The first ever International Outlaw Figure 8 Series race at Anderson Speedway in Indiana.
Skepticism. That's the feeling many race fans have when they hear the term 'Figure 8 Racing.' Is it actually racing or exciting show business?
You might be surprised to learn that Figure 8 racing stretches back to before World War II. But it was the 1950s when the sport really took off. It was a period when tracks across the country were adding Figure 8 designs in their infields. And at many tracks they became a weekly class. During the 1970s, the interest waned with just a few tracks successfully continuing the class. But in the '80s, the sport was re-invigorated with the use of Late Model-style cars which produced higher speeds and more interesting racing. Still it was often regarded as a sideshow-type of event, but with the new International Outlaw Figure 8 Series (IOFS), a Midwest-based traveling series, attitudes are changing and changing fast.
No beat-up junkers here, this group is just as professional as any top-gun traveling oval track group. The technology and performance of the IOFS race cars, the number of cars that show up to do battle and the tight competition that is demonstrated every time out certainly see to that. In fact, the IOFS, which series officials believe is the only traveling Figure 8 series today, has been called "The NASCAR of Figure 8 racing."
In 2009, this was a typical ticket line for an IOFS event. It's only gotten better in 2010
The IOFS got its start when racer Charlie Hargraves and photographer David Sink got involved in a casual conversation one day in 2008. Out of that conversation the IOFS was born. Not knowing what to expect, the pair started slowly in 2008 with two non-sanctioned races at the 1/4-mile Anderson (IN) Speedway. "It didn't take long to prove that the idea was right on the money. We had huge crowds at both events," Sink explained.
The success of those two races pushed Hargraves and Sink to run eight races in 2009 with continued success. The crowds attracted all ages, from young kids to their grandpas who probably remembered seeing Figure 8 racing in their younger days. To the man, they would tell you that it was nothing like the IOFS.
For the 2010 season, there are 13 races scheduled with events in Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio including a visit to one of the most famous paved short tracks in the country, Salem Speedway in Indiana. Salem is adding a new Figure 8 track in its infield for the 2010 season and the IOFS will be the first group to try it out.
IOFS racing is famous for three-wide racing like this action taking place at Anderson Spee
Hargraves and Sink say that there are possibilities of adding races in Michigan, Missouri, Illinois, and Wisconsin in 2011. In addition, they are looking into the possibility of running these cars on dirt, and are in discussions with Lucas Oil Speedway in Missouri for a 2011 date.
To date, the entire IOFS racing schedule has taken place on paved tracks no larger than 3/8-mile. Even on the shorter courses, the cars are capable of reaching speeds of up to 100 miles per hour. But get this, the IOFS is a totally-volunteer operation. There isn't a dollar paid to anybody with all the money going back into the series. Sink says that keeping the sport affordable is important and one area they concentrate on is the 10-inch-wide/15-inch Hoosier slicks required by the series. "The tires are sold to competitors at cost to help them during these tight economic times."
The age of an IOFS driver ranges between 18 to the mid-50s. "There were some Figure 8 guys from the earlier days who actually came out of retirement to run with us!" exclaimed Hargraves.
However, running an IOFS race is drastically different than racing in a typical oval track event as Hargraves explains. "Everybody racing with us understands that there is going to be heavy contact out there and many very close calls. From an administrative point of view with cars all over the track, you can imagine how tough it is to score. So for the 2010 season we went to transponders to help keep track, and we've also hired a dedicated scorer."
The IOFS drivers pose before the 2009 season finale.
With the sheetmetal missing, the IOFS car of series co-founder Charlie Hargraves doesn't l
The extra heavy-duty A-Arms were fabricated by the racer himself. Directly on the top of t
A view of the cockpit from overhead reveals the location of the driver seat, nearer the ce
The challenge of keeping track of the action extends from the scoring tower to the competitors themselves. It's entirely different from oval track racing where everybody is either ahead or behind you. "With Figure 8, when you are in the middle of Turns 1 and 2, you look across at who is in 3 and 4," says Hargraves. "That way, you can figure whether you will be there ahead of them or behind them, but hopefully not at the same time!"
Last year's champion, Doug Greig (who also builds these cars) seconded those feelings about this type of racing. "It sure is a lot different from oval track racing where you are looking to only pass the guy ahead of you. When I tell people this is a very precise sport, they think I'm crazy. It's all in the timing and my mind is figuring all the time when I will have clear sailing through the intersection. One thing I never want to do is stop on the course. Slow down a little, but never stop. I am playing with speed all the time."
You can clearly see the huge lexan sail panels, reminiscent of the record breaking Outlaw
That brings up the concept of safety. In oval track racing, every attempt is made to avoid crashes on the racetrack. But with Figure 8 racing, no matter how lucky or skilled the driver, some serious impacts will occur. To that end, safety is paramount in the construction of these 2,400-pound, sheetmetal-bodied cars. First of all, there is no offset with these cars since there are equal numbers of left and right turns. Along the same line, the driver seat is located more in the center of the car for safety reasons. Many of these cars are built by several manufacturers including (besides Greig), Fenwick Racecars and NASA Chassis, all being in the greater Indianapolis area.
Some of the features found in a Figure 8 chassis include hand-fabricated A-frames and spindles designed for greater strength; four door bars on both the left and right side of the car and a floor fabricated from 1/8-inch-thick steel. But perhaps the most defining feature of these cars are the huge vertical Lexan wings that adorn the sides of the cars.
Don't have the skill or funding for a full on Outlaw Figure 8 car? Well the IOFS also sanc
Reminiscent of the sail panels on those outlandish Super Late Models that have set track speed records in the past, these side wings greatly increase the cars' handling in the turns. Handling or not, one thing is for sure, they certainly provide wide spaces for potential sponsors. Their configuration sometimes depends on the particular driving style of the driver. Some appear to reach up a couple times taller than the car itself, while others are more subtle and remain closer to the body. In some cases the cars also utilize a normal-style rear-deck spoiler. It's all in the name of getting around the track faster.
Power for these cars comes from small-block carbureted Chevy powerplants burning race gas. "A torquey engine is very beneficial to this type of racing. But that doesn't mean that you have to break the bank to compete," Greig says. "My small-block Chevy engine is capable of making 648 horsepower. Most of the cars out there are worth about $30,000, but I have only $7,000 in mine since I did all the labor myself."
Charlie Hargraves leads a pack through the intersection at Plymouth Speedway.
Sink explained that the feature races are normally 50 lappers which take about 20-25 minutes, depending on the number of mishaps that occur. There have been times that as many as 30 cars start the feature making for continuous action at the crossroads.
Since not every driver has the skills, experience, and money to immediately run with these potent Outlaw cars, there is a learning group called the IOFS Winged FWD Series. These cars are basically the gaining-in-popularity front-wheel-drive cars equipped with wings and safety additions. Sink explained, "We hope to have them run in several races this season."
There is certainly still a "run what you brung" approach in the IOFS, and minimal rules with a focus on economical competition help deliver some serious on-track excitement.
Figure 8 racing-maybe you once looked at it as a carny sideshow. Well, with IOFS you better look again in 2010.