I’ve been searching far and wide in an attempt to find anything and everything out of the ordinary that could possibly involve four wheels, an engine and an individual insane enough to pilot it, all in effort to bring you the so-called, ‘diversity and change’ I recently ranted about in my hellacious excuse of a ‘return to Speedhunters’ editorial.
And believe it or not, completely to my own surprise, it seems I may have actually published a rant so pessimistic and self-righteous that the days following were filled with nothing but an overload of insecurities and uncertainties as to whether or not even I could fulfill an agenda of such arrogance.
So to solidify the fact that my wings would spread as far as my own proposed width would announce, the past few weeks have been flooded with nothing other than scouring the depths of Google in search of regional adventure and the extraordinarily unknown within this niche of a local automotive community. And since doing so, it hasn’t taken but a week for me to witness lawn mower racing, monster truck car crushing exhibitions, burnout competitions and so much more, all in the comfort of my own backyard.
Even now, setting my eye on monstrous mud-bogging machines, cars of the prohibition and kilo-smuggling camions has started to seem entirely attainable. I think it’s officially safe to say that if it has four wheels, an engine and will more than likely make you slap at your keyboard like a prepubescent teen who’s just been introduced to the internet, I’m starting to believe I’ll actually be fortunate enough to cover it.
Yet throughout all this information from the powers of Google being blasted through my brain of what’s entirely feasible in my very own region, there’s one prospect that I haven’t been able to take my mind off of – and that’s dirt track racing.
You know, those wicked, high-horsepower machines crafted out of nothing but one-off cylinder heads and over-exaggerated fiberglass body panels, built solely for the purpose of turning left and shredding sideways on a dirt oval faster than Takumi down Mt. Akina.
Because it just so happens that I was able to find a venue about an hour north of my gentrified Atlanta home. It goes by the name of Dixie Speedway, and it hosts this type of event every Saturday night.
Can you imagine the carnage? That northern Georgia country, dirt track racin’, moonshine sippin’ petrol-fueled insanity?
So I pulled the trigger. Saturday night it was. I started heading to the track in my busted-ass Civic despite the predicted showers, and the closer I got more I could feel the anticipation taking over my blood pressure.
My surroundings quickly became blatantly apparent as I pulled up to a red light on a country road with a ‘Super Late Model’ class car being trailered to my left, plastered with a massive sticker reading, ‘Because fishin’ aint’ fastanuff’. Immediately, my brain began overflowing with the upmost of creative literary concepts on how I would compose the calamity and downright nonsense I was moments away from encountering – exactly as I was expecting.
Yet that’s precisely where that story ends. Because what I walked into was actually the furthest possible situation from what my cynical mind could ever have crafted.The Best Show On Dirt
Dixie Speedway, the 3/8-mile dirt track located in Woodstock, Georgia, renowned for hosting one of the greatest dirt shows in the country, was not a venue dug off in the backwoods as a host to bluest of collars. It was a home for a community that was not only thriving, but has been doing so for the past 50 years. It’s the kind of place where everybody knows everybody. Where the announcer preaches and prays over the loudspeaker before the national anthem, and where Bobby’s uncle’s son had just turned 14, and was behind the wheel for his first race. And it didn’t take very long for me to figure that out.
You see, I’ve attended out of the ordinary events off in the country like this before. The kind where no matter how hard I try to dress-down to fit in, I still stick out like a sore thumb. It’s almost as if the locals can smell the city on me, every time. And upon my initial entry through the Dixie Speedway front gates, the situation was no different as I could literally feel the countless sets of eyes staring me down even with the slightest movement of capturing a frame with my fancy pants space phone.
Then off in the distance I heard two men at the ticketing gate discretely speaking about what could only have been myself. “That boy there, he out here takin’ pictures? What newspaper he with?” “Beats me” the other gentleman replied. So rather than continuing to prance around and stare back like a douchebag, I decided to go introduce myself. And that’s exactly the point where I realized what the hell was going on, and why I was receiving so many questionable stares.
