Variety is one of the things that makes Supers so interesting. Note the visible difference
Imagine a car with the speed of an Indy Car and the handling of a Midget. Imagine a car so fast in the corners that it'll try to suck your head off your shoulders. Imagine 847 hp dangling next to your left leg. Imagine no more. We are going to introduce you to one of the most exciting forms of circle track racing there is and take a look at the demographics and technical details of these wild race cars.
Welcome to the world of Supermodified racing, possibly the best kept secret in American motorsports. Fans of the Supermodifieds call them the ultimate short-track racing machines on the planet. They are viciously fast, handle like they're glued to the track, and deliver heart-stopping, edge-of-your-seat excitement.
Supers, as they are affectionately called, are largely home-built race cars with monster engines, different-sized tires, and mammoth wings on the top of the car. They are lightweight open-wheeled machines with tube frames scantily clad in aluminum bodywork. If we could picture Steve Kinser rear ending Michael Schumacher, that's a Super. Part Sprint car, part F-1 ride, the Super is a hybrid that sits a razor-thin 3 inches off the ground. In the hands of a capable driver, these cars can do things that a Nextel Cup car could only dream about.
Supers are raced primarily on short tracks under a mile in length. It's not uncommon to see a pack of winged Supers three and four abreast, darting in and out of traffic, and even changing lanes in the middle of the of the turns.
This view shows the low and left nature of the weight distribution of the Super. Bobby San
Coast To Coast
Supermodified racing is a cult phenomenon. It is club racing in one area of the country and a touring series in another. Bare-to-the-bones, big-block race cars on one coast, and highly tunable chassis with small-blocks on the other.
There are four sanctioning bodies putting on Supermodified events in the USA. The New York-based International SuperModified Association, or ISMA, is the largest of the four and a true touring series. In 2006, ISMA Supers will visit 12 tracks in 6 states and Canada during their 16-race schedule. Routinely packing the grandstands, it is not unusual for 30 cars to show up for the ISMA shows, which run from May to October.
ISMA's West Coast counterpart is the Western States Supermodified Racing League, or WSSRL. It is the youngest sanction and an outgrowth of the old Supermodified Racing League. This year, its first full year of competition, it will sanction 11 races at 6 tracks. Two smaller sanctions are the Colorado-based Englewood Supermodified Association (ESA), which puts on five races at two tracks, and the Midwest Supermodified Association (MSA), sanctioning 11 races in Ohio and Michigan.
The Most Outrageous Race Car
Not only is ISMA the biggest sanction, but it is also the home of the baddest of the bad. An ISMA Supermodified is unlike any other race car in the country. The first thing you'll notice about it is the wing. It resembles a Sprint car wing, with 24 square feet of surface area and multiple foils across the back. But any similarities to Sprinters end when the cars hit the track. The wing moves as the car is in motion. It lies flat when the car runs down the straightaway and then pops back up when the car races through the turns.
In these photos, we see the wing is at a high angle of attack entering the turns and lying
"It lets you get down the straightaway a lot faster," says veteran Supermodified racer Joey Payne, aka The Jersey Jet. "When you decelerate going into the corner, that's when it shoots back up. A lot of people think we have a control inside the car. That's the number-one question asked: 'How do you control that wing?"
Like everything on a Super, the wing is all about speed-drag reduction on the straights, increased traction in the turns. How the wing accomplishes this is painfully simple. A Super's wing is mounted onto air shocks that are bolted directly to the rear suspension, not the frame. There is a single air-filled cylinder that controls the amount of pressure inside the shocks.
The amount of pressure controls the wing's distance of travel. The higher straightaway speeds cause more downforce, which compresses the shocks to lower the wing. Then, as the car slows going into the turns, the gas pressure pushes the rear of the wing back up.
"On a high-speed track like Thompson, we'll put around 150 pounds of air pressure in the cylinder. The goal is to have the wing come down just over center. That picks the back of the car up, taking all the drag off of the car," continues Payne.
