Since 1996 the United Speed Alliance Racing organization has sanctioned its ProCup series for steel-bodied stock cars. Sponsored by Hooters restaurants, the series races exclusively on short tracks primarily on the East Coast. Thanks to a commitment to keeping racers' costs under control and a minimum winner's payout of $10,000 per race, the series has been so successful that last year USAR split the competition into two divisions: North and South. Unique to the USAR is its championship series, five races at the end of the season where the top competitors in the two divisions come together to slug it out for supremacy. Want to know more about this up-and-coming series? USAR Competition Director Fritz Augustine has all the details.

Circle Track : First off, what is a USAR ProCup car like?

Fritz Augustine: Most of these cars started out being old Busch cars. In fact, when NASCAR dropped the old Sportsman Series in '95, the next year we picked up the Sportsman cars. All of the cars when we started were old Sportsman cars, which were just old Busch or Cup cars.

Today, I'd say that 60 to 70 percent of the cars are purpose-built cars, and the other 30 are old Busch cars. We did have some people running old Cup cars, but the bigger, 110-inch wheelbase just doesn't seem to run as well on the short tracks, and nobody's running them right now.

The NASCAR stuff is pretty safe, too, so we aren't trying to reinvent the wheel there. Take for example the way our frame and rollbar requirements were written; you can look in the NASCAR rule book and see I plagiarized it. We don't require a couple of the bars like the Earnhardt bar and the Petty bar, but otherwise it's pretty much the same as NASCAR's. It's been around long enough to get it right. Since so many cars are old Busch cars, we also use the same templates as the Busch Series too. We don't use all of them, but the ones we do use are the same.

CT: What about the engines and running gear?

FA: We run a steel-headed engine that puts out between 560 and 570hp. There are slight differences between the Ford and Chevy engines to keep the output the same, but it's mostly a difference in combustion chamber size. We require our engines to run a 50-pound steel crankshaft, a standard Edelbrock intake, and 600-cfm carburetors. Absolutely no head porting. You can put a three-angle valve job in the heads, but no marks of any kind--not from any kind of cutter or anything else--can be below the top of the valve guide. We think that really helps save the racers some money and keeps the competition even.

As far as the rest of the car goes, racers are allowed to run either a wet- or dry-sump oiling system. They are also allowed their pick between a quick-change rear end or a nine-inch, but they have to use a Detroit Locker-style locker.

CT: What else should potential racers know about the mechanics of the cars?

FA: Goodyear builds us our own tires, and they are hard. When we switched from sanctioning Late Model races to the steel-bodied cars, the tires were too soft. The grip was good but they wore out too quickly on the heavier cars. Goodyear is one of our sponsors, and we asked it to make us a harder tire. The tires we have now are hard--they will throw sparks--but they throw sparks for everybody just alike and they don't wear out.

For most races we allow only eight tires: four on the car to start the race and four in the pits--use them however you want. Cars have to make one pit stop during the race. They are bias-ply and $125 apiece, $500 a set. To try to discourage people from doctoring the tires we require racers to buy their tires at the track, and you can't get them until just before it's time to hit the track.

CT: Speaking of money, give us an idea of what it costs to race in the Hooters ProCup Series.

FA: The biggest outlay is for the engine. Engines are $28,000; that's a jam-up engine that will run with everybody else. Just like the tires, we try to spec engine rules that will help them last. Cars are all over the place, depending on if you buy a car from a Busch Series team, have your own ProCup car built or buy a used car from a team that is already racing.

Overall, it's a very economical series. Many of our guys say they are racing in the Hooters ProCup Series for less than they were spending on their Late Models. I've been told by a couple of guys who run up front, that if you've got everything--your hauler, your car, and engine hardware--it costs about $4,000 a race. That's tires, motels, eats, and all the other expenses that come with a race team traveling to an event. So for a 20-race series, that's 80 grand. I don't think that includes engine freshening, repairing wreck damage and stuff like that--just what it costs from the time a race team leaves the shop until it returns.

CT: What does the typical race pay to win?

FA: Races are a minimum $10,000 to win, and the total purse is often over $100,000. It's enough that we get plenty of cars. The five championship races at the end of the season can potentially pay a lot more, between $25,000 and $100,000, if a driver can win multiple races.

CT: Any changes for the new season?

FA: We are going with a lower minimum weight on the cars. It has been 3,350 (pounds) total including driver, and 1,520 on the right side minimum. Now it's 3,300 total and 1,510 on the right side. Just lowering it 50 pounds may not sound like much, but most of the owners and drivers I talked to felt they could lose 50 pounds and still make their percentages. If you take 50 pounds off it will be a little easier on the brakes and a little easier on the tires. It may even make the cars a hair quicker, but to me that doesn't make a lot of difference. As long as the cars are even it's hard to tell if they are going 100 or 105 (mph). As long as we keep them even I'm not really interested in going faster.

CT: You have mentioned several times doing things to save the competitors money. One thing the USAR does to save its participants money that seems like a good idea is to hold events in just one day. Can you describe the process of getting everybody in and out in one day when it takes many touring series at least two days?

FA: Completely hosting an event in just one day is tough, but we think it's worth it because our racers aren't millionaires. We try to help them all we can, and they put on a good show for our fans.

We'll open the gates at 8 a.m. Tech inspection begins at 8:30, and we'll have a crew chief's meeting at 9 followed by a safety meeting at 10:30. Practice starts at 11 and closes at 2 p.m. When practice is over we'll have a driver's meeting at 2:30. Qualifying tires are released to the teams at 3. Qualifying tech opens at 3:30, and qualifying starts sharply at 5. We hold an autograph session for fans at 6, begin pre-race ceremonies at 6:20 and run at 7 or 7:30. Races are usually run in two hours to two hours and 20 minutes.

If we are anything, it's on time. It's been said that I'm a SOB toward my clock. That's true. I'm sorry, but some little old lady comes to the track to watch a race at 7:30, then at 7:30 she had better see some action on the track. That's also why we have a long practice at three hours. If we have a long down period, maybe a crash or a liquid spill or something, if it takes a half hour before we can get the cars back on the track, then the practice session that day is only two hours and 30 minutes. Regardless, when practice is over at 2, practice is over.

CT: For a driver looking to race in the ProCup Series, give us an idea what the level of competition is like.

FA: Most of the competitors came from Late Models. A couple came from Busch North and a couple are former Modified drivers. If you look across the list of drivers, there's probably 100 track championships spread among them.

CT: What are the requirements for new drivers?

FA: You have to be at least 16 years old to race. There's no formal track test, but we will watch him to make sure he's competent behind the wheel. Really, all we are looking for is if the driver is using good judgement. Normally, we'll ask an experienced driver to go out and see if he can run with him. Does it bother him to have another car run up close? Most of the time the new guy will never know we're watching.

Where most new drivers have trouble is with the heavier car. He's normally going from a 2,750 (pound) Late Model to a 3,300 Cup car and doesn't have the pure acceleration he's used to because of the power-to-weight ratio. Also, you can't drive out of a problem as easily as you can in a car with a lower weight. Making the transition from a Late Model or a Modified to a ProCup car isn't difficult; the driver just has to be mindful of what he's driving and use a racer's good judgement.