It turns out the man on the right, Cecil, is 72 years old. He’s been working at Dixie every Saturday night since the track opened in 1968. Call me crazy, but I’d bet my bottom dollar on that fact that he’d have been working the front gates had the venue opened any earlier too. And Jerry, on the left, has been attending Dixie every Saturday since 1992, and follows the series religiously.
Religiously in the sense that he receives four weeks and five personal days off from his occupation as a truck driver every year, and when he’s not using them at Dixie, he’s traveling around to every other venue he can find.
Jerry has witnessed dirt track racing all across America. California, Texas, the Carolinas – you name it. He knows all the fans, all the drivers, and all the staff at each little hole-in-the-wall track, and still, to this day will proudly state that Dixie is the absolute bee’s knees when it comes to dirt track racing. This is his life, and he loves every dirt whippin’ second of it.
Although the heartfelt emotions were beginning the purge, it wasn’t all cream pies and cupcakes. There was still a good group of people who refused to allow me to take their picture, preferring to congregate and stare rather than acknowledge my attempt at an introduction. I think I was even scolded for shooting the undercarriage of a car, and was strong-armed into deleting the images at one point in the evening.
And that’s perfectly okay. Because once I put myself in their shoes, I recognized that even I most likely wouldn’t have been as welcoming as Jerry and Cecil. So I went about my way as I continued to try and wrap my head around this lifestyle that was so utterly foreign to me.Turn Left!
Aside from the culture, and perhaps most important to you, I’m pleased to announce that the racing itself was as bat-shit insane as I could’ve ever expected. Though competition-wise, a little much to take in all at once for a newcomer.
The format itself was pretty simple, as it was compiled out of your general qualifying, heat races and knock out races. Where it got confusing was on the matter of classes. There’s Super Late Model, Late Model, Limited, Cruiser, Econo, Pony, Crate, Super Bomber, Steel Head and maybe a few other variations, if I even got that right.
Rightfully, each class has its own specifications, but some lines appear to be pretty vague. Where four cars may all fit all under one classification at Dixie Motor Speedway, the qualifications may be different at another. Either way, I was there to educate myself on a segment of racing that I had never experienced, and that’s exactly what I was going to do.
So from beginning to end, it was all an entirely new experience. For starters, the dirt track is packed down by a few local tow trucks circling the oval for a solid 45 minutes until the conditions are absolutely prime. Even despite the rain earlier in the day, the event was still able to take place as the dirt is packed so firmly, it ends up feeling like asphalt, rather than a mushy mud-like substance that you would expect.
Each class then lines up in its prospective order for qualifying, just as they would in any other event, at which time I took my place underneath the starting officials stand to get as close as I could to the action.
Now, I’ve been trackside for quite a few events in my day, but the feeling of experiencing these machines whipping by my face was like no other. Rather than in something like Formula D where you’re overwhelmed by billows of smoky toxins in your lungs and rubber confetti raining down on your skin, you’re faced with what feels to be gusts of gale force winds from the fiberglass panels pushing the air around the track in the sentiment of a simulated tornado.
The sound alone of the engines roaring is far from the whine of a frankenstein’d four cylinder with a potentially explosive amount of boost, but more relatable to the sound of the heavens above effortlessly being ripped to shreds as each and every build repetitively enters each turn sideways, upwards of 100mph. And the crashes – the crashes send a shiver down your spine.
Yet the entire time, I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘What would Daijiro do’. How would he adapt to this fashion? Would he lose it into the side rail off the bat? Or would his participation be revolutionary? The sport has been around for decades, but has it always been accessible to everyone? Or is everyone simply unaware? Certainly, these are questions I’m dying to dig a bit further into.
