The Late Model division always delivers mud-slinging action. At Boone Speedway, Lonnie Bai
In addition to thwarting the grudge factor, the exchange rule has led racers to take a different approach to building motors.
"With this new exchange rule versus a pure claim, we have seen guys spend more money on their motor, not so much for horsepower but more for dependability," says Dave Johnson, co-owner of Iowa-based engine builder JR Motorsports, one of the leading suppliers of motors and parts to IMCA racers.
A typical alcohol-fueled 355 Modified engine can make over 500 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque. With all that torque running through stock lower end components, part failure is a real possibility. By upgrading those components, motors last longer. Though you spend more money, you save money in the long run.
The new exchange rule is an example of how the Roots keep costs in check while bettering the sport through minor tweaks to their system. Since there have been only small changes to the IMCA rule book over the past decade, racers know what to expect year in and year out, regardless of the division. That means they can run the same car and engine for multiple seasons, freshening it each winter and keeping costs down.
"I wouldn't be standing here talking to you if I weren't able to go race with a $6,000 race car and win a championship," says Edwards as he munches pretzels in the back of his Nextel Cup transporter. "If there aren't series like IMCA that are competitive, respected, and inexpensive, there won't be guys coming up."
IMCA has crafted a rules package that plays well at tracks around the country-too well in some cases. In addition to its 130 sanctioned tracks, there are many more around the nation that have pirated the IMCA rules package. "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but flattery does not pay our bills," says Brett.
It's a problem that the management of IMCA deals with on a daily basis. When a non-sanctioned promoter runs a race using IMCA rules, IMCA and its membership base do not yield any income. Compounding the problem, sanctioned tracks question why they must pay to run the rules package when the promoter up the street does not. It's a difficult situation to police, so IMCA concentrates on adding value to its membership base.
"Our primary goals are to focus on increasing service to our racetracks and benefits to our racers," says Kathy. That commitment has strengthened relationships and enabled IMCA to continue to grow in the face of competition.
Running a sanctioning body over such a wide geographic area presents its own set of challenges. However, there are several that are on the forefront of the Roots' minds. Staying on top of new technology coming through the parts suppliers and keeping up with what the racers are trying to do with their cars are two of the biggest. Both can escalate the cost of racing in the blink of an eye.
"It's a double-edged sword," says Brett. "We want the divisions to be big and popular, but we want to keep them cost-effective. We are, after all, a weekly sanctioning body."
IMCA Sprint Car division action showing eventual winner Scott Winters (No. R19) racing wit
Aside from the technological challenges, another enemy is looming on the horizon.
IMCA rules stipulate the use of many OE components such as frames, blocks, cylinder heads, and suspensions. As time marches on, those components are getting more and more scarce. While IMCA can spec aftermarket cylinder heads and suspension parts to replace the OE ones, the frame and motor situations are more complex.
One of the most popular frames for an IMCA Modified is the late '60s Chevelle. "We're getting close to the breaking point for that frame," says Brett. "But my opinion is that we aren't forcing anybody to build on any one frame."
Brett is right. The legal year range for frames in four of IMCA's eight divisions runs from 1964 all the way up to the current model year. That's a big range, big enough for now.
Johnny "The Jet" Saathoff shuns the popular Chevelle frame for one from a '77 Impala. "They're strong, durable, and plentiful. If guys want to continue spending $400-$500 for a frame, that's just fine with me. I'll spend my 100 bucks," says The Jet.
Another great alternative to the Chevelle is the '77 to '87 Ford LTD. Like the Impala, it is strong and durable, and there are a lot of them around. Ironically, IMCA based its first SportMod on this frame, but competitor acceptance has been slow.
"Until somebody comes out and starts winning with it, nobody is going to use it," says Saathoff.For the record, Saathoff has been winning with that Impala frame and is currently Second in the national points standings.
Perhaps the most complex supply issue facing IMCA is block availability. According to JR Motorsports, one of the most popular blocks for IMCA competition is the 350 four-bolt. "The early '70s to the late '70s is where the majority of the blocks have to come from. You get into the '80s and the blocks get lighter. They don't work as well for this high-performance application," explains Dave Johnson.
IMCA inspections are serious business. Here, Garry Stube is getting the twice-over after q
The skyrocketing price of steel isn't helping matters. Salvage yards, a major source for frames and blocks, are no longer piecing out cars. They're crushing them as a matter of pure economics. "Why would a yard tear a motor apart or tear a body off a frame to get a few hundred dollars when they can just crush it and make more money?" questions Johnson.
When block availability gets to the critical stage, IMCA will have essentially three options: legalize the more expensive aftermarket blocks on the market; persuade a domestic manufacturer to invest in the castings for a stock block; or have cheaper blocks made overseas. It is an issue that will eventually have to be addressed.
The solution to the frame issue is more straightforward. IMCA could specify a handful of manufacturers to reproduce the more popular frames once all the OE alternatives are exhausted. It's something Brett says he wouldn't rule out.
That approach also would provide a source for the GM metric chassis used in IMCA's Southern SportMod division. While not as endangered as the Chevelle, most of those chassis are more than 20 years old and are used for racing beyond IMCA.
Regardless of the potential supply issues of motors and frames, IMCA racing is on the upswing. Its membership has risen 5 percent in just the last year alone, and its suppliers are seeing an increase in new customers.
"We're getting an average of 200 requests for catalogs per week," says Johnson. "I'm amazed at the number of new customers this far into the season. There appears to be a lot of new activity."
With their dedication to cost control and focus on the tracks and racers, the Roots have carefully crafted a winning formula for dirt track racing. That formula gives drivers the chance to hone their talent and move up the racing ladder without breaking the bank. And when they conquer the Modified, there's no telling how far they could go.
"There's a lot of really great race car drivers driving those Modifieds," says Edwards, "guys that could run Nextel Cup."