Thursday, December 6, 2012

Welcome to Greatest Show on Dirt


Credit: World of Outlaw
The World of Outlaws is my home. I am family there, and in 2013 I am going to take you on one of the greatest adventures any race fan could ever hope for. This year I am going to take you with me, from the drop of the green in Volusia to the crowning of the champion in Charlotte.

But first, I am going to give you a little background on the series and how it works and how it started.

In the 70s there was no real organization, just a band of racers that went from big-money race to big-money race, ran the races, took the money and the trophies, then moved on to the next race. Hence the name Outlaws. Over time these drivers became the best winged sprint car drivers in the world and the series became known around the world as The World of Outlaws.



Steve Kinser's Bass Pro Shop/TSR #11 - Credit: Tony Stewart Racing

Now, the trademark wing actually came about  in the mid 70s. Guys like Steve Kinser, Mark Kinser, Sammy and Jeff Swindell, and Jac Haudenschild all began racing without the wing. When the wing was added they perfected the skill of driving with the new safety device and became the Master Magicians of Speed. 

The airfoil or wing on the top of the car provides downforce to the car to keep it on all four wheels as it goes around the track at anywhere from 90 to 160 mph. The winged sprints actually have two wings: one on the top and one on the nose. The top wing covers 25 square feet. The nose wing keeps the nose of the car on the ground and covers six square feet. Otherwise the 900-plus horsepower engines would stand the car on its back wheels, or what's known as a "wheelstand". Even with it, if the drivers are not careful they will wheelstand the cars, which is not productive, since four wheels are faster than two. Still, the wheelstands are very popular with young and new fans. And yes they do refer to it as taking air.

The cars have 33-gallon fuel tanks on half-mile tracks and 28-gallon tanks on small tracks.They get approximately one mile-per-gallon of methanol fuel. They also run mufflers. If you don't have your muffler at the end of a race you will be disqualified, part failure or not.

The one thing you'll notice about sprint cars is they must be push-started because they have no transmission. They're either in gear or they're not, and they have to be in gear to start. They don't have batteries or starters, but use magnetos to generate current. The rear wheels must turn for the engine to turn. The engine turning fires the magneto and ignites the fuel.

They weigh 1400 pounds with the driver in the car and must pass the scale before any race is final.

This year the Outlaws return home to comfort of purple in the rubber department. Hoosier will be the official tire supplier again after a six-year absence. The famous purple logo will be back and will provide teams with three compounds for every race. First, a very soft compound which is very fast from the get-go but scrubs off rubber quickly. Teams usually use a soft tire for a tacky track or a track that is very wet,  a medium compound which is fast after a few laps and holds on to its rubber longer, and then there is "the brick" - the hard tire compound. The brick is used for long distance races and holds up longer than the other two.

The cars run on 18-inch-wide, 105-inch-around tires on the back of the car. The tires have “stagger.” In other words, they are not the same size on both sides of the car. The right rear is always bigger than the left to allow for cornering.

Most Outlaws A-Mains are 20 to 45 laps. Very short tracks can be up to 45. The Iron Man 55 is the longest of the year and is 55 laps in distance. The tracks measure in distance from a long quarter mile to a long half mile. Some are banked slightly, some are banked quite a bit.

There are many famous and historic tracks on the dirt circuit: Eldora Speedway, Knoxville, Skagit, Chico, Lernerville, and Willams Grove just to name a few. The crown jewels of the series are the Kings Royal, which is run at Eldora, the Gold Cup which is run at Skagit, and the Iron Man which is run at Pevely, and of course the Nationals which is run at Knoxville.

In 2000 and 2001, The World of Outlaws competed at Bristol Motor Speedway when then-track president Jeff Byrd covered the surface with sawdust and red Tennessee clay. The adage of dirt is faster than asphalt was proven when Sammy Swindell turned a lap of 13.860 seconds, or 129.870 mph, in June 2000. The fastest lap in competition was down in the 11-second range and was close to 160 mph, also turned by Sammy Swindell. The next-fastest lap was in a Sprint Cup car and was run by Ryan Newman in 2003 with a lap of 128.709 mph, 14.908 sec. The lap made Newman the first man in a stock car to go under 15 seconds. The 42 winged sprint cars that ran in 2000 and 2001 were all faster than Newman's lap.

There are many series in the amazing world of dirt racing. For simplicity and clarity I will list them for you, but for the most part I am only going to give you the specifics on the series I'll be covering, which is the World of Outlaws STP Sprint Cars.

The largest dirt car series and the oldest is USAC (United States Auto Club). USAC fields non- winged sprints, midgets (very small race cars with a very high power-to-weight ratio and typically use four-cylinder engines.) and the Silver Crown series. The Silver Crown cars run on both dirt and asphalt.

ASCS (American Sprint Car Series) runs winged sprint cars similar to the World of Outlaws but have a 360 cubic inch engine under the hood and utilize a completely different format for their events.

The ASCOC (American Sprint Car Circuit of Champions) also run winged sprints and utilize 410 cubic inch engines but have a smaller circle of travel mostly on the east coast and Midwest.

The 85-race season of the World of Outlaws is the longest in any dirt season and is known as the most grueling in all of racing. With only four weeks total off from February to November, the series requires not only skill but fortitude to be successful.

Each race on the schedule follows the same format with the exception of the Nationals and the Gold Cup. Those two events are multi-night shows with points accumulations and quailfying. The standard event format that we will be working with is for the World of Outlaws and is as follows, along with a brief explanation of terms:
1. Hot Laps

2. Time Trials

3. Heat Races

4. Dash

5. B-Main (C-Main or D-Main depending on car count)

6. A-Feature


A- (Or Feature) – The final race of the night which decides who is the overall winner of the event. Depending on the size of the track, the A-Main usually ranges from 25-40 laps, which is predetermined and shared with the drivers and teams at the drivers meeting.

