Racing to win in dirt Late...
Racing to win in dirt Late Model racing means pushing yourself and your equipment to its limits. If you arent willing to sacrifice some bent sheetmetal occasionally, maybe this isnt the place for you.
UDTRA President Mike Swims...
UDTRA President Mike Swims has built his Pro DirtCar series into one of the most popular forms of dirt racing in the country.
One of the big draws for the...
One of the big draws for the UDTRA is it allows local racers the chance to test their skills against the big stars, like Scott Bloomquist, when the traveling series comes to town.
With their slab sides and...
With their slab sides and open rear ends, dirt Late Models are a far cry from anything you see on the street, but they are economical, recognizable and fast as sin. Swims, for one, would hate to see that change.
The United Dirt Track Racing Associations (UDTRA) Pro DirtCar series is the most successful dirt Late Model touring series in the nation. A big reason for the success is the cars the touring pros field are technically no different than what the local hotshoes are driving every week. In fact, a big part of the draw when the series comes to town is local racers get to test their mettle against some of the biggest names in dirt racing. Think you have what it takes to go full time? UDTRA President Mike Swims has the answers.
Circle Track : You have raced all of 2002 without a title sponsor after losing Hav-A-Tampa. How has the search for a new sponsor progressed, and has it affected the action on the track?
Mike Swims: We started working on a new sponsor the day after Hav-A-Tampa told us it wasnt going to continue in motorsports because of its corporate buyout. Every day its a work in progress. Weve had ongoing conversations with a number of companies. We feel a new title sponsor is coming but, obviously, its going to be 2003 before that happens. Now that we are back on television with a new TV package, that really helps.
As far as action on the track, from the perspective of both the fans and the competitors: No, it hasnt changed a thing.
CT: How is the new television package shaking out?
Swims: We started working on the 2003 television package right after the 02 season kicked off. Television is always a work in progress. Its all about pay to play now. You have to buy the time from the networks, you have to produce the show yourself, and youve got to deliver them the package.
Our whole philosophy of growth is based on television exposure. We dont feel its possible to grow the series at the rate it needs to grow without it. Television exposure is not only good for the UDTRA as a sanctioning body, but it also lets our drivers be seen by more people and gives them leverage when trying to gain sponsorship, and its good for our fans. Most fans of our racing cant follow the series to every track we go to, but they can watch it on TV.
Unfortunately, it isnt cheap or easy. Its forced us to evolve a new company inside the UDTRA. Theres the UDTRA that sanctions and runs races, and then theres this television army UDTRA thats another company trying to serve another market. But the one helps the other, so were continuously trying to improve our package both from the stands and on television.
CT: How does a UDTRA Pro DirtCar differ from the dirt Late Models running at local tracks across the country?
Swims: Not much. Most of our race cars have all-aluminum motors. Depending on the track rules, local guys either run aluminum motors or are restricted to iron blocks and heads. As far as that stacks up, the aluminum motors our guys are running probably have a 100-hp advantage over the iron motors. Yeah, the guys running iron motors have a little bit of a weight break, but I couldnt sit here and tell a guy he would be competitive with that motor.
The rest of the car is the same. The chassis is the same, the body is the same. Weve kind of been at the forefront of standardizing our rules all across the country, and there are very few places we go where the local cars dont fit our body rules. Most everybody running Late Models has adopted our chassis and body rules, and I think having one consistent set of rules makes it better for everybody.
Swims: I think weve got a good set of rules. Having a common car all across the country is an advantage for our sport. I said for years the advantage I saw with sprint cars was if you were running a sprint car that was legal in Pennsylvania, it was probably legal in California. A sprint car was a sprint car just about everywhere in the country. As far as the competitors are concerned, thats a huge advantage.
I think weve finally got that with dirt Late Models. The motors still vary from place to place, but as far as the basic car, the dirt Late Model is a dirt Late Model just about everywhere.
CT: One change youve made this season is to eliminate the weight break for the small motors. Why?
Swims: Weve just got one weight rule now that doesnt discriminate between a larger motor and a smaller motor. Motor choice now has really come down to personal choice. The smaller motors, the 362s, make so much horsepower and respond so quickly that at many tracks they are an advantage. When we go to the big tracks with the sweeping turns you need a big 415, but at many of the tracks, when they get dry and slick the 362 is actually quicker.
