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Dirt speedway racing

Dirt track racing is a type of auto racing performed on oval tracks. It began in the United States before World War I and became widespread during the 1920s and 30s. Two different types of racecars predominated—open wheel racers in the Northeast and West and stock cars in the South. The open wheel racers were built for racing, and the stock cars were ordinary automobiles 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 popular in Australia and Canada also. Many of the cars may also race on asphalt short tracks during the racing season.

The racetrack

Dirt Late Model cars at the Sheboygan County, Wisconsin fairgrounds racetrack. The dirt Late Model class drivers show how dirt track car drivers slide their car's backend around through a corner. The multiple drivers show the car angle at different points in a corner.

North America

Nearly all tracks are oval and less than a mile in length with most being 1/2 mile or less. The most common increments in the U.S. are 1/2 mile, 3/8 mile, 1/3 mile, 1/4 mile, and 1/8 mile. With the longer tracks, the racecars achieve higher speeds and the interval between cars increases. 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 begins to dry. Some operators build flat ovals, but many are highly banked.

United Kingdom

In Great Britain the oval tracks are normally on grass with lengths of 400m to 800m. The race consists of several qualifying heats, each lasting four laps of the track leading up to the final.

Grass Track is very much a family sport suitable for all ages and abilities. Boys and girls from as young as six can compete on automatic machines. The ages and capacity classes progress right through to adult status. There are also classes in youth grass track to run motocross machines on a grass track circuit. Youth events are carefully controlled to provide good racing for young competitors.

Rest of Europe

In mainland Europe Long Tracks can be used on grass, or sand and can be up to 1000m long

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 racecar; including dimensions, engine size, equipment requirements, prohibitions, etc. The requirements for each class are usually coordinated with other racetracks and associations to allow for the widest available venue for each type of car. This coordination allows the drivers to enter many different racetracks, increasing their chances of winning; allows the racetrack to field as many cars as possible; lets the racing associations develop a series of race events; and promotes fan interest.

Many fans prefer one or the other of the different type cars. Open wheel fans say, "Real racecars don't have fenders." Stock car (shown right and above) fans point out that even minimal contact between open wheel racers usually disables both cars. In reality, both types of vehicles have weak and strong points. Open wheel racers are usually lighter and nimbler. Stock cars can push and shove their way to advancement.

Many tracks support both types of racer in their programs. Both types range from powerful V8 engines to small, still powerful, 4-cylinder engines. Some of the smaller open wheel racers even have classes for single-cylinder powerplants. Depending on the class, the cars may have wings to aid in handling at higher speeds.

Open wheel cars

Dirt Sprint cars

Open wheel cars are generally manufactured with tubular frames and a body purchased for that particular class. Classes include:

The sanctioning bodies include:

Modified cars

IMCA Modified cars

Modified cars are a hybrid of open wheel cars and stock cars - this class of car has the racing characteristics of a stock with the rear wheels covered by fenders and the front wheels open. There are sanctioning bodies that control the rules for this class at most tracks. Sanctioning bodies include:

  • IMCA (International Motor Contest Association)
  • UMP (United Midwestern Promoters)

Stock cars

Stock cars are generally 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)
  • Super Late Model- Usually a welded tubular frame with a thin aluminum or fiberglass body and some variant of a Chevrolet engine.
Super Late Model engines: Most all are variants of Chevrolet engines, and most start with an aluminum 350 in³ Chevy block with stroker crank, high flow degreed aluminum cylinder heads and high-flow exhaust headers. Engines are capable of 750 hp (560 kW) and redline at 9,500 rpm. Displacement for the engines can range from the basic 358 cubic inch (5.9 L) small block up to the 430 cubic inch (7 L) Big Block Chevy.
Super late models most typically run as "regular late models on the regional and national touring series although some series such as the Mid-American Racing Series (MARS) refers to them as super Late Models. How ever most local level tracks tend to run Late Model stocks as their top class. Most of the time they are simply referred to as Late Models. Most drivers in the late model stock class run these super late model races at a lighter weight, to compensate for the smaller engine. Local level tracks often save the Super Late Model division for special events, such as early season specials (often involving the word combo "winter" and "fast"). The best known is the "Ice Bowl" at the Talledega short track in Talladega, Alabama. Special events are also held both Memorial Day weekend, 4th of July weekendi, and Labor Day weekends.
2006 National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame inductee Pete Parker's #10 WISSOTA Dirt Late Model car
4 cylinder modified production cars
  • Late model (also known as late model stock)
these cars have the same body frame and driveline as the super late models but have more restrictions on engine size as well as what types of metal the heads and blocks can be made of. generally they are all steel motors or a combo of steel blocks and aluminum heads and are restricted 362 cubic inches. If a steel and aluminum combo is allowed then cars with these motors must carry more weight then all steel motors. most tracks run this style late model as their top class calling them "steel heads" in reference to the steel heads in the motor.
  • Modified production cars (These cars are modified manufactured automobiles. They have the interiors and glass stripped out, a racing seat and roll cage installed, and various other safety features added. The engines are modified as allowed by the different rulebooks):
  • Factory Stock
  • Mini Stock
  • Pro Stock
  • Hobby Stock
  • Stock Car
  • Pure Stock
  • Street Stock
  • 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


Dirt and Grass Track bikes have capacities of 250, 350 and 500cc in the solo classes and can reach speeds of up to 80 mph on the straights and with no brakes fitted to the machine the racing is both fast and furious. There are three sidecar classes. The continental class has a 500cc single cylinder engine, also in Great Britain there are left and right handed sidecar machines with the engines up to 1000cc. 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.

The race program

Four car heat race of 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 in event formats.


A qualifying session happen before the event. The session determines either the starting positions in the heat races or the starting positions in the feature event.

Heat races

Preliminary races for each class, called heat races, open the schedule. The heat races may determine the starting race position in the main events and usually earn points. The heat races are shorter than the feature races, and not as many cars are raced in each heat. There are numerous formats for qualifying for the feature event.

In "Progressive racing", a pre-determined number of drivers qualify for the main event directly from each heat race.

There may be a "trophy dash" during the program to allow the heat winners or the season's top points-getters to compete for a trophy or reward. If the reward is monetary, the race may be called a "dash for the cash" or a "run for the money". Some tracks also use the qualifying dash in place of a heat race to determine where the top cars will start in the A feature.

Semi-Feature/B Main

There may be a semi-feature where unqualified racers may race their way into the remaining open starting positions in the feature event. Depending on the number of cars in each class, there may be more than one feature race (C feature; 3rd place heat winners, B feature; 2nd place heat winners, etc.) with the winners moving up through to the main feature (A feature).


The A feature or main feature is held for each division. It is usually the longest race in the program. The starting positions may be determined by the season's point standings, or by the heat/trophy dash/semi-feature finishing positions. Points, a trophy, and maybe a purse are awarded according to finishing position.

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.


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.

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

External links

Dirt track racing associations