In these photos, we see the wing is at a high angle of attack entering the turns and lying
Other than the monster wing on top, the most noticeable feature of a Supermodified is the engine placement. Hanging precariously on the left side of the car is a fuel-injected, methanol-burning 470ci Chevy big-block. These motors feature intake stacks that can be raised or lowered to fine-tune torque. Taller stacks equal more torque. On a short track, teams will run the taller stacks to gain more torque and better drive off the corners. The stacks will be lowered on bigger tracks, reducing torque and gaining straightaway speed.
With the engine offset so far to the inside, a Super can carry up to 67 percent of its total weight on the left side of the car. All the weight on the inside greatly increases the cornering speed and handling capabilities of the Super.
With a compression ratio of 17:1, a Supermodified engine will easily make over 800 hp. All of those ponies bolted onto a 1,850-pound race car add up to an insane power-to-weight ratio. In fact, when the West Coast Super contingent ran at Phoenix International Raceway several years ago, the four fastest Supers would have easily qualified for the IRL race being held the same weekend.
Getting all that power to the pavement can be a tricky proposition. The solution lies within innovative suspensions and four different-sized tires. The right-rear tire is the largest at a hefty 18 inches wide, while the left front is the smallest at 13 inches. The right front and left rear are both 14 inches wide, but the left rear has a bigger circumference. Using different-sized tires on all four corners increases the amount of cornering traction and handling.
The air shock controls the attitude of the wing. As downforce increases with speed, the sh
Tire stagger also plays an important role in the Super's performance. Depending on the track, teams will run anywhere from 2.5 inches of stagger all the way up to 7 inches. In a 1998 race at Sandusky, the paper-clip-shaped 51/48-mile Ohio oval, Payne used a combination of tire stagger and crossweight to reduce his lap times. He increased the rear-tire stagger to 6.5 inches. To compensate for the big stagger, he increased the crossweight by 4 percent to help load the left rear. He made the car turn with the stagger and made it drive off the corner with the crossweight. The result was a big win for the Fairlawn, New Jersey, driver.
Super Chassis Design
While fire-breathing big-blocks, moving wings, and big stagger are all part of Super racing, the true nerve center of the car is the chassis and suspension combination. There are literally dozens of different suspension combinations in ISMA racing. From torsion bar cars, to coil cars, to pushrod cars, if somebody can dream it up, you'll probably find it in the ISMA pits.
Payne's '06 car features a pushrod suspension with inboard-mounted coilover shocks. Designed to be user friendly, Shadow Racing Products built the bell cranks with proprietary motion ratios and shock valving to allow Payne to use a more standard spring rate ranging from 325 to 425 pounds. Other cars using a pushrod suspension may require spring rates of up to 1,600 pounds if the motion ratios are not properly calibrated. Of course, the motion ratio is the key and a closely guarded secret. "If I told you the numbers, I would have to bury you out back," said Bob DuBois, owner of Shadow.
In 2005, Payne's brother, Johnny, raced a torsion bar car in ISMA. Bar cars have the spring base next to the wheel, while the main rear bar goes directly underneath the 45-gallon fuel tank. With the wider spring base and the extra fuel tank support from the torsion bar support tube, a torsion bar car tends to be more stable and more forgiving to drive than other cars. But that comfort comes with a price-it is also heavier. The solid bars add 18 pounds to each corner. That's a lot of weight. And in today's world of Supermodified racing, that's also a problem. "The name of the game nowadays is you've got to be light. If you're not light, you're not going to win. Fortunately, the rules let you add weight where you need it," says Payne.
Nokie Fornoro wheels the Soule Racing Super through the corner at Oswego. The offset engin
Most Supermodified sanctioning bodies don't allow bolt-on weights, but they do allow freedom of weight placement. That means weight placement and its adjustability has to be built into the race car, making the design stage the most important step in building a Super.
