Turn 2 Blog: Are There Too Many Late Model Classes?

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The latest edition of the Turn 2 Blog is presented by the American Crate All-Star Series.

*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideDirtRacing.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the dirt racing topics of the day from east Tennessee and beyond.

Richard: I recently engaged in a conversation with some other folks regarding something that we have also talked about on here but probably need to be revisit.

The topic of that conversation is the number of classes in dirt racing in which the cars look too much alike. Particularly, there are multiple divisions that have Late Model attached to their name. As a matter of fact, there can be as many as four types of this style of car on the same night.

I go to a lot of races throughout each season and have seen nights in which Super Late Models, Limited(Steelhead) Late Models, Crate Late Models, and Sportsman Late Models are all on the docket. This, in turn, leads some to wonder what the difference is and why does one class that looks just like the previous class follow each other.

This is particularly true for the novice fan who may not attend a race every weekend. They may ask why one division raced with 8-10 cars then another similar looking division rolls out with another 10-12 cars in it. Why not put them all together and have a bigger race?

Of course, the average fan may not understand the difference in engine types, shock packages, and other differences that set these cars apart under the skin of the cars. They just see the similarity in the outer appearance.

Are there too many similar looking classes in modern-day dirt racing?

Michael: Yes there is. And add to that some of the Modified Street cars are starting to resemble late models.

I remember posing a question around 20 years ago about the future of the cars in dirt racing. I asked where the future cars are coming from. Back then, the four cylinder classes still consisted of Mustangs and some Pintos. The street classes had Camaros, Monte Carlos, and similar cars. There were one, maybe two, Late Model classes. Those cars were getting harder to find. The obvious solution was everything had to be specially built. We are seeing that today.

The number of Late Model-type classes are the effect of two things.

One, promoters are subscribing to the notion that more is better. It is true most dirt racing fans prefer Dirt Late Models over Modified Streets or Four Cylinders. They also look at the numbers to see drivers may race at another track if they can’t compete at theirs, so a new Late Model class is created to keep those drivers at that one track.

Two, people in dirt racing see that there is no money in running anything other than a Late Model class. We’re seeing Modified Street drivers spending in excess of 10 grand for engines and only race for $500 to win at most. Many of them figure running some type of Late Model class is better for them because more money can be won.

As you said, all of this leads to confusion to the novice fan.

Richard: I think a major part of it also is that many racers just feel as if driving some kind of Late Model, any kind of Late Model, is more prestigious than racing in any other class. So if promoters will create a class of Late Models that they consider to be affordable, then they will “jump up” to that class.

But as we all know in racing, if there is a class designed to keep costs low, someone will find a way to buy more speed. And once that happens, others will be forced to try to keep up. As a result, promoters will then create another class in an attempt to appease those who have been priced out of the previous division. I believe that is what has happened in the move from Limited Late Models to Crate Late Models then to Sportsman Late Models at some tracks.

What I would love to see is some type of sharing agreement among the tracks in particular areas to run Limiteds at one place and Crates at another then switch them around the next week. However, promoters just can’t seem to help themselves when it comes to things such as this. One track will see another track getting good car counts with a certain division then will start also running that division, and thus, split the number of cars among two or three tracks.

I’m afraid if the current numbers of classes remain as they are without some sort of agreement put in place, all the divisions will become too watered down. Is this a concern of yours as well?

Michael: Certainly. Without naming tracks or classes, we have seen plenty of examples of one track adding a class when another track starts seeing good cars counts.

I think one thing that needs to happen is to go to a crate engine for the Modified Street/Street Stock classes to get these car counts back up. Crate engines are much cheaper than current engines. I know 411 Motor Speedway tried something like this. But I think for it to work, you cannot have one class with a crate engine and the other with the current rules.

I also think it’s time for some out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to creating a new class. Front Wheel Drive cars were the rage of a new class around 15 years ago and they have pretty much disappeared. I think that class should be revived or start something else, like an SUV class. SUV’s are the biggest selling types of vehicles today. Maybe more fans can relate to seeing something like that on the area’s racetracks.

Richard: I have been told by promoters that a big part of the problem is that some drivers will go out of their way to avoid racing against full fields. As a result, when a new class is created they jump in immediately and then jump out of that class or to another track once the fields start to fill up at the originating track.

That, in turn, makes it difficult for tracks to try new things because they know that either another track will hijack their divisions or the competitors will abandon them.

As I always point out in pieces such as this, it’s easy to sit back and offer all of these suggestions when I have none of my money tied up in the process. However, I believe fans would rather see fewer classes during the night with each class having a good car count than to have many classes with each only having a few cars.

I have always thought that my ideal night at the track would include three classes of varying type of cars with full fields. By the time each classes ran heat races and features that would make for a good three hours or so, which in my mind, is a perfect amount of time.

Your thoughts?

Michael: If it’s a weekly race, I like five classes with some variety with all classes, except for the top class, run heat races. For a special event, 2-3 classes is enough.

Another by-product of all these Late Model-type classes is the lack of heat races. Fans pay to see racing, not hot laps and time trials.

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