C.J. Rayburn is flanked by...
C.J. Rayburn is flanked by his two newest creations a Chevy Camaro and Ford Mustang Dirt Late Model. These turnkey cars retail for less than $40,000-a bargain in today's Super Late Model market.
Mention Dirt Late Model design and the name that usually comes to mind first is C.J. Rayburn. Racer, innovator, and pioneer are all words used to describe the man who advanced the sport of Dirt Late Model racing. Personally, he has hundreds of wins to his credit and professionally, his car designs have visited Victory Lane thousands of times from the local to the national circuit.
Rayburn chassis sit outside...
Rayburn chassis sit outside C.J.'s Whiteland, Indiana, shop awaiting the engines, body, and suspension components to turn them into the latest Rayburn innovation.
Rayburn cars have seen many innovations and technical advancements through the years. But the origins of those innovations can be traced back to the late-1970s when C.J. designed a lighter, stronger car to complement his coilover design, a first in 1977. The success of that car revolutionized the sport and formed the foundation for Rayburn to bring more advancements such as modern disc brakes to the sport of Dirt Late Model racing.
"I always tried to make my cars simple and easy to work on," the veteran Whiteland, Indiana, builder explained.
The engine compartment is...
The engine compartment is bare now but when you take delivery of one of these cars there is nothing you need to do except add fuel.
Once an innovator, always an innovator-and Rayburn is at it again. He's not happy with a lot of things he sees happening in the sport of Dirt Late Model racing that he loves, specifically the cost. So, he decided to do something about it.
Take a close look at the braided...
Take a close look at the braided line and perfectly bent brake line, Rayburn's attention to detail is evident in his newest creation.
"It comes down to the cost of the sport. I wanted to make a new Late Model that is capable of today's Super Late Model performance for less than half the cost of a current race car," he said. As ambitious as that plan sounds, Rayburn has a very good reason for wanting to develop just such a car. "There is no way that a vast majority of my customers can afford a $30,000 to $40,000 engine."
NHRA Drag Racing has used...
NHRA Drag Racing has used the roof hatch safety concept for years in its Funny Car division. Rayburn thinks that its time has come for Dirt Late Model racing.
Indeed, given today's current economic climate affording a custom-built open motor can be a challenge at best for racers across the country. Couple that with the cost of a rolling chassis and you can easily crest 50 or even 60 thousand dollars in expenses before you get to the track. With that in mind, it's not surprising that there has been more than one story of a guy or gal who parked the car or dropped back to a lower division purely because he or she could no longer afford to race.
Inspired by the need to create a competitive and affordable Dirt Late Model platform, C.J. devised a plan which involves the use of a high-performance crate engine and a reduction in car weight.
At six-foot-four, C.J. is...
At six-foot-four, C.J. is no small guy so he demonstrated how easily he can maneuver his body through the roof hatch.
Of course, the use of crate engines in Dirt Late Models is nothing new, it's been happening now for several years on the strength of a number of Crate Late Model series. However, the majority of those series rely on the first generation of sealed crate motors, GM's 602 or 604 circle track engines. But with only 350-400 hp those motors' performance is far short of a typical Super Late motor.
Here is where things are different with C.J.'s idea. "I have been talking to the people at General Motors and they have an engine called the 525. It's an aluminum engine, fashioned off their LS3 Corvette engine, so it should have a lot of horsepower and at the same time be really light.
Take a close look at how the...
Take a close look at how the hatch is mounted with rivets, a piano hinge, and how it's notched to go over the halo.
"So, if we can get the cars about 200 pounds lighter and put out at least 150 hp more than the 602 engine, I think that we'll really have something. The goal is to make this car competitive with a 2,300-pound car with an open engine."
While much of the weight savings comes courtesy of the aluminum block CT525, Rayburn tweaked the chassis and body design of the car he calls his Super Late Crate which he hopes will open up Dirt Late Model racing to the low-budget guys.
The cars will have a slightly different outward appearance. Traditional side panels are complemented by a one-piece sail panel and spoiler support that extends from the B-pillar to the spoiler itself. Those sail panels also fit flush with the side panels giving the new Rayburn Super Late a distinctive, unmistakable appearance.
Look closely past the fuel...
Look closely past the fuel cell which is skewed slightly to the left and you can see the coilover shocks that come with the car.
But the biggest change occurs in the roof where there is an NHRA Funny Car-style escape hatch. "It's something that I have been thinking about for a long time," C.J. explained. "I think it will be possible to bring out the driver after an accident still in his seat. And another safety consideration is the lack of use of fiberglass because of its fire danger."
In this side view of the Camaro...
In this side view of the Camaro version of the car you can see how the sail panel runs from the B-pillar to the spoiler.
