Craig Murto: Sprints provide affordable racing

Many people want to get into racing, but have a hard time discovering an affordable series in which to participate.

That’s where the IMCA RaceSaver, Mid-Atlantic Division — better known as the Virginia Sprint Series — comes in.

The key to the Virginia Sprint Series (VSS) is the RaceSaver engine, the brainchild of French Grimes. A cylinder head manufactured by Brodix using Grimes’ specifications and costing less than $2,000, as well as commonsense rules anyone can see at RaceSaver.com, make the RaceSaver engines more affordable than popular crate engines, and more durable. As a result, inquiries have found used Virginia Sprint Series cars, with engine included, for less money than some used Legends Cars.

VSS ran its first race of the season Saturday night at Shenandoah Speedway. Prior to the racing a conversation with competitor Jerald Harris revealed just how durable the engines are when he admitted that the engine in one of his cars had not been rebuilt in at least three years.

“All we’ve done is change the oil,” he said.

And the racing is competitive, whether on dirt or pavement. In fact, the VSS race at Shenandoah on opening night was by far the most exciting event of the evening, as Tom Humphries used heavy lapped traffic to make a last lap, last corner pass of Ryan Price to grab the lead and the win.

Humphries was helped by Price’s driving style. In only his second race on pavement, Price won his heat race and quickly jumped to the lead in the feature. But his dirt-track driving style, which resulted in smoke pouring off his right-rear American Racer tire in the corners, led to a loss of grip by the end of the race; he burned the tire off the car.

The tires VSS run on pavement are a budget tire. Everything about the series is meant to make it affordable. But unlike many “spec” series that mandate parts and use crate engines, the VSS allows competitors to spend as much as they want to. But the rules — which have not changed since their inception in 1997 — ensure that spending money does not buy an advantage.

IMCA became associated with the series a few years ago, and now acts as a national sanction. Competitors must join IMCA. It not only legitimizes the RaceSaver program nationwide, it also provides competitors with the benefits of IMCA membership, which includes insurance protection they otherwise may not have had.

Nationwide there are almost 1,500 sets of RaceSaver heads, all regulated through the program. Once an engine is built by the car owner, crew, an engine builder or whoever chooses to build one, the engine gets inspected to ensure it meets RaceSaver rules and sealed. The seal can be broken anytime if the engine needs work, but it must be recertified. As described above, these are not crate engines, and generally need little if any work.

The RaceSaver program has been one of, if not the fastest-growing segment of open-wheel racing in the country. In fact, Eagle Raceway in Nebraska threw out its old Sprint Car rules and went with the IMCA RaceSaver program. Promoter Roger Hadan won 2014 Promoter of the Year.

Locally the promoter is the man who created the RaceSaver program, French Grimes. Grimes doesn’t make a living off the program; he does it because he believes in it as a way to try to save short track racing. At 72 he still straps into a Sprint Car and competes, all the while performing his function as race director. He may be the only race director in the country who does that job behind the wheel, and he’s been known to pull up alongside a fellow competitor and motion them to park their car if he doesn’t like the way they handle themselves on the track.

Grimes makes it clear that VSS is meant for racers who want to race for the love of it; it is not meant to be a steppingstone to racing glory. He wants his competitors to be safe and not injure themselves or wreck their cars. But as Last week’s race at Shenandoah proved, that doesn’t mean they can’t race and that it’s not exciting.

VSS will travel to Eastside Speedway in Waynesboro on April 25 for the first dirt race of the year. Be sure to check them out, or see them compete at Shenandoah. And if you’re interested in getting involved with the affordable IMCA RaceSaver Sprint Series, visit RaceSaver.com.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.