If necessity is indeed the mother of invention, then the Carolina Modified Tour (CMT) was a necessary invention. Not too long ago, Modified racing in the Carolinas was seeking a defined direction and was slowly losing popularity and recognition in an area dominated by Late Model racing. Two drivers, Jim Long Jr. and David Taylor, then running open wheel cars under the United Midwestern Promoters (UMP) sanctioning body, were unhappy with the lack of growth in the area's Modified ranks, so they developed what is now known as CMT. And Modified racing in the Carolina's has not been the same since.
Humble Beginnings"We ran under UMP sanctioning for three years," says Long Jr., now president and promoter of CMT, "but it was not growing, and there wasn't anyone building any cars. We were basically stagnant at about eight cars a race. The promoters, the fans, and the drivers were not happy, so we decided to start our own series in the winter of 1997."
Long Jr., a former UMP South Carolina State Champion, drove in CMT's first year, but during the winter break of 1998, he chose to step out from behind the wheel and get behind the reigns of CMT. "My partner and I both had cars in competition," Long Jr., says, "but I saw the need for dedicated management, so I stopped driving. My partner, however, wanted to continue driving, so I decided to buy him out. There were absolutely no hard feelings involved in the sale, it was just that our priorities were different."
CMT started humbly. The first official race was in March 1998, and the 21-race season was run on just five tracks and averaged about 12 cars competing in each race. But CMT raised the winners share from $500 to $750 in 1999 and saw growth in both the number of tracks (nine) and the average starting field (16).
"One encouraging fact about last season," says Long Jr., "was that one race had a high car count of 27 cars, and we had 60 different cars and drivers run with us, so we know the word is starting to get out." The majority of drivers hail from the Carolinas, and most races are run on tracks in North and South Carolina. But CMT is beginning to feature drivers from Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia, and the 2000 season has two races in Savannah and Newington, Georgia, on the docket.
"This year, we will probably run on 14 different tracks in those three states," Long Jr. says. "We are still working on a few things to expand over into eastern Tennessee and possibly Virginia and West Virginia. The main thing we are trying to do is create relationships with some of the other series that sanction Modifieds in our area. For example, over this year's weekend in Savannah, we will race in conjunction with the Southern Automobile Racing Association (SARA), where our drivers will race with the SARA drivers."
There are no televised races on the 2000 schedule, but Long Jr. is confident that the growing car count, the emergence of a title sponsor, and the sheer excitement of Modified racing will bring expanded media coverage to CMT.
"This racing is as good as any in the country," Long Jr. boasts. "The Modifieds put on a great show, even better than a lot of Late Model races I see, simply because the Modifieds don't mind banging a little. The Late
Models have become so expensive, so it is easy to understand why they aren't out there bumping around. But the Modifieds don't mind a little fender rubbing. That's why they have nerf bars on both sides."
Modifieds With Spoilers?The first and most obvious physical difference between CMT and conventional Modifieds is an 8-inch spoiler similar to those found on Super Late Models. That's right, a spoiler on a Modified. Unusual as that may sound, there is a definite reason for giving Modifieds their wings.
"We found that these cars, with the spoilers, really appeal to the fans in the Mid-Atlantic/Southern states," Long Jr. reveals. "The spoiler is mainly there for cosmetic reasons, but a by-product is that it allows the drivers to hook the car up better."
How much better? The second year CMT visited the 51/48-mile flat track in Savannah, this time with the spoilers installed, the cars ran almost a full second faster per lap.
Most chassis are store-bought, including GRT, Harris, DirtWorks, and Throwing Dirt Chassis. The Hoosier tires used for 1999 may be switched to another brand, but at the moment, CMT cars will be shod with Hoosiers again in 2000.
The CMT Modifieds run on an 8-inch-wide tire. Drivers can basically run whatever engine they choose (but no aluminum blocks), yet most run methanol-burning Chevy 362ci or small-block 400ci motors. Typically, the engines make about 500-600 hp, and, combined with a 2,300-pound total weight, without driver, these Modifieds can boogie.
