corner. With the standard birdcage hooked on the bottom to the torsion arm and on top to the rollcage with a radius rod, we didn't have the drive we needed off the corner. It was always loose and wanted to light the tires up. Now we can put more drive on one wheel than the other to help the car come off straight with forward drive."
"There's not a huge difference from one setup to the other, but the W-link does make the car feel different on certain parts of the track," Decker says. "It also gives me peace of mind on a rough track because I know it's a lot stronger, and I don't worry the whole race about it failing."
The chassis features several elements aimed at boosting safety, including extra triangulat
While the team had an abundance of ideas they'd kicked around on the seemingly endless rides from race to race, in the end they decided not to be as radical as they would have liked. "We decided to keep our engine placement and most other stuff the same, to let us know if the chassis changes work," Jeffery says. "We were afraid of having too many variables."
To this end, the front of the PMC chassis resembles the other brands used in DIRT, using the same kingpin width and radius rod lengths as a standard Olsen. Birdcages are by Dixon while QA1 supplies the rod ends. Torsion arms are either BRP or Dixon, the torsion bars and quick-change come from Winters, and Outlaw brakes slow the Kevin Enders-powered cars. A Griffin radiator cools the 467 big-block Chevy, which is hooked to a Brinn transmission. Decker uses a Kirkey seat and applies his skilled input through a Lee steering box.
AFCO adjustable gas shocks are found on all four corners, with Jeffery praising the efforts of AFCO rep Brad Benic. "We worked with him all year to tune the shocks to the changes we made with the chassis. It was a never-ending process," Jeffery says.
"The early part of the season was crazy, but we got it sorted out and the car had five wins in its last seven races. We got our chassis changes made and settled on a standard setup, and after that we were only out of the Top 3 once. Before that, we wore Pete out moving brackets and changing the spring base for the torsion rack."
Here is the right rear of the chassis using a W-link to locate the axle on setups used at
"I think we struggled early on because we all had input in designing the car and we all thought our ideas were right," Decker says. "At first, we were reluctant to change, but when we got to the different tracks, we were all proved wrong on something."
"I knew that first car would go through a lot of changes," Chuckta says. "We cut and welded tubing and brackets until we hit a happy medium. Billy's spare Syracuse car was the second chassis we did, the 'perfected version,' and we haven't changed anything since except the building process and some bolt-on parts. Now we're into machining in quantities for economy of scale. We were doing all the brackets by hand, but now the pieces come from a machine shop in Connecticut, another in Lockport, New York, or from John Dixon in Pennsylvania. My guys cut the pieces, bend the tubing, and tack the car together on the jig. I do all the finish welding and build the bodies."
At season's end, Decker was the Brewerton champion. The design also won at Canandaigua, Utica-Rome (both in New York), and New Egypt, New Jersey. He almost sat on the frontstretch at Syracuse after a big track test run in the Labor Day classic, leading 48 of 50 laps before succumbing to a flat tire.
Like racers everywhere, the DIRT troops are quick to imitate a winner, and Chuckta's Nassau, New York, phone was soon ringing off the hook. He and his four-man shop crew cranked out 11 new cars in the off-season, with DIRT kingpin Kenny Tremont, the most prominent convert to the PMC chassis.
"It's been crazy," Chuckta says. "I was a union boilermaker by trade before I got into race cars back when Tommy Corellis was the big star at Lebanon Valley. The last few years I've been putting clips on Troyers, TEOs, and Olsens. I decided that when I came out with my own chassis, they'd all be the same. I've already turned down a bunch of custom work. No more small 'cages for short drivers or motor-forward or back cars. With one standard design, we can take more time when we put it together, make everything fit right and give everybody our best product."