The new Modified dirt car...
The new Modified dirt car is the first Legends car designed specifically to be raced on dirt tracks.
You may have never raced a Legends car. You may not even have a desire to ever get into a Legends car. But if you're a racer-or even just a racing fan-worth your salt, you've almost definitely heard of Legends racing.
Started by U.S. Legend Cars International (then called 600 Racing) all the way back in 1992, the popularity of these small-scale cars has exploded. Now, you can find Legends racing at tracks all across the Western hemisphere.
Since the introduction of the Legends car, U.S. Legend Cars has also added car designs with the smaller-scale Bandolero and the larger Legends Roadster, and while any of these three can be, and are, raced on dirt, they are primarily asphalt race cars. But now there is a Legends car soon to be on the scene, and for the first time ever it is designed expressly for dirt track racing.
The principals in the development...
The principals in the development of the Legends Modified-Ray Evernham (left), SMI President Marcus Smith (center), and SMI Vice President of Business Affairs Don Hawk (right)-stand with the newly unveiled Legends Modified race car. In addition to helping develop the car, Evernham will host the first racing series for the cars at his track, East Lincoln Speedway, to help get the competition off the ground. The winner of the inaugural series will receive, among other things, the trophy in the foreground.
The Legends lineup of cars is popular because they are inexpensive-at least when compared to many other forms of stock car racing-relatively simple to work on and maintain, and they are a challenge to drive. And although there will be cheating in any sport and at any time you declare a winner, these are spec cars from the headlight decals to the rear bumper, so it's more difficult to buy an advantage by outspending the competition. And finally, there is proof that these cars can be a stepping stone to greater things-witness current top level NASCAR drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt and Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, David Ragan, and others who got their starts in Legends cars.
So when former championship crew chief and NASCAR team owner Ray Evernham and the people of U.S. Legend Cars International put their heads together to develop a dirt-specific Legends race car, they knew they had both a great foundation to build from and big expectations to meet. The result is the U.S. Legends Modified Dirt Car, and it's quite an interesting beast.
Here, you can see a shot of...
Here, you can see a shot of the Sprint Car-style steering linkage to the left-front wheel.
Recently, Evernham, and Speedway Motorsports' Don Hawk and Marcus Smith gave Circle Track an up-close look at one of the first complete cars. Instead of simply throwing a new body shell on the successful Legends Car design, the Modified is almost an entirely new creation.
Evernham, who has returned to his short track racing roots as the owner of a dirt track in central North Carolina (East Lincoln Speedway), took the lead in developing the car and followed it through all the way to the finished product. It looks like a classic Sprint Car from the good old days, and a look under the fiberglass bodywork shows that those design cues go more than just skin deep.
Dirt racing heritage is integral in this new car's DNA. Where all the Legends cars before it had double A-frame front suspensions and a standard ring-and-pinion rearend in back, the Modified has a solid front axle up front and a live axle quick change rearend in back-just like a Sprint Car. There's also a Sprint-style pitman arm steering system, a raised driveshaft tunnel right between the driver's legs, and bigger tires in back just like a dirt car should have.
Rollovers and hard hits are...
Rollovers and hard hits are a given in any racing series. Evernham says that the suspension is built so that when it does happen, "you may bend some Heim joints, but they are sacrificial. The major components should still be OK so you can get back on the track quickly and without spending a ton of money on repairs."
"Basically, we've developed an entry-level, open-wheel, dirt-style race car," Evernham explains of the design. "We want to give drivers a car that is safe, powerful, and easy to work with. When you've been lucky enough to be a part of this sport and earn a living from it like I have, you want to be able to give back in some way. I think this car is a great way to help people who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity be able to go racing. I didn't have the resources to do all of the development myself, so when I had the opportunity to partner with (Speedway Motorsports chairman and CEO) Bruton Smith, I jumped at it."
Evernham points out that this new car is designed to cut out a lot of the hassles that intimidate many people from ever going dirt racing. The 74-inch wheelbase is small enough that the car doesn't require a fullsize car trailer to tow it to the track. He also says that the chassis is simple enough that basic setups do not require an expensive set of scales or other setup tools. "All you need is a tape measure, a jack, and some handtools, and you can set up and maintain the car. The engine runs on pump gas, and is sealed to discourage people from ripping into it. It's basically maintenance-free, so you should be able to run seasons on it without a noticeable power loss."
The interior is spartan but...
The interior is spartan but functional. The upright steering wheel is mounted just above the steering box. All the rollcage and chassis tubing is DOM mild steel and either 1.5 or 1.4 inches in diameter, depending on need. The 1.5-inch tubing is all 0.095 wall thickness, while the 1.4-inch tubing is either 0.083 or 0.095.
There are no options for shock...
There are no options for shock mounting locations, but coilovers are used for easy height and wedge adjustments. As this went to press, Evernham was also considering some options for adjustable shocks from Bilstein, but no firm decision had been made.
The 5-gallon fuel cell rides...