Because just like that, it was all over. I got my culture shock. I got my experience. And I stepped into the unknown just like I had proposed and walked away with a little Georgia clay on my boots and a touch of Miller Highlife on my breath. Though I still felt a bit empty handed, as I didn’t learn as much about the sport as I would have hoped – or did I? I suppose that will only come with time as I continue to attempt to educate myself on a wicked form of competition that is far from uncovered, but literally thriving in my own backyard.
Thank you, Dixie. Until next time.
Besides NASCAR, this was another form of racing I grew up watching. The dedication to the builds and sport is second to none.
These photos are stunning, some of the best I've seen on Speedhunters.
Couple of those photos look like they belong in National Geographic
Really enjoyed this!
Cool photos...but why all the cars have twisted body? That's weird
greenroadster I would imagine it's something to do with the banking of the track, so the body doesn't dig in to the floor at high speed.
Nice post man, been to Dixie and Senoia raceway a few times and they both always surprise me in the lols segment. Dirt track racing is everything that is right about nascar and forgets everything thats wrong with it. The party atmosphere, the wheel to wheel racing and the fact that you can stand on the barrier on the inside with nothing between you and the cars and nobody will say anything. Only place youll find a driver smoking a cigarette in the car on the starting grid and the "pit crew" drinking beers while they change tires, it is the definition of grassroots motorsports.
greenroadster The alignment and the chassis its all made and tuned to go in one direction, in this case counterclockwise.
Ugh. UUUUgh. no.
If you liked this you should also check out Sprint Car racing sometime. It too is a lot of fun to watch.
I have been to this type of event. The only part of me that is entertained is the fascination of everything that burns dinos. Every other aspect of these environments kills my soul. So Americanized and cliche. Jeremy Clarkson would have a hay day of pokes and prods at our culture, for good reason too. Full flavor Budweiser and everyone participating dreaming of some Nascar race that I will never understand.
CSAlltrac Your post is the cliche. #irony
IshMel Thanks man!
@bradnossi Im on it. Thanks!
I love this story so much... it's gonzo but with more soul and perspective. So many feels. #merica #thehighlife #drysumps #eardirt #WTFisatorquelink
One small correction. The "body panels" are not made of fiberglass. Almost the entire body and interior is made of aluminum sheet except for the front nose piece and the bottom few inches of the body panels, they are plastic. Makes for much easier repairs after a weekend of battle...at least in the case of the late model classes.
This is my life most Saturday nights (Super Late Model pilot). Yes, it can get a bit NatGeo at a dirt track. That said, it's some of the most competitive and hard nosed racing on the planet.
To address your questions:
(1) It would take Yoshihara-san some time to make the transition. Understanding the surface and how it changes throughout the evening is very challenging and tremendously important in the quest for speed. Developing the feel for what the car needs (in regards to both driving style and chassis setup) with so much rear steer and chassis hike can be difficult, even for veterans. Also, I'm struggling to think of any other type of car that uses floating birdcages, lift arms with 5th and 6th coils, etc. It's just a totally different world under the back of those cars. That hard earned knowledge is guarded viciously, as you found out. The physical aspect would be a big difference as well. Driving these lightweight, high horsepower cars with huge tires over uneven track surfaces for 50+ laps is test of stamina and upper body strength. The amount of side loading is shocking for newcomers. God forbid the setup is off... A guy that really misses the setup and is 'swatting bees' in the cockpit in one of these cars comes out looking like he's run 2 marathons.
(2) The sport has always been accessible and the general public is mostly unaware these days. I think this might not be a bad thing, honestly. A lot of attention generally brings a lot of sponsor money. Many people think that's a great thing, but look what it has done to NASCAR, F1, WRC, etc, etc. Local dirt track racing, as with most grassroots racing, is as close to pure motorsport competition as there is. Ingenuity flourishes, fan access is unparallelled, the racing is extremely tight/physical and the participants aren't polished spokespeople for Fortune 500 companies.
