Dirt track racing has been around since about the time Carl Benz built his first car. During the early part of the 20th century, very few roads were paved, let alone race tracks. And since men feel the need to race anything that moves, they needed a surface on which to race their new car. Dirt was the logical answer. Of course some tracks were eventually built of bricks (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) or sand (Bonneville, Daytona), but most tracks in the early days of racing were dirt.
All across America, weekend warriors battle it out for Saturday Night Supremacy all summer long, although races may also be held on Friday nights, Sunday evenings and even some mid-week events. In warmer regions, such as Florida and Southern California, racing season need not be summer only but can continue year-round. Unfortunately, the popularity of paved-track racing by associations such as NASCAR, ARCA and the Indy Racing League have taken many fans away from the dirt tracks across America - but that hasn't taken away the spirit of these racers or their diehard fans.
Late model cars, sprints, modified stock cars, midgets and sportsman class cars compete nationwide in events on tracks ¼-mile and up. Trucks, rally cars, ultralights and motorcycles don’t need a bullring and may race on courses with hills, along with left- and right-hand turns.
Dirt track racing is quite different from that done on asphalt. The fast way around a dirt track is sideways (through the turns at least). Or , as Doc Hudson (voiced by the late racing great P.L. Newman) taught on Cars, “turn right to go left.” The drivers who can hang their car out the widest through the turns carry the most momentum and go fast!
Dirt track races are held throughout the nation and the world. In the old days, it took very little to build a competitive dirt tracker. Some of NASCAR’s greatest legends bought brand new cars off the showroom floor, painted (or taped) a number on them and went out racing. Over time, however, teams learned to build cars specifically for dirt racing. These became known as Modified Stock Cars.
Still, to this day, there are tracks around the country featuring race cars that are hardly modified at all, or even at times completely stock! In most cases, all glass must be removed from the vehicle. These fully stock races appeal mostly to the low-budget racer who can’t afford a $50,000 modified but, just like their bigger-budgeted brethren, race because they love to race.
Although techniques used in dirt track racing are vastly different from those used to race on asphalt, it can be a stepping-stone to bigger, more lucrative, racing such as NASCAR. Three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart began his career driving sprint cars in the Midwest. Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson moved to the big leagues in a more unusual manner, racing trucks through the dirt in the SCORE series.
If you've never been to see a race on dirt, then you really owe it to yourself to head out for a Saturday night and enjoy the races. In fact, next month will see NASCAR returning to a dirt track for the first time since 1970! NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series will be taking place at Eldora Speedway to an already sold out crowd. You’re sure to have fun, just watch out for the mud!