B-Main (Last Chance Showdown) – This is the final chance a driver has to make it into the A-Main. Depending on the number of heat races run, the top four finishers in the B-Main of a four-heat race program and the top six finishers in the B-Main in a three-heat race program will transfer into the main event. The B-Main is usually 8-12 laps in length, depending on the size of the track and the number of cars involved.

Dash – In a standard race program, the first- and second-place finishers from each of the four heat races qualify for the dash, along with the fastest two drivers from time trials that transferred from the heat race into the A-Feature, but did not finish first or second in the heat. These 10 drivers will be lined up by their time-trials time for the dash and then a fan will draw either a 4, 6 or 8 pill (a ping-pong ball with a number written on it in Sharpie Marker)for an inversion of the dash starting line-up. The Top-10 starting positions in the A-Feature are then determined by the finishing order of the dash in a three- or four-heat race program and the Top 12 in a five-heat race program.

Hot Laps – A session held prior to time trials. This session is run in groups. Each car is assigned to a group prior to this hot lap session, and the groups are determined by the draw that set the order for time trials. During this practice session each car is allotted 3 or more laps (the number depends on the size of the track) at speed in order to ensure that their car is ready for qualifying.

Heat Race (or Heats) – An 8-12 lap race (the distance is determined by the size of the track) that determines which cars will move on to the A-Feature or B-Main. The top five cars in the heats transfer to the A-Main, when there are four heat races. If there are three heat races, then the top six finishers in the heat race transfer to the A-Feature.

Inversion –The top 16 cars in time trials are inverted in the heat races, meaning that the fastest qualifier in time trials starts in the fourth-spot in the first heat. The second-fastest qualifier starts in the fourth spot of the second heat. The third-fastest qualifier starts in the fourth spot in the third heat, and the fourth-quick qualifier starts in the fourth spot in the fourth heat (when four heats are run). The fifth-fastest qualifier starts third in the first heat. The sixth-fastest qualifier starts third in the second heat, and so on, working up to the 13th-fastest qualifier starting on the pole of the first heat. The 14th-fastest qualifier is on the pole of the second heat. The 15th-fastest qualifier is on the pole for the third heat. The 16th-fastest qualifier is on the pole of the fourth heat (See layout below). The remainder of the cars, are lined up heads up by their time, starting in the third row of each heat race. The 17th fastest car in qualifying lines up fifth in the first heat, with the 18th fastest qualifier, fifth in the second heat, and so on until the rest of the field is filled.

Note: In a three-heat program, the top 12 in time trials are inverted for the heat races.

Time Trials – each competitor is given two timed laps to determine where they will start in a heat race. If a competitor misses his or her spot in the qualifying order by more than two places, by rule, he or she is allowed one lap at the end of time trials and the best he or she can be is 17th or one spot behind the inversion cars.

World of Outlaws points are awarded in qualifying and the A-Main. All competitors receive 75 show-up points regardless of whether they transfer to the A-Main. Competitors that transfer to the A-Main receive A-Main finish points. The winner receives 150 points. Second place receives 146 points and then it drops by 2 points back to the final spot. Qualifying receives five points for Quick Time and decreases by one point back to fifth which receives one point.


Donny Schatz 2013 World of Outlaws Champion
Credit: Tony Stewart Racing
Points are very critical in the competition for the Outlaws. This year saw the closest points battle in Outlaws history between Donny Schatz and Craig Dollansky. The battle came down to very end of the season and could easily have been decided by provisional starts in the A-Main. Each team receives two provisionals at the beginning of the season and two for the second half which are awarded in July. By the end of the year Schatz was out of provisional starts which could have meant that he could have lost 75 points to Dollansky in a single race by not advancing to the A- Main. As it happened, Schatz took the championship in Charlotte by 114 points.

The talent pool in the World of Outlaws is very deep. Full-time teams and competitors include Steve Kinser, who is known as the King of the Outlaws with 20 series championships and 574 feature wins. Also Sammy Swindell, Donny Schatz, Craig Dollansky, Joey Saldana, Jac Haudenschild to name a few.

There are no bad Outlaws races. Period. They race every single lap. They race wide open and full out. If you try to stroke your way to an Outlaws win you will be lapped before half way. It just isn't done. It can’t be done.

The only thing  in the Outlaws series that is more important than winning is family. And the fans are a big part of that family. They are greeted with open arms and pleasure. There are generations of fans in the same family with the love of the sport being passed down for years. 
The level of competition here is second to none. Even three-time Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart recognized that level of excellence saying, “When you come here and you win an Outlaws race you have truly beaten the very best there is.”  
That information gives you a foundation to build on. I am always open to questions. If I don’t know I will find out. If you are a race fan, you will love the Outlaws. If you aren't a race fan yet, you will be after one race. So grab a seat, grab a drink and a dog and pull the belts tight, and get ready to roll. Because when the Outlaws take the track it is truly the Greatest Show on Dirt and it’s a show you don’t want to miss.

Writers note: Many thanks to the World of Outlaws, Hoosier Tire, and all of the crew on all of the teams who have contributed information and education for this piece.

2 comments :

Awesome and just what any newbie to the sport (that would be me!)needs to feel like they know what they are watching/listening to and/or talking about.

Not only that, but I'm also diggin' the whole sisterhood of this site. I mean, how cool is that?

Right!

And Right On Ro, for a illuminating article. I'm looking forward to more in the future!

Awesome article. I love how you told the history and how it works. Helps new race fans understand, and I learned a few things as well. Looking forward to another awesome season. Cant wait to see how the season goes.

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