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Dirt track racing

Dirt track racing is a type of auto racing performed on clay or dirt surfaced oval tracks. It began in the United States before World War I and became widespread during the 1920s and 30s. Two different types of race cars dominated—open wheel racers in the Northeast and West and stock cars in the South. While open wheel race cars are purpose-built racing vehicles, stock cars (also known as fendered cars) can be either purpose-built race cars or street vehicles that have been modified to varying degrees.

Dirt track racing is the single most common form of auto racing in the United States. There are hundreds of local and regional racetracks throughout the nation, some estimates range as high as 1500. The sport is also popular in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

The racetrack

Late Model class drivers show how dirt track car drivers slide their car's back end around through a corner. The multiple cars show the different angles that occur whilst driving through a corner.

North America

Nearly all tracks are oval and less than Script error: No such module "convert". in length with most being ½ mile (804 m) or less. The most common increments in the U.S. are ½ mile, ⅜ mile (603 m), ⅓ mile (536 m), ¼ mile (402 m), and ⅛ mile (201 m). With the longer tracks, the race cars achieve higher speeds and the intervals between cars increase. This decreases the chance of crashes but increases the damage and chance of injury when cars do crash.

The track surface may be composed of any soil, but most racers prefer a track with a clay base. The track operators usually try to keep the surface tacky and may sprinkle water on it if it becomes too dry. Some operators build flat tracks, but many are highly banked in the corners.

United Kingdom

In Great Britain the oval tracks are normally on grass with lengths of 400 meters (¼ mile) to 800 meters (½ mile). The race consists of several four lap qualifying heats that eliminate slower drivers. Then there is a final race featuring the fastest competitors.

Grass track racing is very much a family sport, suitable for all ages and abilities. Boys and girls as young as six can compete on automatic machines.


In mainland Europe, long tracks can be grass, sand or cinder, and can be up to Script error: No such module "convert". long.


Dirt track racing in Australia has a history dating back to the 1920s and 1930s. Most oval track speedways are similar to those in the USA for cars racing such as Sprintcars, Speedcars (Midgets) and sedans, with most tracks generally around ¼ mile (402 m) to ⅓ mile (536 m) in length. Most tracks have a clay surface, though some use dolomite or a dolomite and clay mix. During the 1970s and early 1980s, a small number of tracks were paved with asphalt, though this phase only lasted about a decade and all tracks paved over eventually reverted to their former surfaces.

The Race Vehicle

A typical dirt track "street stock" car racing in Wisconsin, USA

Each racetrack or sponsoring organization maintains a rule book outlining each class of race car which includes dimensions, engine size, equipment requirements and prohibitions. The requirements for each class are usually coordinated with multiple tracks to allow for the widest available venue for each type of car. This coordination allows the drivers to compete at many different racetracks, increase competitors' chances of winning, and lets racing associations develop a series of race events that promote fan interest.

Many tracks support two types of racing in their programs, open wheel cars and stock cars. Both types range from large and powerful V8 engines to small yet still powerful, four-cylinder engines. Some of the smaller open wheel race cars have classes for single-cylinder engines. Depending on the class, the cars may have wings to aid in handling at higher speeds.

Open wheel cars

Open wheel cars are generally manufactured with tubular frames and a body purchased for that particular class. The wheels of these vehicles are not protected by fender but rather exposed or "open". Classes include:

Open wheel sanctioning bodies include:

  • USAC - The United States Automobile Club
  • World of Outlaws Sprint Cars
  • ASCS Sprint Cars
  • USCS United Sprint Car Series

Modified cars

Main article: Modified car racing

Modified cars are a hybrid of open wheel cars and stock cars. This class of car has the racing characteristics of a stock car. The rear wheels are covered by fenders but the front wheels are left exposed. There are sanctioning bodies that control the rules for this class at most tracks. Each sanctioning body has their own set of guidelines provided in an annual rule book and their own registration fees. Sanctioning bodies include:

