Race a Junker on a Dirt Track

Ladies and gentlemen, start your junkers! There are many tracks where you can take a junk car to a spectator race. Spectator races have few rules; they tend to be a complete free-for-all. These steps may help you finish - or even win - a spectator race.


  1. Watch the track crew water down the track. Depending on the season's rainfall, the track may be hard or soft. The additional water will make it a little slippery, a lot slippery, downright muddy, or a mix of the three.
  2. Pull onto the track with the rest of the participants to drive slowly, packing the track down. No speeding, no passing, no bumping; just drive around. This is a good time to get used to the bumps and the bank on the curves. Hit the gas hard a few times to see how easy wheelspin is, but don't get out of control.
  3. Participate in the qualifying laps. You'll get three or four laps at full speed with no other traffic around. The fastest qualifiers will compete for trophies. Everyone else will just run for fun the rest of the night. This is the time to push your car as hard as you can without spinning out. Find the muddy parts, the hard, dry parts and the slippery parts.
  4. The track will be very crowded during racing, so be cool at first until the pack spreads out and thins out. Make your way around the first couple of laps without bumping any other cars.
  5. As much as possible, stay to the outside in the straightaways and move to the inside through the turns. You want to make your path through the turn as straight as possible to avoid scrubbing off speed.
  6. When going through the turns, get the car into a slide, kicking the rear out toward the outside wall. Maintain this slide through the turn by steering to the opposite direction than the turn. Keep the front wheels in the direction you want the car to go, regardless of where the front of the car is pointing.
  7. When turning, be careful of the infield. If there's not a wall between the track and the infield, there will certainly be a ridge of dirt. Bumping your left front wheel against this will affect traction on that wheel, and you could lose control. If you bump the infield, move the car a bit towards the outside.
  8. Remember that you are most vulnerable when turning. Other drivers will try to spin you by bumping your left rear just behind the rear axle with their right front (known by police as the PIT maneuver). This will cause you to spin out, lose position, and possibly crash. If you know there is a driver in position to spin you this way, don't slide as much, if at all.
  9. Don't pass on the outside during turns, and don't pass on the inside on the straightaways. Doing so enables the other driver to push you to the wall or the infield, respectively. Getting pushed to the infield is much worse than going to the wall. The infield, if not walled off, is a complete mud bog that you'll spend many laps trying to get out of, if you can get out at all.
  10. Drive with the transmission in the lowest gear possible. Example: if you can only get up enough speed to get high in first gear, but not shift to second, leave the car in first, not drive. The engine will help slow the car down when you brake for turns, and your acceleration will be more immediately responsive going into the straightaway.
  11. Keep a keen eye out for debris on the track. If someone has lost a bumper on the outside of the backstretch, remember to stay to the inside. You may also be able to use debris to your advantage by coercing other drivers into it.
  12. Plan ahead. When you see a crash, think about what you're going to do when you come around the track again, because the wreck will probably still be there, and could be worse. Consider a wreck to be a giant piece of debris, and use it to your advantage as well.
  13. By the time the race is over, twenty-five laps or so, there may be only two or three cars still running at all, the rest having returned to the pits or sitting dead on the track. The key to winning is finishing, and the key to finishing is keeping your car moving. Drive aggressively, but also be very calculating. If you're not in good track position to muscle someone out of the way, bide your time.


  • Although the rules will certainly specify that being intoxicated is prohibited, most everyone will have a few beers in them behind the wheel. Give yourself a leg up by staying sober.
  • Helmets and seatbelts are certainly required by the rules. Make sure the helmet fits and the seatbelt is snug.
  • Wear a mouthguard to prevent breaking teeth or biting your tongue in hard accidents. This is particularly useful if you take the car to the demolition.
  • Your windshield will become speckled with mud very quickly. Do not use the windshield wipers, as this will only smear the mud around, completely obscuring your view. When you get back to the pits, wet the windshield down with water (beer works, too), and scrape it off with a wide plastic putty tool, like you'd use for spackling drywall. If you don't have one of those, the "preferred shopper" card from the grocery store will do. Buff with an old shirt you found in the trunk.
  • Even a huge car will fit through a much smaller gap than you think.
  • Wear a heavy jacket, preferably a hard leather biker jacket, as armor against scrapes and scratches.
  • It's been said that "rubbin's racin'." You will be bumped by other cars. Bump back. Make pre-emptive strikes if necessary.
  • In many ways, a dirt track is much safer than commuting in city traffic. You know that everyone is going the same direction as fast as they can, and all the turns are left. In heavy traffic on the track, you'll get bumped back and forth with very little damage or discomfort. Be aware, though, that if you suffer a hard hit, it will hurt. And you'll probably still be traveling at some speed. Be ready to shake it off and get back in the game.
  • Note that the rules for prepping your car vary from track to track. You'll need to get those from the track at which you intend to race.


  • Alcohol does flow at the dirt track, and some people are bad drunks. If you put someone into the wall and wreck their car, they may come looking for you in the pits. Be conciliatory, apologize, offer them a beer, a smoke, and/or a handshake.
  • Racing a car is a much more physically demanding thing than you think it is. After a good night of racing, every muscle will ache. This is a good time to deaden the pain with a couple of drinks with your fans. You did bring a bevy of fans for the grandstands, didn't you?
  • You can get hurt doing this. You will sign a waiver of responsibility before getting your race pass, releasing the track from any liability if you are injured or killed. But that probably won't happen.

Things You'll Need

  • Junker car, full size, rear wheel drive
  • Helmet
  • Mouthguard
  • Wide plastic putty knife
  • A couple of spare tires and a big hammer
  • A bevy of fans for the grandstands
  • Beer
  • Health Insurance

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