An engine for a NASCAR race car costs over $30,000, and you you need at least two of them--one for the time trials, and then a different one for the race. Adding trailers, motor homes, mechanics and tools can push the budget for a NASCAR racing team easily into the millions of dollars.
That's fine and dandy if you're some rich schnook like Tom Cruise, but what about the regular working American? Enduro racing has now brought the power of stock car driving to the people.
Enduro racing is an entry class series whose rules are designed to keep costs down. Enduro cars really are "stock." Most start out as wrecks, which are bought from auctions or junkyards and then undergo an engine rebuild.
Enduro's rules prohibit any major modifications to the suspension, and the widest tire you can run on is 7 inches. Hot rodding of the engine is also not allowed. The winner of an enduro race must pull the valve cover off the engine, and if judges find hot rod rocker arms or any other serious modifications, the winner is disqualified. Quick change rears and fancy brakes are also prohibited.
With limits on the suspension and engine modifications, there's a finite amount of money you can spend on a car, which levels the playing field for the drivers. But this doesn't mean there's a lack of close, exciting racing. The average starting field of an enduro race consists of about 100 cars, which are lined up on the speedway, 3 or 4 cars wide. From a standing start, they gradually increase to a speed of about 90 miles per hour for 100 to 200 laps.
Spins, crashes and "rubbing" are common, but enduro is not intended to be a demolition derby, and drivers who treat it as such are pulled off the speedway. As the race progresses, the course becomes treacherous. When a car is wrecked or disabled, a red flag is thrown to allow the driver to exit the track, but the car is left on the speedway, and the track progressively turns into an obstacle course.
The top 15 places are the only ones that pay, with $1000 going to the winner, down to $50 for 15th place.
L.S. Bullock has been a weekend enduro racer for the last 4 years. His race car is a 1978 Ford T-Bird, which he bought for $60 at a salvage auction. He explains that the relatively mammoth car is a good choice for enduro racing because it has a very durable chassis that has weathered many hits that would have stopped other cars.
"Speed is not necessarily what will make you win, says Bullock, "it's more like longevity. You can't win if you don't finish." (The closest Bullock ever came to winning was when he finished 2nd, running a '66 Valiant 4 door with a .225 slant six and an automatic transmission.)
"At one point everyone thought Mopars were the hot ticket," says Bullock, "because the guy who was winning all the races was running a Mopar -- a Chrysler Cordoba." GMs are the most popular due to the availability of parts, which are easily interchangeable between many different years and models.
There are no fancy trailers or trucks needed in enduro. Bullock's T-Bird goes to the track on an open trailer, pulled by a 3/4 ton pickup truck, which he drives himself. On the way to the track, he stops at his local gas station and puts 87 octane in his truck, and high octane in the T-Bird.
He runs on three tracks: Flemington, NJ (a 5/8 mile paved track), Bridgeport, NJ (a 5/8 mile dirt track), and Grandview, PA (a 1/3 mile high banked dirt track). All three tracks are within a two hour drive of his home in Pennsylvania, although some drivers will travel as far as Maryland or New York to compete in more races.
Bullock works on his car evenings and weekends, but waits to pound out dents in the fenders at his leisure, or "only if they really need it." In the off-season, he pulls the engine, checks the roll bar for cracks and inspects the frame and brakes. But for many enduro racers, the off-season means they simply throw a tarp on the car in the fall, and then take it off in the spring.
As a driver, mechanic and the product of growing up at his father's junkyard, Bullock is thrilled with every aspect of enduro racing. Although his status as a junkyard employee gives him access to salvage auctions and plenty of parts, Bullock says the cost of enduro racing is still cheaper than something like having a bass boat or even say, publishing a jackass new men's magazine.
"Anyone could put together an enduro racer from scratch for about $2000," says Bullock. "Or $2500 at the most, if you're gonna get fancy."
But there's no need to get fancy. Enduro gives you all the excitement and fun of racing without all the expense or frills. When asked what improvements he would make to his car if he hit the lottery, Bullock pauses, genuinely stumped. Finally pressed for an answer, he responds reluctantly: "Maybe I'd get it lettered nicely. We've always just used spray paint and junkyard crayons."