  • Advance Auto Parts Super Dirt Series
  • IMCA (International Motor Contest Association)
  • UMP (United Midwestern Promoters)
  • USRA (United States Racing Association)
  • USMTS (United States Modified Touring Series)
  • WISSOTA (WISSOTA Promoters' Association)
  • TSMA (Tri-State Modified Association)

Full-bodied cars

Full-bodied cars, sometimes referred to as stock cars, are vehicles that, unlike open-wheel cars, have fenders covering all wheels. Full-bodied cars can vary from full tube frame chassis and aluminium bodied late models to automobiles manufactured by the major automakers with certain modifications as allowed for each class. There are several general types:

Non-production cars

These are stock cars custom built for racing, usually with welded tubular frames and custom built or purchased bodies.

The most popular type of dirt full-bodied stock cars are late models. They are categorized depending on what track and series that is being run. The racetrack dictates what type of late model is raced, but most fall into one of these categories:

Late model
Main article: late model

Today’s current dirt super late models feature steel constructed tube frame chassis with aluminium bodies that give them the sleek aerodynamic appearance of a stock race car but there is nothing stock about these 2300 pound machines. The cars are powered by an Script error: No such module "convert". motor than can turn in excess of 9,000 RPM. The engines are based on V-8 Chevy, Ford, and MOPAR power plants. These cars are considered to be the most sophisticated cars in dirt racing. They hit speeds well over 100 mph and slide around the dirt corners. They are raced on dirt tracks throughout the country anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 mile.

The expense for these cars is extremely high. The cost for one complete race-ready late model is around $70,000. There is also cheaper equipment and parts that can be purchased, but staying competitive is much more expensive. To get the frame (chassis) and parts all new without the transmission and motor is around 20,000 to 30,000 dollars depending on the quality and from which manufacturer the chassis comes. The manufacturers around the country include Rocket, Bloomquist, GRT, Victory Circle, Warrior, Rayburn, Mastersbilt and Swartz Race Cars. The engines for these cars are around 850 horsepower and can cost up to 40,000 dollars. Motor builders include Hatfield Racing, Roush Yates Racing Engines, Gaerte Racing Engines, Clements Racing Engines, Custom Racing Engines, Vic Hill Racing Engines and Pro Power Engines.

Most racing series and special events offer different motor options with the use of different total vehicle weights to create an even playing field:

  1. Open motor - there is no displacement limit with this type of motor. Most open motors exceed 400 cubic inches but the 380 small block is also a common open motor. These motors utilize aluminium blocks and heads and often have specially welded cams. The cars which run this motor option must weigh at least Script error: No such module "convert"..
  2. Spec motor- spec motors are built to the series' specifications. The motor can be either steel, aluminium or a combination. Spec motors typically cannot exceed 358 cubic inches. Cars using this motor option weigh in at 2200 pounds and run a Script error: No such module "convert". or Script error: No such module "convert". spoiler.
  3. All steel motor - steel block and heads, a maximum of 362 cubic inches, and weigh in at either 2200 or 2150 pounds depending on the series. Cars with an all-steel motor must run a Script error: No such module "convert". or Script error: No such module "convert". spoiler.
Limited late model

Limited late models and late model stocks have the same body rules as super late models. The main difference in the two classes is the motor rules. Engine limitations typically include maximum engine displacement size, certain required cylinder head angles, maximum compression ratios, and maximum carburetor size. Suspension rules typically forbid the use of expensive canister shocks. Tire choice is also typically limited to a certain tire such as the Hoosier D55 Spec Tire.

Late model stock

Late model stocks have the same body rules as super late models and limited late models. This class typically has even more limited engine rules.

Typical late model stock engine requirements:

  1. Chevrolet 350, Chrysler 360, Ford 351 engines. Must be all-steel except intake manifold.
  2. Engine maximum displacement of 362 cubic inches.
  3. Engines typically cannot be modified except for aftermarket carburetor, intake manifold and exhaust manifold.