Traditionally, Modifieds run an engine claim rule to help keep racing costs down. CMT's claim rule is $1,000 dollars and a mandatory swap, meaning a driver can claim the race winner, if said driver finishes in the top five, is on the lead lap, and pays $1,000 and his motor. This prevents one driver from "out-dollaring" every other competitor and ensures competitive racing.
Another unique rule, one that was actually developed and accepted by CMT drivers, is that if one driver wins three races in a row, that driver is required to start the following race at the rear of the field.
Fast, Yet Easy on the Wallet"When we starting this series, we wanted to pay more money to the racer and keep racing costs down," Long Jr. says. "We call it 'low-budget technical racing.' Typically, you think of a low-budget racer as something like a Street Stock, but most of these CMT cars have rear suspensions like Late Models. So these cars give the driver an opportunity to work with the car and learn technology and techniques.
"Also, for next season, we made a deal with Franklin Racing Products. We will promote their product while they put an economy rearend together for us." New for 2000, this rule will allow drivers to adapt gear changes more easily to changing track conditions and lengths from night to night.
CMT drivers range in experience from relative beginners to veterans who are looking for competitive racing without the cost of more expensive series. A complete CMT car can be purchased for $9,000 to $13,000 (less motor and transmission), depending on the chassis manufacturer. Roughly another $4,000 goes into the engine, $1,000 into the transmission, and $4,000 to $15,000 a year, depending on traveling needs and tastes. So, a season with CMT-sans any repair bills, of course-sets a driver back anywhere from $18,000 to $33,000, which is very favorable for a professional racing series. And the series pays well, too.
"There is money to be made in CMT," Long Jr. says. "For next season, we are going to pay $1,000 to win, and we have added five more paid spots in the points, from the top 10 to the top 15. Plus, we have doubled the point champion's winnings to $5,000, and the points fund will go from $12,000 to $18,000."
Besides the points fund, there is a yearly Rookie of the Year award and a Hard Charger award. The latter award goes to a driver who typically does not run up front but continually improves positions at each feature.
A weekly racing event begins at the driver's meeting, where a drawing determines starting positions for heat races. CMT normally runs heats, but they do stage qualifying for races with larger purses.
"We charge a race entry fee of $15 per week to help cover our administrative costs," says Long Jr. "Last year, however, each racer was guaranteed $100 just for racing in the feature, so we make sure we pay good money down the line, not just to runners up front, because not everyone can finish in the top five. We recognize that it costs the guy in the back of the field just as much to get to the race as it costs the guy who won. You won't get rich that way, but at least you get something to help pay for gas and the entry fee."
The starting lineup for the feature is usually established after three heat races. The winner of the each heat race receives five points toward the championship crown, Second Place gets three, Third gets two, and Fourth on back gets one point. Essentially, if you start the heat race, you get at least one championship point.
Home for the HolidaysThe 21- to 22-race 2000 season will begin at Fayetteville, North Carolina, on April 1, and the season culminates with the $2000-to-win Carolina Shootout, also in Fayetteville, on October 21. There is one aspect, though, of CMT's schedule that is unlike most, if not all, other Modified racing series: time off for the holidays.
"We take all the major holidays off," says Long Jr. "The reason for this is that we want to be what I call 'family-friendly.' So we take off holiday weekends like Easter, Memorial, Labor, and Independence Day-and even Mother's and Father's Day. So even with 21 or 22 races, we have plenty of time in our schedule to take those weekends off."
Poised for a BreakoutThough still searching for a title sponsor to help push CMT to the next level, Long Jr. is highly optimistic about the 2000 season and beyond.
"This coming season will really be our breakout year," Long Jr. predicts. "With the $1,000-to-win money we are offering, I think we will attract people to start building cars just for CMT. We want to continue to build the division-that is what we want from this series."
As Late Model racing costs rise, Long Jr. believes his series will become the logical choice for the racer who wants exciting racing without the high price tag and, in turn, help CMT become more recognized.
"We would like to get CMT to where we are a major player in the Modified market," Long Jr. concludes. "I just want CMT be known as a series dedicated to the Modifieds." In racing, dedication is half the battle.