Dirt Late Model Racing has a lot going for it. Just about every dirt track in the country (there are hundreds) has some type of Late Model division, and there are an increasing number of traveling series, many carrying major sponsorship.

Any number of car and engine builders concentrate on this class, along with an increasing number of aftermarket manufacturers. There are races paying $50,000, $100,000, and last year, even $1 million to win. The technology has continued to grow with the sport, with amazing advances in suspension systems, engines, and tires chief among them.

But one of the big reasons for the success of these slab-sided dirt machines is the close association with the fans. Just look at the T-shirts worn at a Dirt Late Model race and you'll see the heroes of the sport stenciled on cotton by the hundreds. There are also die-cast models of many cars, something that is normally restricted to Winston Cup. The appearance of the equipment is immaculate, and some teams wrestle semi-style two-car transporters down the road, some not far off from their NASCAR brothers.

But probably the best aspect of these cars is the competition. It's not just side-by-side racing; it's three-wide, dirt-kickin', fender-banging excitement from the waving of the green flag to the fluttering of the checkered. It's no wonder that Dirt Late Model racing is going strong in the 21st century.

On the occasion of one of the biggest Late Model events of the season, The Dream at Ohio's Eldora Speedway, a tour of the pits revealed a sport that is thriving on ingenuity and racer know-how, which is as it should be.

This is not your father's dirt stock car. It's not even close. Underneath that straight-sided, sloping-topside body shell, there lies a top-gun race car capable of running with all the major types of stock cars.

The Body
Right off the bat, though, we need to inform you that these are not stock-appearing street machines like NASCAR uses. In fact, all of them have basically the same body shaping. The only difference occurs on the front end with factory-similar front noses. Actually, these too are all practically identical, except for the Ford, GM, and Mopar decals that adorn them.

A recent development from Performance Bodies is a plastic fender device that is being adopted by many of the top teams to improve airflow and increase downforce. The basic design of a dirt Late Model already provides some aerodynamic downforce with the sloping front end, the slight wedge design of the overall body, and finally the 8-inch rear spoiler, which provides a vast majority of the overall downforce. "You can do just about anything to the body, but mess with the spoiler and you can lose a bunch in a hurry," quipped one crew chief.

Others noted that the performance could really be increased by an extra 4 to 5 inches in spoiler height, which would really seat the rear end and prevent many spinouts. But 8 inches is the rule, so the teams have to race within that constraint.

The Car
These cars must weigh about 2,300 pounds post-race with the driver (depending on the sanctioning body). And needless to say, the less weight you have under that cap, the more efficiently you can place the ballast for optimum performance.

Most teams will tell you that the weight balance on these cars is pretty neutral, with a slight weight edge for the left side of the car.

The Tires
If there is one constant in these cars, it would have to be the tires. Hoosier Tire officials explained that the heavy hitters look for tires capable of 6 inches of stagger, with some using that capability to make up for a bad-handling race car. But even though the tires are the constant, most teams will groove the tires with their own magic cuts for additional traction, depending on the track.