There is a reason that guys like Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne - guys that grew up on racing on bullrings across the US - still make time to go back to their roots when they get the opportunity, even though it's a strain on their schedules. Dirt track racing is like a bar fight with a roll cage and 800hp. Raw, fast, loud, aggressive and definitely not for the meek.
Killer images as always man. I also almost forgot how much I enjoy your writing. You got me excited for dirt rassin. Looking forward to more of your articles.
HRJ "Dirt track racing is like a bar fight with a roll cage and 800hp. Raw, fast, loud, aggressive and definitely not for the meek." So much freaking gold in that statement. Thank you so much.
BrandonLaJoie get out of here Brandon!
Every time I read one of your posts I come away feeling like I've
just read something that was written with good intentions but is far to
busy with words that seem to be added to increase its creativity or
"depth". I never end up feeling that creativity or depth though because
it never seems like the thoughts are cohesive. I'm attempting to give
constructive criticism instead of just doing the norm and just giving
insults. Here are a few examples that stuck out to me.
"So to solidify the fact that my wings would spread as far as my own proposed width would announce".
were you attempting to convey here? I read that line three times and
still didn't come away with a clear idea as to what you were trying to
say. Writing should be clear and concise. If the reader can't easily
understand the message then its lost.
"I think it’s officially safe to say that if it has four wheels, an
engine and will more than likely make you slap at your keyboard like a
prepubescent teen who’s just been introduced to the internet, I’m
starting to believe I’ll actually be fortunate enough to cover it".
This one I understood when I read it twice but because it was so long and contrived that I had forgotten what was "safe to say".
that’s exactly the point where I realized what the hell was going on,
and why I was receiving so many questionable stares."
read this sentence I was expecting to be told exactly why those men had
been giving you stares, but instead I was told about their love of
racing. Yea maybe some underlying point could be gleaned from the next
two or three paragraphs, something about you being an outsider maybe,
but no clear or definitive answer was given. Its jarring for a reader in
I hope you take this constructive
criticism to heart as I do want to read your articles and enjoy them,
but as it stands I just cannot do that.
@http://www.livefyre.com/profile/38083663/ come on up to Hickory Motor Speedway sometime this Summer!
I love the part about sticking out. I went to a dirt track in Ohio for NASCAR Camping World last year and felt like I was the odd one out because I was walking around with two DSLRs and constantly walking around the track for the best views. I but I have to admit, it was probably the most exciting race I went to last year. I was grinning like an idiot the whole time.
CSAlltrac So Americanized? What does that even mean?
milkplus CSAlltrac Given the "#merica" in your original comment there is a part of you that knows exactly what Im talking about. Beer guts, missing teeth, and terrible grammar. #irony? not here buddy.
Corbin CSAlltrac #Merica "Hold my beer"
Speedyquest Agreed. Incoherent and written with a self-righteous arrogance i've not witnessed in copy form for a long time...
Leading photo should have been gynecologist T shirt dude.
Man could probably out drive every one of us on an unpaved surface
Well #1 Clarkson got fired for being too much of a duchebag. There's a lesson there.
#2 wtf kind of audience are you expecting? Likely most of those beer gutted yokels can go way over your head with engine building and chassis setup, and that's before getting behind the wheel.
Paizuri_4g63 Clarkson for President!
CSAlltrac milkplus Newsflash; fat, ugly, dumb people aren't exclusive to America. Sidenote, you just described Jeremy Clarkson exactly.
I don't understand the the anti-american sentiment. I mean, I get it from xenophobic euro-types who hate everything, but you live here. If you can't enjoy it, you're not going to have very much fun. These people aren't going to stop enjoying 800hp drysumped death machines because you don't think it's sophisticated.
Matt Jones' darkside post was about how myopic and stale everything is... y'know... like your opinions.
This is the first type of racing I came from. A bunch of drift teams could learn a lot about chassis set-up spending time around this sport. I've always said really good competition drift cars are dirt late models on asphalt.
