Dirt Late Models put their unique stamp on motorsports. Photo by Tony Hammett
Judging from the races broadcast on television, it would seem a safe assumption that a majority of stock car racing in this country is run on pavement. All the competition in NASCAR, as well as other series, certainly lends that impression, but it is simply not the case. If you are lucky, you might be able to find a taped dirt stock car race, but that's about it.
Stock car racing began in the '30s in a primitive manner, and the sport continued to mature until World War II began. A vast majority of racing was done on dirt, and that trend continued following the war.
When stock car racing gained stature in the late '40s, virtually all the venues had dirt racing surfaces. There were certainly no paved superspeedways around during those days. The competition consisted of running nearly stock street cars in rough-and-tumble action on short dirt ovals.
During the first year of the NASCAR sanction in 1949, all eight of the Grand National races were run on dirt. In 1950, there was only one pavement race, and only 10 pavement races out of a total of 75 events the following two seasons. If there hadn't been dirt tracks during NASCAR's formative years, it could have been much later before the sanctioning body was organized.
During those early days, teams would most often run the same car on both racing surfaces, with few changes.
Up until the mid-'60s, the pavement and dirt stock cars remained somewhat similar, using modified street cars and hopped-up powerplants. But it was during this period that the birth of the Dirt Late Model (DLM) concept took place. It involved a true racing machine with a custom frame that was optimized to run on the rear-end-loose dirt ovals.
Through the ensuing decades, a tremendous evolution took place, and the modern Dirt Late Model stock car became a pure racing machine highly endowed with advanced technology. It is essentially the Nextel Cup version of a dirt race car.
A measure of the dirt popularity in this country is in the number of dirt tracks nationwide.
Much of the DLM action is sideways. Photo by Tony Hammett
"Right now, there are 773 dirt tracks as compared with only 249 that are paved," says Allan Brown, publisher of the National Speedway Directory.
It should also be noted that a high percentage of those tracks have some form of Dirt Late Model competition as the premier class.
Not all of the DLMs are the Super Late versions with 800hp engines sitting under their hoods. Therefore, for economic reasons, many local dirt tracks have lower classes of cars using the same type of chassis with a lower-powered engine.
Mark Richards, the head man at DLM-builder Rocket Chassis, says, "I would estimate that there are as many as 8,000 of them out there of all types. The Dirt Late Model is the most popular of all the race car types in the country."
These cars have one strong characteristic not found in pavement machines, allowing Dirt Late Models to be raced in nearly every state. That is, with few exceptions, the cars are governed by common rules, thus allowing a team to run in just about every part of the country with only minor, if any, changes to the cars. A variation in engine rules is the most common difference among regions, as the bodies are typically the same from area to area, with an occasional variation on spoiler height.
For Dirt Late Models, there are three main sanctioning bodies, each governing different sections of the country.
The UMP (United Midwest Promoters) group sanctions DLM racing in 17 states and certain sections of Canada. It oversees some 1,200 drivers, five traveling series, and sanctions the huge Summer Nationals event, which features 28 races in 30 nights. UMP head man Sam Driggers indicated that the marathon show has become known as the "Hell Tour."
Body panels are basically straight, making repairs easier. Photo by Jeff Huneycutt
Next is the longstanding IMCA group, headed by Kathy Root, which sanctions weekly DLM racing primarily in Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri. "Our biggest event for the Dirt Late Models is the Pepsi Nationals held in Burlington, Iowa, which pays $10,000 to win," Root says. "One difference that we have with the other large sanctioning bodies is that we use a spec engine. I think a problem that we are facing is the engine cost situation, which keeps a lot of teams from participating. The cost of gas for getting to the races is also a concern these days." She adds that the IMCA group is also fielding an inaugural crate engine Late Model Series this season.
Terry Woeltz, the head man at the WISSOTA Promoters Association, says that his series sanctions weekly racing in Wyoming, Montana, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, along with two tracks in Canada. In all, there are over 300 drivers participating with WISSOTA.
In addition, there is also a WISSOTA traveling series, the Tri Star Late Model Challenge. And like IMCA, WISSOTA is also trying a pilot program for a crate engine Late Model series.
