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Lite means Fast

By Mike Johnson

No matter how big of a motorsports advocate you are, there is a good chance you have never heard of a Modified Lite/UK Modified (Mod Lite). At first glance their unique look might attract you as they are based off a full size American Dirt Modified. But their small size, topping out at 50” (1.3m) tall and 128” (3.3m) long from bumper to bumper, may have you overlooking them.

But as someone who has raced these cars for the past six years, I can promise that is something you wouldn’t want to do.

In racing one of the most important concepts for making a car go fast is its power-to-weight ratio. The lighter the car is and the more power it has, the faster it will be. In terms of a Mod Lite, it has been engineered to perfection as the car weighs (with the driver in it) about 1,260lb (570kg) on average and has anywhere from a 1,000 to 1,300cc motorcycle engine, putting out close to 200hp, powering it. These numbers vary depending on where they are raced and what the rules are, but no matter where they are, these numbers work in harmony to make a very fast little car.

After growing throughout the United States, the Mod Lites made their way into Canada and then overseas to Australia and the U.K. The fact that they have become so popular internationally says a lot for a little dirt oval racecar.

Of all of the Mod Lite drivers I have meat, they have all given the same answer as to why they choose to race these cars: “Because they are so much fun.” And I couldn’t agree more.

They act as a nice stepping stone if you are trying to make your way up through the ranks of racing or can act as a sufficient permanent racing series. But mostly, you get a kind of racing from them that you can’t get with some series. Their small size makes for larger racing lanes and being able to squeeze through openings that weren’t meant to be openings.

You get a bit of an adrenaline rush just by sitting in one, due to its narrow cockpit and lack of visibility. There is just enough room to be able to turn the wheel in either direction and not hit your arms on the exposed cage of the chassis. You get a large computer sized screen opening in front of you and to both of your sides to see out of, but once you put your helmet on and attach all of your safety gear, that visibility gets cut in half; sometimes more if you have a full containment racing seat. There are no mirrors in these cars or spotters guiding them throughout the race. It is solely up to the driver to listen to where the other cars are and always be aware of their surroundings.

To some that may not sound like fun and if you have your belts too tight, especially in the crotch region, it will not be when you come off the track talking like you swallowed helium saying, “I think we need to loosen the belts.” It is when you get on the track when the real fun begins.

You turn on all of the switches and press the ignition button firing up the engine with it making a sound as if it is pissed off you woke it up. The common rule among all Mod Lite series is that you use a Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha or Honda 1,000cc engine. There are some improvements you are allowed to do to the engines and some places even allow up to 1,200 or 1,300cc engines. Since these are motorcycle engines there is no reverse, so you usually have someone push you back away from your trailer, but then it is all up to you and your right foot. The shifter is a stick to your right and depending on driver preference, there may be a hand clutch on it rather than having a foot clutch. I prefer a hand clutch as I can sacrifice a hand off the wheel to grab the clutch encase of an incident so both feet can stay at their respected pedals. The shifter gets pushed forward out of neutral into first gear and then gets pulled back, skipping over neutral, to go to second and the rest of the gears.

Then depending on the size of the track and the gear ratio you have, you would usually stay in either second of third gear for the whole race. At the most, the highest gear you would really ever get to is fourth. So the question of “how fast can these cars go?” is one that doesn’t have a proper answer. On the larger half-mile tracks they can easily reach over 100mph, but with two or three more gears to go, there is a lot of potential there. But on the average sized tracks you’ll top 80 to 90 mph. And that is still plenty fast enough for these cars to put on a good show. The cars are rear-wheel drive, but are designed to grip the track, so the first time you push down the pedal the sheer force of the launch will have you digging for more or ready to find a new pair of pants.

Then put anywhere from 20 to 30 cars on a track all doing the same thing, passing and racing inches apart from each other throughout the whole race, it becomes not only exciting for the drivers, but the fans watching. The cars require a quick reaction time and intense focus and racing one of these is like trying to tame an angry bull and if you take your eye off of it for a split second, the bull is going to win. There have been American Big Block Dirt Modified drivers who have been overwhelmed by the little cars and felt that if you could successfully drive one, you could drive anything.Usually it is the first option of pushing even harder on the accelerator taking in the speed like it is a drug. The engine will be screaming to over 13,000rpm and by that point your first obstacle will appear, making the corner. For those of you that have seen the movie Cars, this is where turning right to go left takes place. First timers usually will take the turn slow and drive around it like they are on asphalt or go too fast and spin. Some take longer than others to grasp the concept, as it is an odd feeling the first time. You drive hard into the corner, maybe using a little brake to get the rear-end to rotate, so then you have to control the rotation with the throttle, while the car feels like it wants to roll over, due to the weight transferring to the right side of the car. The right rear will be just about digging into the dirt, while the left front tends to lift off the ground. It gets a lot more technical than that and takes a good setup in the car to make it work perfectly, but when it does there is no better sensation than feeling like you are defying physics.

There are plenty of frustrations that come along with racing a Mod Lite like any racing series, but with the cars being a blast to drive, there is no better medicine for a bad race to get right back in the car and go racing again. And I think that is the same for every Mod Lite driver around the world, as I have seen with both U.S. and UK Mod Lite racers, they don’t lay down for anybody and will always take the car to its limits. If you are a fan, make sure to find the closet Mod Lite or UK Modified race and if you’re a driver, try a go in one. Either way, you’ll never forget the name Mod Lite.

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