Many different tracks and sanctioning bodies have variations on these rules of what constitutes an open late model, limited late model and a late model stock.

Crate late models

Crate late models use GM sealed-crate motors. Typical motors include the GM 602 and GM 604 engines. Recently the GM CT525 crate has been getting the attention of racers. Crate engines are sealed at the intake manifold, cylinder head, front cover, and oil pan with special twist off bolts. Crate engines must not be altered, modified, of changed in any way from factory specifications.

Crate late models have two of their own national touring series: the Nesmith Chevrolet Dirt Late Model Series and the Fastrak Crate Late Model Series.

Currently, Ford and Chrysler have no plans to enter the Nesmith or Fastrak Late Model Series.

Popular Late Model Racing Series

There are literally hundreds of additional unsanctioned regional and national special events run throughout the year.

Major annual late model events

A 4-cylinder modified production car with limited modifications (left), and a highly modified 8-cylinder car (right)

These cars are modified manufactured automobiles. There is a high degree of variability between classes of modified cars. The lowest divisions of modified production cars may be completely stock except for having their interior or windshields removed. The highest divisions of modified production cars may have only a few original stock parts, and may be nearly as fast as late model race cars. Most cars have their glass windshields removed and their interiors stripped out. The original seat may be allowed to be used in the lowest classes, but a racing seat and roll cage is required to be installed in higher divisions. Other safety and performance features are added to higher division cars. The engines in lower divisions are completely stock, and higher divisions are highly modified and enhanced. Most modified production cars use full exhaust systems. Engines vary from unmodified 4 cylinders to highly modified V8. Cars in lower divisions use stock tires, and higher division cars use purpose-built specified racing tires.

Common names of modified production car divisions:

Unmodified production cars

These cars are automobiles just as driven on the street; including the original interiors. The engines may be modified as allowed under different rules:

  • Saloon


Main article: Track racing
flat track motorcycles

Dirt and Grass Track bikes have capacities of 250, 350, 500 and in the solo classes and can reach speeds of up to Script error: No such module "convert". on the straights and with no brakes fitted to the machine. The American Grand National dirt track championship uses motorcycles of up to 750 cc capacities and can reach speeds of up to Script error: No such module "convert"..[1][2]

There are three sidecar classes. The continental class has a 500 cc single-cylinder engine, also in Great Britain there are left- and right-handed sidecar machines with the engines up to 1000 cc. Sidecar races are some of the most exciting in Grass Track sport, with the driver and passenger working together to obtain the best grip and speed around the corners.

Vintage racing

Many obsolete race vehicles that were left in barns to rust are being restored to their former glory. The restored race vehicles are being displayed at car shows and sometimes raced. Cars that compete in vintage racing events are from the late 19th century to historic cars from a few years ago. There are more than 170 racing events in North America, and thousands of other vintage events sanctioned by hundreds of clubs.[3]

The race program

Four car heat race of vintage open wheel cars common in Wisconsin (USA) from the 1950s to 1970s

The typical race program usually involves a number of classes, and many tracks offer both open wheel and stock car racing. There is a wide variety of event formats.


A qualifying session may happen before the start of the event. The Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Series and the World of Outlaw Late Models use the qualifying system to line up their heat races. They give each driver 2 timed laps to get their times. This system is also used to line up the big crown jewel events. For most of the regional series they use the method called the "pill draw." Before the races each driver draws a number and that determines where they start in their heat race.

Heat races

Preliminary races for each class, called heat races, frequently open the schedule. The heat races may determine the starting race position in the main events and usually earn season championship points. The heat races are shorter than the feature races, and not as many cars race in each heat, from 8 to 12 laps for a heat race. There are numerous formats for qualifying for the feature event.