Can I suggest someone cover CRA non-wing sprint cars on the West Coast? Those boys take dirt racing to another level, and have a lot of fun doing it.
One day when I grow up a dirt late model will be found in my garage.
HRJ Haha by Natgeo I was referring to the quality of some of the pictures. It was not a reference to anything else, didn't mean to offend you if I did!
daileycon Or hell come check out some of the other small short tracks that NC has to offer. Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem is a riot, though paved. Still at a 1/4 mile and no banking the cars are fast. On any given weekend there is no less than 10k people there. I've been a few times and really enjoyed it. Also 311 Speedway which is dirt and awesome to see the cars go roundy.
None taken, sir. Sorry to misinterpret.
I know their not exclusive to only America, just heavily, heavily saturated. I also never said anything about them stoping the activities so.......I've actually been to more than I can count when sprint car racing myself.
Opinions are a wonderful thing as well. Creates diversity. Mine is that I could do without the "Rebel Flag", #Merica, NASCAR type events. Saying that they are unsophisticated is a very large under statement.
I also stand by Clarkson for President, call me a "euro type"
Awesome photos Matt! Is there any chance you have any photos of a black car that night number 99G?
@mdriskell possibly. I can skim through for sure. Shoot me an email email@example.com and I'll get to it
.."will more than likely make you fap at your keyboard like a prepubescent teen who’s just been introduced to the internet"
Fixed that for you.
On a classiesr note, Awesome article! Would love an in-depth on the cars!
thanks for these, i can smell the wet track and feel the noise off the corners. great memories of my youth.
why can't I download these images as wallpapers like in other articles??
Whats neat is formula drift is the foreign concept to me. Ive lived in an area where I thought for most of my young life that muscle cars and dirt track racing were the only choices for "hotrodding". Its awesome to see such familiar things captured in such a beautiful way.
DanielOliva Hmm... it looks like this setting has been disabled somehow. We'll look into this now, thanks Daniel.
Who wouldn't like 430 cubic inches of all aluminum Cornett race engine? Upwards of 900 horsepower, running on alcohol.
ASD Motorsports A few years ago they covered some CRA Sprinters. I think Larry needs to go to Perris Auto Speedway a few more times and check up on em
I've seen sprinters all my life and I feel the same way you do. FD teams can learn a ton from dirt drifters. IIRC, wasn't Tyler McQ running a sprint car motor in 2008-10? It sounded just GLORIOUS
Matt Jones HRJ take notes, keep it simple.
D1RGE EXE Yes, we put 410 Sprint car engines in both the Tyler McQuarrie and Darren McNamara cars back in 2008 - 2009. I think we were the first to do that in 2008 with Darren's car along with a Winters Quickchange diff. All based on dirt track past experience.
Vaughn Gittin Jr's Mustang we run now has a dirt late model based engine to this day. Essentially a Roush Yates Ford DLM engine with Kinsler EFI on top of it.
Can't get away from those dirt track roots
Speedhunters DanielOliva any development on this? still can't download!
Looks like you discovered one of the biggest issues with dirt track racing today; too many similar classes. Cost gets out of hand so a new division that is similar except for a few specs is created in an attempt to save money. Eventually the new division gets as expensive as the old and the cycle repeats. During this time fields that once numbered 30 cars in one division dwindle to 10 in 3 divisions. Now you have a show with 6 or more divisions none of which are very deep in talent or competition. New fans like yourself get confused because so many cars look a like yet they race in a different class. I don't blame you though as it is tough to follow as a die-hard dirt fan. Unfortunately this issue continues with no foreseeable solution.
Really enjoyed this article hope there is more like it in the near future.
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Ha them Late Model teams can be very ornery about people even looking at their setups.
I like the vibe of the write up. Pictures were stellar too!
I used to be at a dirt track every weekend with in the pits. When I would take my friends, their first impressions were very similar to yours. It might be a 'git er done' style of racing, but in many ways it's far from that.
Good read m8.