The 5-gallon fuel cell rides just above the aluminum quick change rear. Here, you can also see the quick change cover and the inboard-mounted rear braking system.
The rearend is a true Sprint...
The rearend is a true Sprint Car-style live axle. It's made by Winters specifically for this car.
He also points out that the car arrives completely assembled and practically ready to race. Many of Circle Track's readers enjoy building a car from the ground up, but for those who would rather jump right into the driver seat and start racing, and maybe lack the mechanical and fabrication skills to build their own race car, this is an attractive option. "We think this is a great way for a father and his son or daughter to go racing and just have fun," Evernham says.
Marcus Smith is Speedway Motorsports' President (which controls U.S. Legends Cars) and says that the new car isn't just a business opportunity, it's also a way to help make sure the sport of stock car racing remains healthy and vibrant.
"Legends racing is NASCAR's version of backyard basketball or football," he says. "Too many other areas of the sport are just too expensive for a family to get into. We're excited that we've got a way to keep racing inexpensive and fun. If you go to Legends races, you will see that it's a family atmosphere, and we expect it will be the same way at the dirt tracks where people will be racing the Modified."
Hawk pointed out that while...
Hawk pointed out that while the window and roof openings were made large in order to allow a fully-grown adult to get out quickly even if the car is on its side, careful considerations were made to the design of the car so that the wheels, bumpers, and nerf bars are all too large to fit through the openings. Although this car doesn't have it, future versions will have some type of screen in front of the driver.
Although there were no firm prices as this story went to press, Hawk said a complete car was shaping up to be more expensive than a current Legends Car, which sells for approximately $13,000, but still well under $20,000. All cars will be built out of the U.S. Legends Cars facilities in Harrisburg, North Carolina, and once production begins there are no plans to make any changes to the design that will affect performance for the next four to five years, at least. That way, he says, racers who purchase one of the first cars out of the facility won't have to worry about a new design coming down the pike that makes them uncompetitive.
One of the things we didn't get a chance to do-but hope to soon-is actually drive the new car. But Evern-ham says that he is very pleased with the feel behind the wheel. "The goal was to create a car that somebody could use and easily advance into a Modified or a Sprint Car, so it's not exactly easy to drive. It's a challenge, and we made it that way on purpose. To go fast you are going to have to slide the rear end out, and you are going to have to learn car control. Of course, it's not scary or unpredictable, but it does require you to learn the driving skills that are going to help a driver if he advances into other classes, on either dirt or asphalt."
The motor is the same 1,250cc...
The motor is the same 1,250cc Yamaha that is used in Legends Cars, but now it's water cooled for greater durability. It has also been outfitted with a more aggressive cam and puts out more than 140 horsepower. Evernham says the motor choice is one of the key considerations for the success of this new car. It's fast enough to make the racing challenging and fun, yet can burn pump gas and should last for several seasons with only minimal maintenance. And, of course, it's sealed so that everyone (theoretically) should be racing with the same power.
Beginning with the 2011 racing season, we know there will be at least one place to race the Modified Legends. Evernham will be hosting the cars at his track, East Lincoln Speedway, for a full series, and U.S. Legends is hoping to grow it from there.
"We're planning to stick with this car and grow it slowly," Hawk says. "Nobody wants to buy a race car and then have nowhere to race it, so we're working with tracks to build up a community of Modified racers who can race together and get the most out of these cars. We're putting packages together for the tech officials so that these cars will be easy to tech. Everything will be go/no-go gauges so teching a car will be quick and easy and there's nothing for the racer to argue over.
"I really think that this car has a great future," he adds. "A strong grassroots movement helps develop the top level stars of tomorrow. After all, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart and a lot of other fantastic racers grew up on dirt. And we want to provide a way that practically anyone can enjoy the thrill of driving a race car if they want to-even if they have no intention of doing it as anything more than a hobby. It's a bit of an investment up front if you are buying a new car, but we believe the reduced costs of maintaining this car and racing it week after week make it very affordable compared not only to other forms of racing, but also lots of other activities that parents and their kids may want to get involved in as a family."
The wheels are good-looking...
The wheels are good-looking units. The rears feature beadlocks, and the right rear is 10.5 inches wide while the left rear is 8 inches. The spec tires are dirt-specific and made by American Racer. Evernham says that siping the tires might be allowed, but grooving definitely will not.
One of the advantages of this...
One of the advantages of this new design is that the cockpit will fit a fullsize racing seat and also has plenty of headroom. You can purchase a car without a seat and install your own, or you can get a car with one of several seating options installed. Hawk points out that as the largest manufacturer of race cars in the world, U.S. Legend Cars can usually purchase a racing seat and sell it to you already installed in the race car significantly cheaper than you can buy your own.
Evernham says the Modified...
Evernham says the Modified Legends car has undergone "significant" testing by professionals at multiple dirt tracks in order to develop a car he feels will provide a great learning environment for younger drivers while also be challenging to more experienced racers. In the right hands, he says this car is within 0.2-second of the lap times posted by the fullsize IMCA-style Modifieds.