There are two Dirt Late Model traveling groups in which many of the nation's top drivers ply their skills at tracks around the country. The groups include the World of Outlaws Late Model Series and the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series.
The exposure of the Dirt Late Model is best displayed by the numerous traveling series traversing the nation and playing to thousands of enthusiastic fans. The major traveling series can be categorized by the particular part of the country where they compete.
Selected major groups in the North include the Mid-Atlantic Championship Series (MACS), the United Late Model Series, and the Independent Racing Series.
The latter series is starting its first year of operation under Dean Miracle. He explains that the DLM hotbed area of Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Virginia has room for another series.
"I am not here to mess up somebody else's series," Miracle says. "I schedule races when others are not running, and when a traveling series is in the area, I don't run at all.
"I want to make it easy on the teams. For that reason, I use Columbus, Ohio, as the focal point with all shows within six hours driving."
Car control is a skill developed in tight action, often two or three cars abreast. Photo b
This area has long been a stronghold for this type of racing with these main groups: Carolina Clash Super Late Model Series, Advance Auto Parts Thunder Series, Southern Regional Racing Series, Southeastern Late Model Sportsman Series, O'Reilly Southern All-Star Racing Series, O'Reilly Auto Parts SUPR, Mississippi State Championship Challenge, O'Reilly NARA Battle of the Bluegrass, Mid-South Racing Association, and the Arkansas Motorsports Professionals Series.
This area is also the home for many DLM groups: WDRL PolyDome Super Series, Mid-American Racing Series, Sunoco American Late Model Series, IMCA Deery Brothers Summer Series, WISSOTA Amsoil Dirt Track Series, WISSOTA Tri Star Challenge Series, O'Reilly Auto Parts MLRA, Race Brothers Show-Me Racin' Series, Northern Late Model Racing Association, Northern Allstars Late Model Series, and O'Reilly NCRA.
Although Dirt Late Model racing in the West has not yet reached the levels of other parts of the country, the interest continues to increase. Included are the following groups that are in that area of the country: Colorado Late Model Association, Budweiser I-5 Challenge Series, Western Dirt Racing Association, Western Allstars, NAPA-MDA Late Model Series, and Southwest Dirt Racing Association.
A distinct characteristic of the dirt stock car scene is the enthusiasm and dedication of its fans, possibly the most passionate in motorsports. That cult-like dedication to favorite drivers is amazing, and you will see that affection displayed with the wearing of racing T-shirts and hats. There is also a growing interest in die-cast models of the cars of favorite drivers.
The careers of a major number of these drivers are very long, sometimes reaching 30 to 40 years in length. For example, Rick Bond, an Ohio competitor, is a great-grandfather and still going strong and winning.
Photo by Jeff Huneycutt
Unlike the movement of Sprint Car drivers to NASCAR over the past decade, few of the Dirt Late Model drivers have turned in that direction. Most will tell you that they like it right where they are, with many $10,000-to-win races.
Through the years, there have been several high-profile stars of this class, and the 21st century is no different. The names of Donnie Moran, Billy Moyer, Scott Bloomquist, and others bring instant recognition with the fans.
In earlier years, drivers such as Jeff Purvis, Rodney Combs, and Ernie Irvan carried their successful DLM efforts into NASCAR racing.
One of the main reasons for the popularity of these low-slung, super-wide, high-powered machines is that speed can now be purchased from manufacturers providing turnkey cars. For that reason, the eventual winner doesn't have to start on the front row anymore, as he can come from deep in the field.
Performance is available from a number of aftermarket engine manufacturers producing high-compression V-8s capable of as much as 800 hp to push the 2,350-pound haulers. A number of the significant engine builders include the likes of Draime, Malcuit, Baker, Cornette, Custom, Fisher, ProPower, Jay Dickens, K-Motion, Gaerte, and others.
Besides the expected monopoly of Chevy-based mills, there are also some Fords and Mopars on the scene. Engine builders understand that these cars compete under rough conditions, so they build the engines for durability. The engines are generally capable of running 1,000-1,500 laps before a major teardown is required.
Transmissions are mostly two-speeds, with a majority using either the Brinn or Bert brands. Rearends are quick-change units, with Franklin and Winters being the main suppliers.
