Veteran racers Dave Stacy (5) and L.J. Lines (76) do battle during the '03 contest at Winc
You can argue that racing today is replete with more traveling series than at any other time in the sport. There have been racing series to come and go, but few can sustain through changing times. It takes foresight to develop a plan that can get the support of racers over a long period. The Indiana-based USA Modified Series has taken steps to put itself into a position of short-term growth and long-term survival.
USA representative Brian Lemmer says the series is keeping an eye on growth in ways that can benefit the competitor. "When we put together the schedule for 2004, we were trying to get some diverse tracks to give our drivers better experience," Lemmer says. "This allows them to get a taste of more places and help them understand how to make their cars work at certain types of tracks."
The plan for 2004 includes some stalwarts that have been a part of the program, while adding a few new venues. Many of the races are at least 50 laps in distance, giving the drivers and crews plenty to think about in terms of strategy.
One of the greatest assets of the USA Modifieds is the development of the rules. Series organizers understand the need for the traveling racers to be supported by local racers who don't have the resources or desire to follow a touring series. These local racers play an important role in a successful show.
A shock adjustment is made on the car of '03 champion Jason Dietsch. The technical rules a
"Our rules and regulations are set up close to what the local guys are running," adds Lemmer. "Whenever we come to a track, we can get the local cars to run with us. They're not involved in the points, but it's a chance for them to race against different people. That was the idea behind the start of the series, and we're going to keep it that way. A guy from a local track can win when we come to town. There's no reason for him to sit out when we come in with a series race."
Of course, no one wants to be involved if the level of racing is not the caliber that allows excitement. Most of the USA excitement comes in the form of passing-not in the smash 'em up equipment disasters that cause long nights in the shop. Even though it's an open-wheel series in a division that can see its share of caution flags, the USA Modifieds keep the yellow in its holder.
"We average 1 1/2 cautions per race, based on last year's numbers," says Lemmer. "We feature a lot of side-by-side racing, which the competitors and the spectators love to see. Our new American Racer tire has allowed more of that."
The drivers in the series, which runs in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan, benefit from the ideas of the promoters. It's a good group that travels from race to race as the year progresses.
"The strength of our series is that it has become a racer-friendly series over the last couple of years," Lemmer notes. "There are more opportunities with the schedule, but the real heart of the matter comes in the group of drivers, crews, and families that follow along. This group is like one big family. As they grow stronger, they get better recognition. The idea was to take Modifieds from a support division to a headlining division. This series has made the class a show in its own right.
"If you talk to any of the drivers, they're friendly. These are people you want to be around. That's why you have so many who are anxious to race with the series when it comes to a track. These drivers don't have to support the series. They have choices and they choose to run with USA."
The choice came in large numbers. In 2003, the list of drivers exceeded 150 names. The average car count in the pit area was 34 with 40 cars at the Winchester Speedway July race, which paid $10,000 to the winner. Money is important, but so is experience. "We start 26 cars, which means drivers usually have to go home, but no one goes home without important track time," Lemmer states. "A guy who doesn't make the show one year can use his track time to get the experience that may allow him to do better next year."
With respect to the money side of it, there are ongoing efforts to devise ways to get more purse money for the drivers. The standard USA show will award $1,000 to the winner, $200 to each car starting the main. In at least two cases in 2004, the winner will receive $5,000. The winner isn't the only beneficiary of the '04 plan. Each race, a hard charger who improves his or her position more than any other driver will receive a $200 bonus per race. At the end of the season, another $1,000 awaits the cumulative hard charger who improved the most over the year.
The tireless efforts to improve are indicative of the commitment to make Modified racing and the USA Modified Series hold a place of respect in the sport. Efforts by Lemmer and series founder Todd Van Kleeck will keep the group in the forefront for 2004 and beyond.
Jason Dietsch (7), '03 champion, hunts down some competitors during the July '03 Winchester event.
Veteran L.J. Lines holds the Winchester that signifies his victory at the prestigious Winchester (Indiana) Speedway. There was a check for $10,000 to go along with the treasured firearm.