If you don't want to deal with motion ratios in bell cranks and heavier torsion bars, another option is the coil car. These designs have the spring base set in against the frame. While the coil car is lighter on the corners, the downside shows up on the racetrack when the car gets loose. They tend to be harder to gather up once they get loose, whereas a torsion bar car will snap back in line quicker. To gain the best of both worlds, some teams have gone to a combination torsion bar in the rear and coilover in the front.
The wide variety of suspension designs is a testament to the creativity of the Supermodified teams. The best design is largely a matter of opinion and driver preference. Guys are winning with all three designs and more. "Torsion bars, coil cars, pushrod suspensions, some of the stuff you see is really off the wall," says Midget legend and winning ISMA driver Nokie Fornoro. "But it's all about weight on the wheel."
This photo shows the pushrod suspension of Joey Payne's '06 car. You can also see the moun
The simplicity of the ISMA's rule book lends to the creative engineering of the Supers. It looks like a memo pad compared to the phone book of NASCAR. ISMA rules govern the width, length, total weight, and offset weight of the cars. Beyond that, the car's design is limited only by a team's imagination.
Get In, Sit Down, Shut Up, And Hold On
The process of getting into a Super is as unique as the car itself. Squeeze into the cockpit feet first through the top of the rollcage, taking care not to smack your head on the wing. Tucked snugly into the driver's seat, you quickly realize that you're nearly lying flat. Your head is a mere 24 inches above the ground, and you can barely see the left-front tire because of the intake stacks on the engine that sit just in front of your left thigh.
Once you're in the Super and it's go time, getting rolling takes a little help. These direct drive cars do not have transmissions, so they have to be pushed to be started. Plus, you have to bump the engine back to get all the fuel out of the cylinders. Once you've got that taken care of, the process is pretty simple. "Lock it in gear, then the push truck will come up behind you. You put the ignition switch on and he starts pushing you," describes Payne. "Make sure you've got your oil pressure up. Hit the switch and that's it; the fire starts."
The g-force these cars create is something straight out of Top Gun. "We go to some racetracks where the top of your head is trying to get sucked off of your body because of the vacuum that the wings create," says 22-year-old Kyle "The Smile" Carpenter, who drives the Lane Racing No. 9 Super. "On racetracks like Sandusky Speedway, when you step on the brakes you feel like you're going to go through the windshield area. You get down into the corners and the g-forces just try to rip you out of the race car."
Super teams get creative in all aspects of the car's design. Here, they inverted the heade
The Tracks And The Stars
Even though you can find these race cars across the country, the acknowledged hotbed of Supermodified racing is the Northeast. Tracks such as Oswego Speedway in New York, Thompson Speedway in Connecticut, Lee USA Speedway in New Hampshire, and Jennerstown Speedway in Pennsylvania all host Supermodified events under the ISMA sanction.
Supermodified racing is full of colorful personalities. Walk the pits at an ISMA event and you can meet The Jersey Jet Joey Payne, Kyle "The Smile" Carpenter, Liquid Lou Cicconi, and two-time ISMA Champ, Chris Perley The Rowley Rocket with his trademark floppy hat.
While Perley, runner-up for the 2005 ISMA title, is the man to beat in 2006, a third championship is not guaranteed. Longtime ISMA powerhouse Dunigan Racing parked their cars for 2006, leaving reigning champion Pat Abold searching for a ride, and their head wrench Brian Allegresso is now the man behind Liquid Lou's effort. Adding Allegresso, the Ray Evernham of Supermodifieds, makes Cicconi an instant contender.
Perley will also have to fend off the guy who finished Third in the points last year, Fornoro. Fornoro is on a two-year win streak. If that wasn't enough, guys like Mike Lichty, Kyle the Smile, Mark Sammut, and Dave McKnight will all be nipping at Perley's bumper.
