Drivers Denny Fischer (81)...
Drivers Denny Fischer (81) and Bobby Dawson(28) lead a field of MSA Supermodifieds at Sandusky (OH) Speedway.
Quite simply put, the Supermodified racecar is the ultimate open wheel ground pounder on the American racing scene and once you see one you will never forget it. When the words Supermodified are mentioned, most people think of the New York based International Supermodified Association, better known as ISMA. However, there is a fairly new group based out of Northern Ohio that is making big strides with a great schedule of events, quality racers and equipment, and an enthusiastic fan base.
The Midwest Supermodified Association, or MSA, started out as a group with a vision, and evolved into hard core racers that have a loyal following in the middle portion of our country.
The most striking feature...
The most striking feature of a Supermodified is the monster wing that sits atop the car. Adjustable gas filled shocks control the angle and pitch of the wing and also allow it to move while on the track. In the straightaways the wing lies flat for aerodynamics. In the corners it pops up for added downforce.
Seven years ago a group of racers from Ohio realized the need for a Supermodified organization in their home region. Spearheaded by Sandusky Speedway owner/operator Kevin Jaycox, the MSA developed a governing structure made up of nine board members and four Board of Directors. Rules and policies are created by the Board and then enforced by a team of 11 MSA officials. The MSA offer racers a reasonable racing schedule of 13 events (in 2008) with 2-3 week gaps between each event and a 100 percent return of purse money in addition to a sponsored points fund.
Unique, amazing, astonishing, awesome, or just plain cool, take your pick they all sum up the first impression a Super will leave you with. Mostly home built racecars, there is no real template or frame jig for the Supermodified racecar, each one different than the other with the added touch of the builders own personality.
"I have a partnership with my father on our racecar," says MSA racer Jon Henes. "We build the frames, bodies, wings, make our own front axles, and even build our own engines, we do it all."
The right side offset of the...
The right side offset of the MSA Supermodified. Having the car offset in this fashion significantly aids in getting through the corners quicker.
While the design of the Supermodified is largely left up to the team, there are rules governing weight, width, length, wing surface area, tires, and engine displacement. Beyond that you can run coilover springs, leaf springs, or torsion bars. You can also mount your shocks wherever you want. The body and wing design is totally up to you. This freedom of design makes the MSA Supermodified racecar truly unique.
The rule book starts with the frame. The driver's compartment must be bent out of .095 Chrome Moly Tubing, and while MSA rules say you can use thinner tubing elsewhere most teams stick with the .095 around the front and rear clips. The car must have a weight of 1,850 pounds less driver after each race and carry a maximum wheel base of 100 inches while the max width of an MSA Super is 85 inches measured from the outer lip of one rear wheel rim across to the other.
Quick change rearends are...
Quick change rearends are the rule in a Supermodified. Check out how far offset the one of this Super is, better watch that rim clearance.
Clearly the most striking feature of a Supermodified is the monster wing that sits atop the car. "Our wings have to stay within the width of the rear wheels. My wing is 24 square feet counting the wicker bill and the bi-wing," states competitor Randy Burch. Wing size and design is determined by the team as is the low slung ride height of these monsters.
"As a general rule the ride height is usually around 2 1/4 inches, up to 4 inches," says Burch. "It all goes back to the rear suspension. If a softer spring is used than we have to set the car a little higher, if we stiffen the rear up we can go lower to the ground."
Within the length and width rules, teams can design their front and rear geometry as they see fit. Consequently, some of the rearend offsets can get pretty radical in the name of making the car turn left. In some cases, the rearend will sit almost up against the left rear hub. Quick change rearends are the rear of choice within the MSA and the drive shaft goes directly from the rearend pinion to the engine crank. This direct drive set up means these cars have to be push started just like a Sprint Car.
481 cubic inches of methanol...
481 cubic inches of methanol eating, fire breathing big block, sitting mere inches from your left thigh. In fact, most Supermodified drivers can touch their engines while strapped into the car.
Notice the difference in the...
Notice the difference in the front end geometry of these two cars.
It is especially evident in...
It is especially evident in how the shocks are mounted.
Jack Smith of Sandusky, Ohio,...
Jack Smith of Sandusky, Ohio, shown here in his Super, says that 2008 is the best year for the MSA that he can remember.
The front end geometry of the Supers is unique as well. Each car is built as an individual piece, essentially custom built by the racers and his/her team to their own personal specifications, desires and driving styles.
