WHAT IS A DIRT MODIFIED... The modified stock car
is auto racing's oldest organized form. When stock car
racing replaced midgets, as America's most popular short track racing
following World War II, it was the Modifieds which were the essence
of the sport.
The first major stock car racing sanctioning body was the National
Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. And when NASCAR
started business in 1948, it sanctioned only one class of cars:
Modifieds. The sportsman, Grand National (now Winston
Cup) and late model divisions all came later.
In this early era, the word "modified" was a reference
to engine specifications. Modified racers were allowed
to modify their motors by boring cylinder walls and using oversized
pistons. This was contrasted by the sportsman car which
had basically a stock engine. Because of the boring,
modified motors had a larger cubic inch displacement than their
sportsman counterparts. Although both classes of car
have evolved dramatically from their WWII infancy, the names modified
and sportsman still remain with us in racing today.
And the names are still symbolic of the 1940s stockers; meaning
a modified is generally a powerful racecar and a sportsman type
is a smaller engine racecar.
A typical 1940/50s modified was generally a stock automobile, with
glass removed, a roll cage installed, and a souped up motor.
Hence the division's name: Modified Stock Car.
However in the 1960s, changes in the division became visibly apparent
as the bodies were channeled and lowered. The car builders
started mixing and matching components (i.e. a GM frame with a Ford
body). A very subtle but historically significant alteration
also became obvious: front fenders, which were heretofore trimmed
for tire clearance, were removed altogether. The changes
further made for a lower, leaner racing machine.
But the visual changes of the 1960s were no comparison to the wholesale
revolution which altered the modified breed in the 1970s.
The customary dirt track modified stock car circa 1968 featured
a 1955 Chevy frame with a 1948 Ford truck front axle, a 1936 Chevy
coupe body, 1960 Buick brakes, and a 427 C.I. Corvette engine.
Every car component, except the engine, was an item readily available
in the neighborhood junkyard. Despite representing a
mish-mash of manufacturers, the late 1960s style modified was truly
a stock car, made up of stock parts sold by Ford, GM, and Mopar.
But then, seemingly in a rapid-fire succession, a trio of revolutions
forever altered the face and name of modified stock car racing.
He first change involved the bodies. By the mid-1960s
the coupes and sedan shells from the pre-war era were becoming both
scarce and expensive. The junkyard man knew if the racer
didn't want to pay the asking price, the antique car collector would
make up the difference. Thus, several racers experimented
with alternatives to the traditional exterior scheme, using compact
bodies like Chevy Corvairs, Ford Falcons and Mustangs.
But even these compacts emerged slightly too big and had to be cut
to fit properly.
It wasn't until 1970, when Detroit introduced the sub-compact car,
that a solution was discovered. Chevy unveiled the Vega,
AMC offered the Gremlin and Ford introduced the Pinto.
Late in the same year New Englander Bob Judkins discovered that
a Pinto shell fit perfectly over a modified chassis.
The first shot in the revolution was sounded.
The body of choice on the dirt circuit was the Gremlin and AMC
Eagle. Cars like the Gremlin, Eagle and Dodge's Omni
were very boxy types, with flat sides, flat doors and a flat roof.
So crude and simple was the Gremlin body that racers soon found
that they could reproduce the Gremlin-look in their shops using
flat sheet metal. By the late 1970s homemade bodies
were state-of-the-art creations on the DIRT home front.
The late Dick Tobias from Pennsylvania revolutionized the chassis
of the modified stock car class in the early 1970s.
He began mass production of an entirely homemade chassis of which
the roll cage was an integral part, constructed of tubular steel.
Tobias also fabricated front axles and other assorted necessary
components which were affixed to the generic chassis.
With the Tobias tube chassis, the racer could then have a frame
and roll cage of brand new steel as opposed to something that had
been sitting in a junk pile for 25 years for not much more in cash
outlay and for significant savings in man-hours. DIRT
Motorsportsproxy Glenn Donnelly legalized the tube chassis at his
tracks in 1976.
The third revolution, that of the vital components and essential
parts, took place more slowly. In the 1950s drag racing
was a very popular sport in America, more so perhaps than oval track
racing. And while drag racers were known as big spenders,
stock car racers were anything but.
To serve the drag racer many small companies sprung up in the 1950s
and 1960s with the sole purpose of producing racing parts; i.e.
seats, shocks brakes, wheels, rear ends, roll cage padding, etc.
Whatever the item, a team could buy it specially made for competition
on the drag strip.
But by 1970, drag racing had lost some of its luster.
Interest was waning and the companies that served drag racers with
after-market parts began to lose money. To salvage these
same companies, the specialty-market producers started to court
the oval track fraternity. And by the end of the decade,
they had successfully conquered the sport.
"Back in my day I was a champion because I could build a better
car," once moaned 1950s modified kingpin Kenny Shoemaker of
Albany. "Now all you have to do is open your wallet
and buy a better car."
Indeed, the typical DIRT Modified that evolved from the 1970s was
a store-bought custom piece, from front to rear bumper.
From a form of car that just a dozen years earlier was made up of
100% junkyard stock parts, the 1980s open-wheel edition consisted
of no stock components whatsoever. Therefore, modern-day
cars are simply called DIRT Modifieds; not modified stock cars anymore.
The 1980s were a time period filled with vast changes in the outer
veneer of the modified the body, but little changes beneath the
skin. Floridian Gary Balough placed the final nail in
the coffin, which contained the word "stock" in the classification
of modified stock car. Balough's 1980 ride the infamous
black no. 112 'Batmobile' entry at Syracuse during Super DIRT Week,
proved to the modified world, that what the car's body did was more
important than its actual appearance.
So concerted was the notion of "substance over form"
in the Balough/Weld mount, what became lost was the idea of what
these cars were supposed to look like. So what if street
cars don't have roofs which look like wings! So what
if the doors on the family buggy don't have ground effects!
So while the 1980s witnessed various expansions on the thoughts
first espoused by Balough and Weld over a decade earlier, the 1990s
began and continued with a reversion in the other direction.
Only time will tell what the new millennium has in store as today
the entire DIRT circuit has assumed an identity all its own.
The future remains to determine the destiny of the cars' outward
appearance, while the internal components remain essentially the