OAKS, PA – The No. 112 Kenny Weld-built Dirt-Track Modified which Gary Balough drove to victory in 1980’s Schaefer 125 at Super DIRT Week IX is one of the most-significant racing cars that ever competed on the old 1-mile track at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse.
So, with that pedigree in place, the so-called “Batmobile” will be a major attraction at the 31st edition of the Pioneer Pole Buildings Motorsports 2016 Fueled by Sunoco Race Fuels and Distributed by Insinger Performance Race Car and Trade Show here at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center from January 22-24 when tribute is paid to the 123-year history (1903-2015) of auto racing on the “Moody Mile.”
Undoubtedly the most-unusual Dirt-Track Modified Stock Car that was ever created, in one fell-swoop this unique car – which is a permanent fixture at the Dirt Museum & Hall of Fame, in Weedsport, New York – changed the sport forever. And it is the reason why for the past 35 years we have had the Dirt-Track Modifieds that we know of today.
Looking back, however, it must be remembered that this car’s story was written at a time when untethered ingenuity was not only encouraged but expected to be accomplished by a handful of people who were always searching for that extra competitive edge.
Built when the DIRT Motorsports Rule Book only listed minimum requirements, this “famed or infamous” Modified was created after Weld consulted a variety of “out-of-the-box sources” in an effort to assemble something that was much-more effective on the race track than anything else that had ever been seen. And when it was first seen at the Fairgrounds it certainly raised more than one eye brow and generated a variety of complaints; a situation that got even greater after Balough took the car out onto the race track.
But what Weld brought to Syracuse was not unexpected by DIRT Motorsports officials as the man behind the project went the extra mile to see that what he and his co-creators – open-wheel race-car builder and metal fabricator Don Brown, former Northeast Modified driver and 1970 Daytona 500 winner Pete Hamilton and master engine-builder Mario Rossi – were doing was not going to be a waste of their time and efforts.
For in this regard, Weld – who was a talented Sprint Car and Dirt-Track Modified Stock Car driver – provided an all-expense-paid trip to his shop in Kansas City, Missouri, for DIRT Inspector Don Buschbascher to examine the car a week before the activities at the Fairgrounds were to begin. And because of the way that the DIRT Rules were then written Buschbascher could do nothing after his examination but tell Weld his car would be approved for competition.
Identified on its entry blank as a Lincoln Town Car Mark X/1 that was entered by Prime Time Racing of Opa Locka, Florida, the shiny-black Modified with red accents and gold numerals had as one of its more striking features a large, high roof that doubled as an aerodynamic wing.
The stunning aluminum-bodied racer was powered by a Ron Hutter-built Big-Block Chevy engine with one 4-barrel carburetor and it also featured: wide louvered side pods flanking its center-oriented driver’s compartment that helped to cool its relocated radiator; a deck lid with a Continental-style tire cover that resembled the rear wing on a rear-engined USAC Championship Car; and, ground-effects side skits that gave the car a very low profile.
In no uncertain terms, this was a very unique piece and Balough – who was a three-time winner (1976-1978) of Super DIRT Week’s headline event – showed just how much above the rest of the entries his ride was when, while running at less than full throttle during Thursday time trials, he won the pole with a 31.957-second lap at a speed of 112.853 mph.
To put things into their proper prospective, Balough’s solo run bettered Kenny Brightbill’s two-year-old track record by more than two seconds. And to add more fuel to an already-burning fire it was 1.246-seconds faster than the lap-time posted by outside-pole sitter Sammy Beavers (33.302 mph at 108.433 mph) who was driving the same Tony Ferraiuolo-owned purple and white No. 73 Chevy-powered AMC Gremlin that Balough drove the year before.
As expected, time trials opened-up an unprecedented storm of protest. Not only was Balough’s car in question but he had not raced at all that summer in the-then CRC-sponsored Super DIRT Series; the qualifying events that led up to the October events at the Fairgrounds. So on the Saturday morning before his big race DIRT founder Glenn Donnelly addressed all of that.
“We don’t want to see ground-effects cars in short-track racing,” Donnelly said. “All of our rules are geared for minimums. No track that I know of has maximum limits.
“I’m sure you’ll see a big change in our rules next season pertaining to maximums and ground effects. Our basic rules are half-mile-track rules and that’s how we’d like to stay.”
Then Donnelly added, “We don’t like to see anyone from the outside come in . . . and then have this happen.”
Of course, by this time there was nothing anyone could do about things, although some teams tried to take what Weld and Co. had created and adapt those changes to their own cars.
In a kind-of “trial-by-error” brand of engineering, crewmembers added a variety of fabricated aluminum panels to the roofs of their “traditional Dirt-Track Modifieds” in an effort to get the same kind of results that Weld got with the high-and-wide roof on his one-off entry. While the Gremlin bodies of eventual second-through-fourth-place finishers Buzzie Reutimann (in Vince Valero’s No. 60), Frank Cozze (in his Grant King-built No. 44) and Geoff Bodine (in his Bill Taylor-prepared No. 99B) – plus the Pinto of ninth-place finisher Brightbill (No. 19) – were aerodynamically widened in an interesting fashion.
Despite the fact that no one knew how much Balough was “playing with his competition” while he led laps 1-72 and 100-125, Cozze and his “modified Modified” were able to lead laps 74-81 and two-time (1972 & 1973) Super DIRT Week Champion Reutimann took charge in his “reworked red racer” from laps 82-99. And to complete the lap-count picture, Ed Lynch Sr. led lap 73 under caution with his “regular” No. 88 Gremlin when Balough made his pit stop for gas.
But while these overnight body changes may have made some difference to the cars in question, the bespectacled Weld later identified what he felt was his car’s real secret to success and that was a sealed forced-air or ram-air induction system behind its Lincoln grille that was estimated to be 70 percent as effective as a turbocharger when the car got to the end of one of the track’s long straightaways.
One of the cries against the “Batmobile” was that “it cost too much” and unknowing persons named any figure that they wished in this regard. However, when Balough was eventually asked about such things he did admit that the car cost $25,000-$30,000 ($76,000-$92,000 in today’s money) to build.
But really, the only people who knew if that expense – and the month-and-a-half of 12-14 hour-days that it took to build the car after all of Weld’s study and research – was worth it was Weld and the car’s sponsors (Booth’s Towing Service and Kansas City’s Lakeside Speedway) as Balough’s first-place drive earned the team $26,557 ($81,302.50).
In an interesting side note to Super DIRT Week IX, the fifth-place finisher in the 200-kilometer race was Ken Brenn Jr. in the “unaltered” yellow No. 24 Chevy-powered Grant King-built Gremlin that was also subject to some controversy when introduced in 1977 after Ken Brenn Sr. had the famed Indianapolis race-car builder put together something that was new and different.
Brenn Sr. and King’s ideas, though, were more attuned to improving on the current style of Dirt-Track Modifieds, so any hullabaloo created by the car that was “First In Class” at Syracuse in 1980 and the car that won the whole thing was very small by comparison.
When asked about the car that he drove to his historic victory and the aerodynamic principles that Weld used when he designed it, Balough just responded, “Air is free.”
Yet, while the “Batmobile” was quickly ruled to be illegal for competition anywhere after its dominating Super DIRT Week triumph, racers today continue working within the rules that were so established because of this extraordinary car to develop and further improve on the resultant breed of Dirt-Track Modified Stock Cars.
And, in large part because of that situation, the legendary No. 112 “Batmobile” remains as one of the most noteworthy and influential Dirt-Track Modified Stock Cars in motorsports history.