The MSA's tire rule mandates Hoosiers on all four corners with the right rear a 50 compound. Both the left rear and right front have to be a 45 compound tire, while the left front is a 30 compound. The only room for change is on the right front, there you can run a smaller tire so long as it remains a 45 compound. The MSA also has a two tire per night rule. Designed to control costs, you can buy only two new tires per race night, although for first time racers there is a provision allowing you to buy four new tires.
The engines found in the MSA Super are fuel injected methanol burning behemoths. The engine rule requires a cast iron V-8 block with two valves per cylinder and a max displacement of 481 cui. Consequently virtually every MSA competitor runs a 454 Chevrolet big-block bored out to 481. While aluminum blocks and aluminum/titanium internal components are illegal, titanium valves are allowed.
Direct drive means that you...
Direct drive means that you have to push start Supermodifieds, just like a Sprint Car.
You can run any cast iron head but if you choose aluminum it must be a 23 degree head. All Super engines run a dry-sump oil system and the fuel injection is completely mechanical, no electric allowed. The ignition system consists of an external coil or spark box providing the coil or box is not within reach of the driver.
The rules state that the engine must be located within the front 2/3 of the wheel base. Almost every racer has his engine offset to the left of the car to aid in getting the car to turn left. In fact, most drivers can reach out and touch the motor while sitting in the car. Most engines are also tilted over to the left as the driver has a bird's eye view of his power plant in every race he enters. Tilting the engine aids in allowing the driver to see the track.
The MSA takes their safety seriously with rollcages gusseted in all four corners and padding around all bars. You have a choice behind the driver's head with either a V- or X-shaped bar. An engine kill switch and fuel shut off must be within reach of the driver at all times and an onboard fire extinguishing system in the cockpit is mandatory. Along with the mandatory fire suit, shoes, and gloves, MSA requires all drivers to have a nomex hood, arm restraints and, at the minimum, a helmet support.
With the Hoosier Tire removed...
With the Hoosier Tire removed you can really gain an appreciation for how far these cars are offset.
Drivers in the MSA Series have a very positive, realistic attitude. "The interest this year in our division is definitely the highlight of 2008," says Burch, who in addition to being a racer is also the MSA Vice President. "I think we (MSA) have turned the corner, both fans and competitors have expressed a great deal of interest as we have had 53 cars score points this season. We have had multiple winners this season and received some great input from the MSA members, car owners, and drivers."
Despite high fuel prices, MSA is enjoying a banner season in '08. "The officials and the drivers seem to be able to interact together a little better this season, any time you have something new there is some growing pains attached, that is just the way it is," says Burch. "As race drivers we try to share information, but each car is so unique in its own way, that what works for one guy may be totally off for the next. However, it never hurts to give or get some information about spring rates, shock choices, or tire stagger."
Just like Burch racer Jack Smith has the passion for the wild fast paced Super world and is enjoying the '08 MSA season. "This is the best year for the MSA that I can remember. It has been the most competitive year yet. I consider the MSA a local guys traveling series. We venture off a little, but for the most part we stay within a reasonable travel range which really helps with both racer and fan support."
Front view of a Supermodi...
Front view of a Supermodified.
Racer Jon Henes echoes Smith's feeling. "I think there are maybe 12 cars that can possibly win each race," says Henes. "The competition level continues to get better and the series just continues to grow."
The MSA is also attracting new racers like accomplished Super Late Model veteran Tim Ice. "I love these cars," says Ice. "I actually shook a car down and tested several years ago for car owner Dave May at Barberton (OH) Speedway. I knew then I wanted to try these. But, the timing was wrong, I was doing so much with the Late Model cars. Finally the opportunities arose and I was available."
Ice says that this type of racing is a whole other animal. "When I look left and can touch the engine and to my right is the right front wheel, I know this is serious. The power to weight ratio is definitely different and all seat of the pants driving, every lap from the word go."
As far as the MSA group goes, Ice had nothing but praise. "I've been around a lot of different race organizations and the MSA is very well run, exceptional really. They have accepted me as one of their drivers, and a great group of drivers they are."
Supers scream down the backstretch...
Supers scream down the backstretch at Sandusky Speedway. Look closely, there are five cars in this picture.
Qualifying for an MSA race incorporates everyone taking a qualifying lap before the heat races. Then depending on the car count, the top 12 qualifiers are inverted into different heat races. An inversion is also used in the feature. A roll of a single die determines the number of racers inverted. For example, if there were three heat races completed and the die rolled either a 1, 2, or 3, MSA inverts 9 cars for the feature (the top 3 from each heat).
