In keeping with our goal at CT to monitor, evaluate, report on, and help direct the future of circle track racing, we offer an opinion that just might change the way we view our future. This comes directly from my longtime friend and industry insider, Brian Butler. He has been involved with circle track race teams for many years and is considered one of the leaders in the evolution of safety in racing.
We spoke at the PRI show in Orlando recently and he presented an opinion, which I totally agree with, that oval track racing has lost an entire generation of drivers, mechanics, and even fans. The reason is simple, automotive technology has passed us by and circle track technology remains mired in 20- and 30-year-old ways that no longer interest the younger generation.
Fuel injection in American production cars was first introduced in 1975 and by the late 1980s, most street cars were inducted by fuel injection and computerized control units to regulate engine functions. Yet, today we don't have widespread use of FI in circle track cars except for the compact street car classes.
A solution offered by Brian was to introduce a more appropriate engine package that would excite the younger generation and serve to bring more enthusiasts into our sport. When this idea was posed to many of these youngsters, the overwhelming answer was, "Yes, we would love to participate in that kind of racing."
The solution, presented by Brian, might be to develop an engine package that would be available from many different manufacturers such as Ford, Chevy, Chrysler, Honda, Toyota, and more that would meet certain size, and induction criteria. The engine would be a four-cylinder, overhead cam, turbo-charged, fuel-injected motor running on E85 fuel.
The engine's computer, or ECU (electronic control unit), would be entirely tunable by the racers by just plugging it into a laptop computer. The engines should last a couple of years before needing a rebuild due to the lower compression, milder cam, and other less radical engine parameters that would be used in the package. A turbocharger could do the work of providing the performance necessary for racing.
The chassis platform would be a tube framed race car, similar, or identical, to the current Late Models according to Brian's thinking. That way the racer would have an opportunity to get involved with chassis tuning as well as engine tuning.
It was at this point in our conversation that I interjected my previously developed plan for the entry, advancement, and education of new racers. Some years ago I devised a plan whereby a combination of three classes would be created where a single chassis could be used for three levels of competition.
In the first level, or entry-level, the engine would be the above mentioned four cylinder FI motor, producing around 300-325 hp and running E85 fuel with 8-inch racing tires and a higher weight than the next two classes.
The midlevel of the three classes would be powered by a crate, or spec-type V-8 motor with around 425 hp, be fuel injected and with a tunable ECU, run hard 10-inch-wide racing tires and less weight. This class would be a step up from the entry-level, provide more speed, more power, and all with the same chassis and body configuration.
Then at some point in the driver's and crew's development, they would graduate to the upper, Super Late Model class where the specified FI V-8 engine would be built to produce 600-plus hp, the weight would be reduced, and the teams would be allowed to run softer race tires for the ultimate performance on a short track.
The way to implement this plan sooner and in a more widespread manner would be to utilize the entry-level engine package first. We could allow the teams to use current chassis designs so that all a team would have to do would be to purchase the engine package, install it, tune it, and go racing. Brian has spoken with representatives of several of the manufacturers mentioned previously and has received a very positive reaction.