It's a sport for the young and the young at heart. Johnny Johnson, in the No. 99 car, is p
There is also a major competition for customers between the major chassis manufacturers. The high-tech machines are built by such builders as Warrier, MasterSbilt, Shaw, GRT, Rocket, Swartz, Rayburn, and others.
With the high-contact aspect of the sport, it isn't practical to have rounded, stock-appearing bodies that are too difficult to keep repaired. Therefore, the generic body shape is a squared-off configuration with flat sides and tops that can be replaced quickly. However, the modern cars carry stock-appearing front-end decals.
Many times, handling is the difference between winning and losing with these cars. Shock and spring companies are constantly researching to improve the suspension system. Coilover shock suspensions are the standard for today's cars.
These cars have a number of different names-Limited Late Models, Sportsman Cars, Late Model Stocks, Super Sportsman Cars, Crate Late Models, and others. These cars are located all over the country and compete in relative obscurity compared with the top-gun Super Late versions.
Many of these cars are almost identical to the Dirt Late Models, with the exception of the powerplant, which produces considerably less horsepower. It's not uncommon to see teams switch between Limited engines and full-up Dirt Late Model engines and race the same car in both classes.
Dirt stock car racing at local tracks is often constrained by money, but the cost for the competitor can be greatly reduced by a used Dirt Late Model frame, maybe one that's 5 years old or older. The biggest cost-cutting move, however, comes with the engine.
In recent years, an entirely new trend has started that employs an inexpensive factory crate engine in these cars. It's a concept whose time has apparently come. It has been considered for a number of years and is currently showing promise in several venues, in traveling series, and at certain tracks.
Traveling crate engine series currently include the Fastrak Racing Series, StormPay.com Dirt Late Model Series, Indiana Crate Series, Crate American Racing Series (CARS), and IMCA Crate Models.
With the national Dirt Late Model series, there are a number of national sponsors, including Lucas Oil, Budweiser, PolyDome, O'Reilly, Sunoco, and Amsoil.
Also, there are a dozen or so big races nationally that bring huge money for these cars. Many of them are unsanctioned events. The biggest include the Dirt Track World Championship at KC Speedway, in Ohio ($50,000 to win), the Show-Me 100 at West Plains Speedway, in Missouri ($40,000 to win), The Dream at Eldora Speedway, in Ohio, ($100,000 to win), the North/South 100 at Florence (Kentucky) Speedway ($50,000 to win), the Topless 100 at Batesville (Arkansas) Speedway ($44,000 to win), The Colossal 100 at the Dirt Track at Lowe's Motor Speedway ($50,000 to win), and the granddaddy of them all, the World 100, also at Eldora ($40,000 to win). In addition, there is the aforementioned UMP Summer Nationals, which provides a complete month of high-paying races in the Midwest.
IMCA (International Motor Contest Association)
UMP (United Midwest Promoters)
WISSOTA Promoters Association
Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series
World of Outlaws Late Models
Independent Racing Series
Mid-American Championship Series
United Late Model Series (ULMS)
Advance Auto Parts Thunder Series
Carolina Clash Super Late Model Series
Mid South Racing Association
Mississippi State Championship Challenge Series
O'Reilly Auto Parts SUPR
O'Reilly NARA Battle of the Bluegrass (BoB)
O'Reilly Southern All-Star Racing Series
Southeastern Late Model
Southern Regional Racing Series
IMCA Deery Brothers Summer Series
Mid-American Racing Series
Northern Allstars Late Model Series
Northern Late Model Racing Association
O'Reilly Auto Parts MLRA
O'Reilly Auto Parts NCRA
Race Brothers Show-Me Racin' Series
Sunoco American Late Model Series
WISSOTA Tri Star Challenge Series
Budweiser I-5 Challenge Series
Colorado Late Model Association (CLMA)
NAPA-MDA Late Model Series
Southwest Dirt Racing Association
Western Allstars Super Dirt Late Model Series
Western Dirt Racing Association
Crate Late Model Traveling Series
Crate American Racing Series (CARS)
Fastrak Racing Series
IMCA Crate Models
Indiana Crate Late Model Series
Stormpay.com Dirt Late Model Series