MSA also has a breakout rule in effect unless the 12 fastest times are within 1/2-second of each other. In addition, you cannot break out if you were in the top 6 times. Breaking out is defined as the leader of the race turning any two laps of a heat race or any three laps of a feature 1/2-second faster than they qualified.
According to the MSA official Jeff Lickfelt, "The reason MSA does qualifying this way is it is 100 percent fair to anyone who has never raced with us before, creating sort of an open invitation to anyone who wants to stop in for just 1 or 2 races, they will not be penalized for not attending other shows."
Youngster Trent Stephens will...
Youngster Trent Stephens will always remember his second ever MSA start.
That kind of open mindedness has helped MSA flourish. "This is my fourth season with the MSA group," says Bobby Hayduk, MSA's traveling flagman. "It is the best group I work with. The drivers understand me and I understand them, we kind of have our own language. This series is very competitive from the front of the pack to the back. Not only am I an official on race day, but I am friends with these guys off the track, which is very important."
Hayduk handles flagging duties at all 13 of MSA's 2008 events which includes visits to six different tracks with first time stops at Spencer, New York and Angola, Indiana. The sanction also has a great working relationship with Oswego Speedway (the upstate New York 3/8-mile oval) where in 2007 the two groups hosted a three race schedule known as the MSA-Oswego Challenge. These races utilize the MSA and Oswego racers under one curtain for a separate points fund within the MSA points fund. In 2008 the MSA-Oswego Challenge picked up a series sponsor in Burke's Home Centers and was increased from three to six races; two races at Sandusky, three at Oswego, and one at Spencer (NY) Speedway. Also for 2008, MSA picked up a title sponsor in PPG Vibrance Collection paints. The response has been so overwhelming for PPG that at press time, discussions for 2009 MSA sponsorship is well under way.
Close wheel to wheel racing...
Close wheel to wheel racing is one of the MSA's strong points.
MSA's welcoming of new talent to their organization, uniform rules enforcement and a strong camaraderie amongst the competitors has given the small sanction a lot to smile about in a tough economy. Even though car counts may not be what they were ten years ago, the MSA produced 20-plus cars at each 2008 Sandusky event and 19 cars made the trip to Angola, Indiana, this year.
If you can get to a Supermodified race you will not regret it. Consider this; former MSA Champion Timmy Jedzrezek set a new track record at Oswego with a 15.542 second lap at over 144 mph. Go watch and I guarantee that you will be a new Supermodified fan forever.
Like any racing association, the MSA is not immune to racing accidents. But when a race driver is lost to an on track accident it makes everyone stop and realize the true dangers of our sport. It matters not whether you are a racer, fan, crew member or track operator; it is something we all hope never happens. But, sometimes, this sport we love can be cruel.
Just one week after this story was finished, on July 18, second generation driver Terry Gibson lost his life on the seventh lap of his 10 lap MSA heat race at Toledo (OH) Speedway. The 46-year-old Gibson was involved in a four car collision in Turn 1 on the high-banked, very fast oval speedway. Gibson was extracted from the car, but was later pronounced deceased.
If you are from Richwood, Ohio, with the last name Gibson you just naturally have a draw to the open wheel racecars. A veteran racer from a racing family, Terry Gibson competed for many years in midgets, the 305 Sprint Car ranks on both dirt and pavement, as well as the Supermodifieds in the last couple years. Just like his father, legendary Todd Gibson, brothers Gene Lee, Jeff, and Larry, as well as nephew Zach, Terry had the respect of the racing community as a fine competitor that would and did give it his all. The light to compete burned bright within Terry. He was a fixture in the MSA pit area and loved being there. Terry was one of the most liked and conversational competitors at any track he visited. Never one afraid to voice his opinion on any subject Terry is missed and leaves a void in the MSA and the racing community as a whole. Ironically, on that tragic night at Toledo, Terry's nephew Zach Gibson was nabbing his third win of the 305 pavement Buckeye Super Sprint Car season at Kil Kare Speedway down the road at Xenia, Ohio.
Terry Gibson was a son, brother, husband, father, and uncle. Terry Gibson was also a true racer. He will be missed, and though the MSA racers know that they must continue to conduct business, not one racer on race day will forget Terry. Godspeed my friend.