Tracey Hines slinging mud in his Sprint Car. Photo by Larry Kellogg
The cars were initially met with skepticism, which is evident when you watch them race. The final race of the season at Kansas saw just 13 cars take the green flag. Still, if they can get the car counts up, the Silver Crowns have the goods to put on a great show.
The cost of a new Silver Crown race car can run as much as $80,000 for a pavement car and a little less for a dirt one. While that is a lot of bread, the Silver Crown series is a premiere league where a championship often means a shot at the lucrative world of NASCAR. Previous Silver Crown champs who have hit the big time along with Stewart include Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, and J.J. Yeley.
Ironically, the little cousin of the Silver Crown cars, the Sprint Car, sports more horsepower (800) and a lighter weight (1,200 pounds). That adds up to an even gnarlier monster. Like the Silver Crown cars, Sprints run on pavement and dirt. However, unlike the Silver Crowns, the cars are hard to tell apart.
Matt Westfall wheels his Midget through a turn at Eldora. Photo by Larry Kellogg
In most areas of the country, these babies are powered by 410ci V-8 engines with aluminum blocks and cylinder heads. However, the USAC Western States Sprint Cars have a maximum of 360 ci. All the motors use fuel injection and methanol.
A typical Sprint Car costs between $50,000 and $60,000. Most teams have separate cars for pavement and dirt tracks, although you can run the series using just one.
Two and a half pounds per horsepower-now that is a power to weight ratio any motorhead could appreciate. Now check this out: If you are 5 feet, 10 inches tall (the average height for an adult male), then you are as tall as the wheelbase on a USAC Midget. According to the rules, the wheelbase must be 66 to 76 inches, giving a fair amount of latitude to car designs.
More latitude is found in the engine rules, which is terrific if you're the creative type. USAC Midget motors must be normally aspirated, internal combustion, four-cycle, piston type engines with a maximum of six cylinders. All engines are fuel injected and burn straight methanol. From there the sky's the limit. Have at it.
Only 4 years old, the Ford Focus Midget is USAC's wildly popular entry-level series. Photo
Midget racing dates back to the '30s. In terms of the basic concept (slam as much power as you can into a teeny frame), little has changed. While they are designed for and race on oval tracks that are 1/2 mile and smaller in length, a USAC Midget can achieve over 150 mph on a 1-mile track thanks to a motor that produces 325 to 350 hp and a minimum weight of 900 pounds.
Although cheaper than a Sprint Car, a competitive Midget will still run you $40,000 to $60,000 without bells and whistles. Like the Silver Crown cars, the Midget alumni list reads like a who's who in motorsports: Gordon, Stewart, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Johnny Rutherford, Parnelli Jones, and Mel Kenyon.
Only 4 years old, the Ford Focus Midgets are perhaps USAC's most successful series. Of the 250 feature races USAC sanctioned in 2006, just over 100 of them where Ford Focus Midget events. The reason is simple-cost, or lack thereof. A competitive race-ready Ford Focus Midget will run you about $26,000. A brand-new complete engine alone is $8,995, while a rebuilt one will cost you a mere $3,995.
"It's a great incubator series," says Helmling.
USAC is known for producing some great racing action. Photo by Larry Kellogg
As you might guess, the cars get their name because they use the same motor found in the Ford Focus. The guts of the four-banger are no different from those running down the highway. But make no mistake: These engines get the job done, putting out 180 hp. All Focus motors come from S.C.R.E.A.M. (in California). They begin life as cast-iron blocks straight from FoMoCo. S.C.R.E.A.M. adds a traditional Hilborne-style fuel injection system, crank trigger, and a clutch with a starter, so these little gems are completely self-sufficient. As spec motors, the only things that competitors are allowed to maintain and calibrate are the fuel, ignition, and lubrication systems.
When partnering with Ford to create the motor, USAC wasgunning for a powerplant that would require rebuilding only once a year. They got more than they were expecting. "The motor is more durable than anyone expected," says Helmling. "We haveteams running multiple seasons without rebuilding."
Talk about cost control. Unlike other USAC series, the rules package of the Ford Focus Midgets make it necessary to run the same car whether you race on dirt or asphalt.