There are pros and cons to both the motors, but after talking with many of our racers and track promoters we realized it really just came down to driver preference, what their style is, how the car was set up, things like that. We felt like we were driving ourselves nuts trying to police a 50-pound weight break. So, to make everybodys life a lot easier we just said weigh a straight 2,300 pounds and run what you want to.
CT: How many cars do you average at an event, and whats the split between full-time pros and local racers?
Swims: Last year we averaged 52 cars a race. If we have 50 cars at a racetrack, Id say 20 of those guys race full time. The other 30 probably split evenly between two groups. One group races regionally and has the resources where they dont actually have to work every day. They can afford to go race and travel some when its within four or five hours and they can afford to miss a day of work or a day at their business. The other half of that 30 work weekly jobs and cant travel any farther to race than their local track.
CT: What kind of budget is required to race competitively?
Swims: Boy, thats a loaded question because it really depends on your level, how many people youve got working for you and a lot of other factors. From talking to the teams that do a lot of traveling, I think if you are going to field a top-10 team and be out there every single race for a 50-race season, you need to budget a couple thousand a race. Probably $100,000 total. Thats after you already have everythingcars, motors, hauler, equipmentand are ready to go racing. A lot of guys can do it cheaper than that, but $100,000 is a good number to base it on because you are going to have crashes, you are going to have engine overhauls and rebuilds, and then theres hidden costs.
Just because you won $10,000 tonight and didnt tear anything up doesnt mean you didnt spend any money. Youve run 50 laps, so you might want to budget a couple thousand for an engine refresh. Given the racing conditions and the way these motors are built, youve got to refresh them every 600 laps or so. Lets say thats every 12 races, and it costs you $10,000 to refresh a motor. Then you are looking at $750 to $1,000 of your race budget just to put back into your engine program.
CT: Whats the average sponsorship worth?
Swims: Ive never personally been involved with helping a team get sponsorship, so Im really not sure what everybodys getting. Ive heard numbers for what they are asking, and I believe most teams would like to base their efforts on $100,000 a year from the main sponsor. Thats also what backs my number up about what it costs to go racing, because I believe the goal for most of them is to cover their costs so they dont have to worry about breaking even using their winnings on the track. Then they can budget more on speed instead of survival. If you knew you had $100,000 coming in to pay the bills, you would be a lot more willing to spend your winnings on ways to go faster.
CT: Is it still possible to go racing with one car and two engines, or is that day gone?
Swims: If you are touring with the series, its probably gone. Most of the guys have three or four race cars and four or five engines. They are very well equipped to go race, and with the schedule that we ask them to race under they have to be. They may not have all of that equipment with them all the time, but they have access to it.
Its possible that you could still get by with one car and two engines, but you would have to be awful lucky. You could never wreck, and as hard as you have to race out there to stay competitive and make the kind of money you need to make, you are going to get bent up a little bit. The racing is so hard you have to abuse your equipment if you are going to have any chance of running up front.
However, the local guy who just waits for the tour to come to him, he can be competitive with that because hes not out there traveling all the time. Weve tried to build this series based on local hometown heroes versus the touring pros. Thats the whole selling point for most of these tracks that we go to. We had a local guy win a heat race up in Iowa this season, and the hometown fans were about as excited because he beat the touring guys as if he had won the feature race. Its a great accomplishment to beat the touring pros because racing is what they do all day, every day. But it can be done. In a way, the local racer has an advantage because hes so accustomed to racing on that track and knows it inside and out.
CT: Do you see any big changes to these cars in the near future?
Swims: I dont think so. I think weve got a good set of rules and a common car now, and it would be a shame to mess that up. Some people in some parts of motorsports say, Well, those Late Models are fun to watch, but Id like to see them looking more like street cars.
Weve tried to build in as much brand identification as we can by making the competitors run stock-appearing nose pieces, trying to identify the cars with graphics, making the window cuts look similar to what we see on the road, things like that. But I think theres a limit to what you can reasonably do. I dont think these cars will ever look exactly like street cars, and I really dont think they should. Theyve come so far away from that; I dont think there is a way to get them back without a major, major change in technology. I dont think we should do that. These cars have an identity of their own, and I think thats a good thing.