"from where we were to where we are"

It's been said many times before, but truly cars that raced in the late 1940's, early 1950's, were true Astock@ cars.  In this article, we will compare the specifications of race cars for dirt track racing.  We will be referring to rule books from the 50's, 60's, 80's and 2001.




In the 1950's, all stock cars, must have all glass removed except for the safety glass windshield.   A safety belt must be bolted to the frame at both ends and must be the quick release type.  All doors must be bolted, welded or strapped shut.  All cars must have inside roll bars and satisfactory bracing secured to the frame.  Front and rear crash guards, but not wider than the chassis with no sharp corners allowed.  Drivers must wear approved racing helmets.  Rear fenders are compulsory and front fenders optional.   A rear view mirror is required with no outside mirror allowed. 


The engine and driver must be separated by a fire wall.    Transmissions must have reverse gear working and all gear ratios are optional.  Inside fuel tanks must be securely installed and isolated by a complete firewall.   Exhaust pipes must exit rear ward past the firewall.   All cars must have a self starters and four wheel brakes. The engine, chassis, and body must be of the same manufacture with a limit of 300 cu. in. On overhead valve engines.  While most stock cars used flathead Ford engines, they tended to use the late 1940's mercury engines which allowed for more boring.  All cars had to use a single carburetor with no larger than a 3/8" fuel line.  All rear differentials had to be locked as well.  The hot set up for 1950 to 1955 was a 1937 Ford Coupe, solid roof, with hydraulic brakes and a Mercury Flat head engine, with a hot camshaft.   Believe it or not, the source of speed parts was scarce, most competitors relied on suppliers such as Ted Kessler and even Bryant Irvine at Sontono Speed Shop in Thorold for parts.  From 1955 on, the biggest development was the Ford Thunderbird and the Chevrolet small block V8 overhead valve engine.  Most fellows either built new cars or updated their old ones with bigger power plants.   The older flathead Ford engine cars, formed the fledgling Jalopy division in 1957.




In 1959 and 1960, the overhead valved engines, coupled with quick change Haldibrand or Frankland rear differentials made far more race car adjustments to racing conditions.  The development of the M. & H. race master hard grooved dirt tire aided in getting traction to the dirt.


By the 1960's, the stock car evolved into the Sportsman division, open to all American cars with built steel tops (1935 Chevrolets) to 1961 models, with a minimum wheelbase of 109".  A safety glass windshield must be used or replaced by a mesh screen, and drivers must use a full face bubble.


No straps are to be used in securing doors.  Knerfing bars may be used in place of running boards. All roll bars must be electric arc welded and padded with 1 2 O.D. foam.  Car must have an original style hood with holes not to exceed 2" in diameter to aid cooling.  Neoprene must be run under the car for a fuel line.  Rear axles, shocks, springs or torsion bar suspension may be used with no restriction provided ground clearance and body height are unaltered or original wheelbase changed.


Locked rear ends are compulsory.  Floating axles with special hubs are permitted.  Quick change rear ends are allowed. Any ignition but no magnetos are permitted.  Coil spring suspension must be replaced by a solid front axle and/or torsion bar suspension.  Largest engine allowed is 400 cu. in. with a single 4 barrel carb and not under 283 cu. in. engine displacement.


In short, the 1960's style stock car was still based on a factory frame and body from the 1930's, reinforced and altered to accommodate the longer displacement engines and suspensions.  During the late 1960's, Chevrolet 427 engines became the hot set up.  There is no replacement for cubic displacement, was true and cars built by Jimmy Binks dominated the points championships at Merrittville Speedway and Speedway Park in 1968 to 1970. During the early 1970's, home built big block coupes and coaches dominated the now modified division.   This allowed the same specifications as the old sportsman division, but now the suspensions were developed and coil over shocks started to appear on cars such as Lloyd Holt=s #15 Coupe.  Mike Zajac and Harvey Hainer Sr. were a force to be reckoned with in 1971, 1973 and 1974 as Merrittville Speedway=s first 3 time track champion. Race cars developed with their large engines, 427 and 454 cu. in. cut down coupe bodies and large race tires with special racing rims.  One large step in safety was the use of the safety fuel cell to replace gas tanks.


During the 1970's we started to see the emergence of the welded steel tube chassis.  Some with a coupe body, but the Gremlin, Pinto and Vega body started to replace the beautiful 1930's style cars.  The tube chassis was now a flexible part of the handling package.  As cubic inches increased weight decreased and people like Pete Bicknell operated his racing business building racing wheels and then started Pete=s Automotive, replacing the heavy steel wheels of the 1960's.


Some of the early fabricators such as Show Car Engineering, Tobias Speed Equipment, and Troyer and Olsen, built some of the finest tube chassis, torsion bar or coil over cars, in this era.


As we entered the 1980's, cars still utilized a singe 4 barrel carb, but now maximum displacement could not exceed 467 cu. in. and offset no more than 4" in the chassis.  As far as bodies, 1932 to present were allowed, Gremlins, Pinto and Vega however were prevalent.  The old coupes were heavier and stiffer in suspension and could no longer compete against the soft suspension of the modern bodied race cars.


As we moved into the 1990's, the development of the dirt modified continued and became more refined yet.   Even the Gremlin body disappeared as DIRT motor sports tried to give the cars an identity.   All bodies were a turtle back style with body make identified by the wing window design.   A clear rear spoiler of lexan was now used on the body panels, made with a fibreglass roof attached to aluminum inner and outer body panels.  Engines were now totally enclosed and with the emergence of the 358 cu. in. small block, still using a 4 barrel carb.  The body featured an inside panel, which acted as a wing, sending air to the spoiler.  We are now in an era of totally custom built cookie cutter cars.  Fabricators such as Bicknell, Troyer, Olsen and Tobias, now had booming businesses, fabricating DIRT legal race cars.  All components were specially built, right down to the DIRT approved tires and aluminum wheels.  A modified 358 cu. in car weighed 2650 lbs. For a ported engine.   The days of the home built stock car were dead.  If you wrecked it on Saturday, you now bought parts on Monday.  Long gone were the days of home fabrication, after a trip to the local wrecking yard.



(Alan Johnson at Super DIRT Week)


During the 1950's and 1960's, race cars took on the individuality of the car builder and driver.  They were truly home builts which allowed a lot of ingenuity.


From the outside, today=s race cars appear alike.  But once the body panels are removed, the engineering of all the chassis components is a marvel.   Every component on the race car is machined and fitted meticulously for a purpose-saving weight while adding strength. 


While the glamour of the 1950's has long disappeared, the racing technology of the new millennium has allowed for closer competition and much safer cockpits for the drivers. Lap times continue to fall, but gone is the growl of the big bore modifieds.  The high pitch scream of 358 cu. in. small block now putting out 500 h.p. is the norm.  What impresses me the most, about the old race cars, is the fact that when you see how, by today=s standards, primitive they were, it made you admire the ability of many o f the early race drivers to man handle these cars around lap after lap in 25 and 50 lap events at Merrittville=s oval. 


The hard spring true stock cars with their narrow tires, give way to the soft spring wide tired wedge shaped cars you see on the track today.


Times change, race cars change, and yes, race drivers change, but the desire to win remains the same. Sincerely, Rick Kavanagh