Affordability and competitiveness do not always go hand in hand in racing circles. As any Saturday-night racer knows, more money usually means more wins. Most modern racing sanctioning bodies try to curb spending with rules and regulations designed to eliminate unfair advantages gained by simply having a fatter wallet. All too often, however, when we see sanctioning bodies grow and expand, we also see costs spiral out of control and become either dominated by those with big budgets or simply too expensive for hobby racers to compete. Thankfully, those growing pains have mostly eluded the International Motor Contest Association (I.M.C.A.) without sacrificing seriously competitive and exciting racing.
In the Beginning
Back in 1915, a former sportswriter named J. Alex Sloan established what is now the oldest active automobile racing sanctioning body in the United States: I.M.C.A. Along with partner William Pickens, Sloan staged races featuring some of the era's greatest drivers. I.M.C.A. Late Model- and Sprint Car-sanctioned races held at county, state, and regional fair venues across the United States quickly rose to great popularity with race fans and hobby drivers alike.
Keith Knaack, then editor of Hawkeye Racing News, purchased I.M.C.A. in the '70s and helped introduce the new Modified division. Knaack's aim was to create a class that was economical enough for the Saturday-night racer to compete while still having a legitimate chance of winning. An engine claim was introduced with the idea of keeping each car in the division as evenly matched as possible. The engine claim is still in use today.
"To put it simply, anyone who is competing in the feature and is competitive at the end of the race has as an opportunity to claim any of the top-four motors for $325," explains Kathy Root, president of I.M.C.A. "That basically is the rule that has kept engine costs in line as much as possible."
I.M.C.A. is not a series but an organization that sanctions weekly racing throughout the country in about 30 states with roughly 225 sanctions. I.M.C.A.-sanctioned events are mostly run on dirt tracks, but there are several paved tracks that stage I.M.C.A. races.
"We sanction the weekly racing programs at tracks throughout the country," says Root. "So every Saturday night at these local tracks, there will be I.M.C.A. Modifieds, Stock cars, Hobby Stocks, and others. And then we, in turn, administer the point fund, pay out a point fund to the top-20 drivers at that particular racetrack every year, and designate that track's champion. Those I.M.C.A. drivers, at the same time, are competing for regional and national points. We also have a points system that awards the driver with the most points, in each of our seven regions, a championship, then the national champion is determined through a points system as well."
The I.M.C.A. points season runs from January 1 through the last Sunday in September (the Late Model season runs from April to August), and the five divisions-Modifieds, Late Models, Sprint Cars, Stock cars, and Hobby Stocks-race for their respective championships.
I.M.C.A.'s top division is the Modified. Beginning in 1979, the open-wheel Stock cars have become the "calling card of I.M.C.A.," and race in front of literally millions of spectators each year. The Modifieds have established a reputation for intense competitiveness that keeps race fans coming back for more.
The Late Models feature some of I.M.C.A.'s top driving talents competing in weekly events. I.M.C.A. established a plan to keep Late Model racing alive by introducing a spec engine for Late Models in 1997. The program proved successful and, with the recent addition of six new tracks, Late Model racing is thriving in I.M.C.A.