Now for the best news, you will be able to purchase these cars turnkey from Rayburn for about $39,850 decaled as either a 2010 Chevy Camaro with the CT525 or a 2010 Ford Mustang which will tentatively feature Ford's new Boss 351 oval track engine. Indications are that the latest Ford engine will make horsepower and torque numbers comparable to those of the CT525, meaning that you could see Chevy versus Ford battles at short tracks around the Midwest in the very near future.
"I think it will help bring some real excitement back to the racetrack," says Rayburn. "What would be better than seeing the Camaro race against the Mustang at dirt tracks across the country?"
GM's new CT525 is the primary...
GM's new CT525 is the primary powerplant in Rayburn's new car-topped with a Willy's carb and Jones Racing Products pulleys, Rayburn says that he can coax close to 600 hp out of the sealed engine.
Not much except for maybe that sub-$40,000 price tag which puts Rayburn's new car well below the price of a typical open-motored Dirt Late Model. Rayburn may have sharpened his pencil and taken advantage of the CT525's low cost to get to that number but he didn't skimp on the car's components.
"It's all high-quality stuff. C.J. Jones (Jones Racing Products) did the pulleys and frontend. It's got an oil cooler, braided-steel lines, a vacuum system, and more," says Rayburn.
A Ford Boss 351 block in the...
A Ford Boss 351 block in the process of being built. It will ultimately displace 376 cubic inches and produce between 525 and 550 horses on pump gas. Rayburn anticipates Ford to support his new series just as GM.
It's truly a turnkey car. All the racer has to do is fill it with fuel and go racing. Speaking of fuel, another cost savings in this car is that the CT525 runs on pump gas. That's right, no need to spend upwards of $8 per gallon on race fuel. Just head down to your local gas station and fill 'er up.
"I think that it will make for more exciting racing for the fans," says Rayburn. "This is the logical way to make Dirt Late Model racing affordable again."
Rayburn's test car is piloted...
Rayburn's test car is piloted by Aaron Ridley in time trials at Bluegrass Speedway for the Jerry Ross Memorial event. This car, powered by the CT525 isn't just an R&D ride, Ridley races it on a consistent basis.
The Sanction In addition to designing, building and selling the new car, Rayburn has also started his own sanction so his customers can race their new Rayburns right out of the box. He named it the National All Stars Racing Association and with input from drivers, teams, and tracks developed a set of rules that could fit on a single sheet of paper.
Now understand that these cars will be competing head-to-head with traditional Super Late Models. "I am looking for equality between the two types of cars. There will be adjustments required to get them on equal footing. We could work with the spoiler or engine set-back distance."
And that's pretty much where Rayburn ended up. NASRA is open to all Late Model chassis, regardless of manufacturer and the sole governing rules revolve around weight, spoiler, and tires. For example, if you run a car with a 602 or 604 motor, you must abide by a minimum weight of 2,100 pounds and you'll be allowed to run a maximum 12-inch spoiler. Run one of Rayburn's new CT525-equipped cars and you still have to weigh 2,100 pounds but your max spoiler size drops to 8 inches. If you have an open aluminum motor, your spoiler stays at 8 inches but the minimum weight increases to 2,300 pounds.
Rayburn said that as the series gets established he could tweak the rules to ensure a level playing field. "There could be a slight difference in the weight balance of the cars. With the standard Super Late cars, the weight bias has about 57-58 percent on the rear, while these new cars with their lighter engines might have slightly more rear-end weight. At this time, the engine set-back on the crate cars is the same as the standard Super Late.
Interestingly, NASRA's tire rule focuses on the rear tires only. The rule mandates all cars run an American Racer No. 56 or Hoosier 1600, WRS-2-55, D-55, or M-40. And regardless of your tire choice, every one must punch a minimum of 58 on the durometer. Plus, any rear tire changed during the running of an event has to be done with a previously checked and properly marked tire. Front tires are your choice and do not require a minimum durometer reading.
The interest, according to Rayburn, has been amazing and very encouraging. "I have had lots of calls from drivers, teams, along with a number of tracks who presently can't afford to have a Late Model class. I have also been working hard for a national sponsor and an announcement could be made in the near future."
Rayburn isn't restricting his crate versus open series idea to just the Super Late application either. "I think that the NASRA concept has equal application to the Modifieds. We would use the existing 602 and 604 crate engines for the Modifieds with a 200-pound weight brake against Modifieds using open engines."
For now, Rayburn is concentrating on the Late Models and things are coming together nicely. His new Super Late car has quickly found success racing against open motors at tracks in Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio. In fact, Mike Marlar won with the car in its very first race at Moler Raceway Park in Williamsburg, Ohio, beating out a number of open motors in the process.
Rayburn's new Super Dirt Late Model is ushering in a new era of competitive affordability to motorsports. It's an interesting technical experiment in an era of economic uncertainty. Can't think of a better man to give it a shot!