In a race where they qualify to determine their starting position for the heat race they use a "heads up" system. This system is where there is a predetermined set of cars that go to the A feature from the heat race, usually either the top 3 or 4.

In a race where they use the pill draw to line up the heat races they use a method called passing points. In this system a driver receives a set number of points for where they finish, 1st-59 2nd-57 and so forth the lower you finish. To add to the points the driver gets where you finish the driver also gets 1.5 points for each car they pass. Example: The driver starts 4th and finishes 1st. He gets 59 points for 1st and he passed 3 cars so he gets 4.5 extra points, so his total is 63.5. They will then usually take the top 16 drivers with the highest total amount of points and line up the A feature.

Semi-Feature/B Main/Consi

There may be a semi-feature where unqualified racers may race their way into the remaining open starting positions in the A feature event. This race is called the last chance qualifier or B feature. The cars who didn't make the A feature through the heat race get one more chance to qualify for the A feature through the B feature. The B is anywhere from 12 to 15 laps. Depending on how many B's there are determines how many transfer to the A, anywhere from 2 to 6 will transfer. If a driver transfers through the B they will start behind the drivers who made it through the heats.

Feature/A Main

The A feature or main feature race is held for each division. The top cars from the event compete in the race. The starting positions may be determined by the season's point standings, or by a combination of the heat/trophy dash/semi-feature finishing positions. It is usually the longest race in the program. Points, a trophy, and frequently a purse are generally awarded, with the amount of each is determined by finishing position. The winner of the feature event is considered the winner of the event.

Special events

Many tracks have other special events. Occasionally, a track will sponsor a "powder-puff" race to allow women the opportunity to drive the racecars for a few laps of racing. If enough women drivers express an interest in a separate event for themselves, the track operator may put the powder puff into its regular race schedule; otherwise, most serious women racers compete in the same events as the men.

From time to time, the track may have a "bonus points" race to attract racers and fans from competing tracks. Many times the track operators also promise a larger purse for winning these races.

Also, many tracks contract with a touring racing association to schedule an association sanctioned event. The racers in these events earn points for ranking in the association. The associations also usually require a guaranteed purse from the tracks for the winners of sanctioned events.

Many tracks also have a "run-what-you-brung" contest (also "Spectator class/division"). The event features two drivers from the stands who, after signing waivers, can run their personal automobiles against each other in a one-on-one 1 or 2 lap shootout.

Dirt tracks tend to be somewhat more makeshift and more versatile than asphalt pavements, and can be converted for use in other motorsports. For instance, Little Valley Speedway in Little Valley, New York is a half-mile dirt track that can be converted into a figure-8 track, a demolition derby pit, or a tractor pull straightaway.


Both the racetracks and the racing associations award championships as determined by the guidelines of the associated rulebooks. Awards, usually for the top ten racers in each class, may include a trophy, a jacket, and a monetary amount.

Track championships are awarded according to the points earned during the season. A certain number of points may be awarded for participation in an event and additional points added depending on the finish position in each race. The points earned at one track do not generally count toward another track's championship.

At dirt tracks sanctioned by NASCAR, drivers can compete against drivers from other NASCAR-sanctioned tracks, both paved and dirt, for the statewide and provincial Whelen All-American Series championship, where the best performer of the state and provincial champions will win the national championship. Dirt late model drivers won NASCAR's first such championship in 1982, and these drivers have frequently won regional and national championships in the 30-year history of NASCAR's short track championship, which only applies for local racing divisions (non-touring).

The racing associations count points earned at the tracks for certain sponsored races similarly. Additionally they may promote the appearances of their drivers and winners at various other events.

See also


  1. ^ The First Sixty Years; An Illustrated History of the American Motorcyclist Association. American Motorcyclist ( January 1984. Retrieved 1 January 2011. 
  2. ^ Ridin' To The Races. American Motorcyclist ( August 1978. Retrieved 1 January 2011. 
  3. ^ To Get Started Racing at Victory Lane Magazine

External links