"The competition is so close, it's impossible to predict a champion," says Cicconi. "Any of these guys can win it."
Ironically, Supermodifieds have been around for decades; however, there are fewer than 100 full-time teams racing today. But don't think they're a dying breed. Supermodified racing is alive and well, at least under ISMA's umbrella. It seems that everywhere the Supers go, the fans follow.
Last year during their stop at Lee USA Speedway, promoters had to hold up the start of the heat races because fans were still filing into the grandstands. By the time the line dissipated, Lee's 5,500 seats were full. They were all there to see the Supers. That's a good sign for the struggling short-track owner, if you can get the Supers to come. "We actually said no to at least five or six speedways," said ISMA President Howie Lane. "Only because we didn't have the dates." With that kind of demand, the future for Supermodified racing is a bright one.
If the sanctions and their teams can work together to generate more publicity and maybe a little television coverage, the most outrageous racing on the planet won't be the best kept secret in motorsports for much longer.
Supermodified racing isn't just a northeastern phenomenon. For years, guys like Davey Hamilton and the members of the legendary Vukovich family pounded the pavement at short tracks on the West Coast in the Supermodified Racing League (SRL). Midway through their '05 season, SRL owner Davey Hamilton sold the league to driver Rick Cameron, who finished Fifth in the '05 points. Cameron renamed it Western States Supermodified Racing League, or WSSRL, and looked to take the series to the next level. "I wanted to grow those [West Coast] markets, particularly Southern California, which is the largest automotive enthusiast market in the world," said Cameron.
Young guns Kyle "The Smile" Carpenter and Bobby Santos III share a smile. Both are expecte
While they look similar, WSSRL Supers are different from the ISMA Supers. The biggest difference is the motor. WSSRL cars run small-block engines up to 350 ci and, at most tracks, they are required to run mufflers. Even so, the fuel-injected motors deliver over 800 hp and 700 ft-lb of torque running on methanol. The engines are all aluminum, with no one on the West Coast running the cast-iron blocks found in the east.
Unlike an East Coast Super, West Coast Supers feature fully adjustable suspensions, which can be controlled by the driver during the race. The fuel, shock bias, and crossweight can be adjusted on the fly. A WSSRL car also has a smaller fixed wing as opposed to the movable monster found in ISMA. The WSSRL wing can be adjusted horizontally; move it forward to loosen the car and backward to get it tighter. Those adjustments have to be made in the pits.
Like ISMA and most other forms of motorsports, WSSRL faces a slew of challenges, including rising fuel costs, keeping car counts up, and maximizing purse structures. In almost every case, the solution to these problems is through sponsorship, and Cameron is taking his bid to attract sponsors to the airwaves.
The WSSRL has teamed up with a producer from the hit Speed show Pinks to craft a pilot for the cable network. The show will follow the building of a Super from start to finish, culminating in an actual race. Cameron's hope is that this exposure can translate into better coverage for his league. "We want to draw a parallel line of how Supermodified racing is old school, build it, then run it. We're hoping that the pilot will give us the exposure to get Speed to pick up six or eight of our races."
By turning up the publicity through television, Cameron hopes to attract sponsor dollars that will help him achieve his vision. Five years down the road, he wants to be sanctioning 16-18 races in a season running from March through November. The primary season will be bolstered by a winter heat series held at a track such as Tucson Raceway Park. He envisions a field of 28-30 cars with quasi-spec chassis and spec motors racing for purses in the $35,000 range.
While spec'ing chassis and engines goes against Supermodified philosophy, Cameron feels it may be necessary. "The excitement of Supermodified racing is that the modifications are pretty open. The downside of it is because they are, [the spending] can be crazy. So we're working on modifying some things where we can contain the costs, because they're getting out of control." Lowering costs and raising income, Cameron's plans for the WSSRL are ambitious, but it is that type of drive and innovation that has kept all of the Supermodifieds on the track and not in the garage. CT