Since its beginning, ARCA...
Since its beginning, ARCA has had close ties with NASCAR, including sharing race weekends at places such as Daytona. (Sam Sharpe Photos)
Frank Kimmel has taken the...
Frank Kimmel has taken the last two ARCA championships.
ARCA competitors often drive...
ARCA competitors often drive former Winston Cup cars. The No. 94 car of Jeff Asip is a former Johnny Benson Winston Cup car.
The No. 66 of Bob Strait is...
The No. 66 of Bob Strait is a former Jeff Burton car.
Bill Venturini, a two-time...
Bill Venturini, a two-time ARCA champion, is well remembered for his all-girl pit crew.
ARCA is the only major stock...
ARCA is the only major stock car series to also run on dirt, such as this 1995 race at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
A few years ago, NASCAR celebrated its 50th anniversary. Now, its ARCAs turn, and the organizations accomplishments over the past five decades deserve to be recognized.
It all started as a relationship between the guru of stock car racing at the time, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., and one of Frances race officials, John Marcum. The year was 1953, and big-time stock car racing was in its infancy. France and Marcum had a longstanding relationship. They had actually raced against each other in the 1940s.
My dad ran against Big Bill in open-wheel roadsters, says Marcums daughter Suzie Drager, still an ARCA employee. Thats how they first got to know each other. Then, when France formed NASCAR, he brought my dad along with him. My dad was involved with track operations, but he would do anything Bill asked of him.
But the talented Marcum had a dream gnawing in his gut. He seriously felt a need existed for a similar stock car organization to be fielded up north. Soon Marcum formed the Midwest Association for Race Cars, or MARC. Eventually, the MARC name was dropped in favor of ARCA, short for the Automobile Racing Club of America, a name that gave the group a more national image. The organization established roots in Toledo, Ohio, a location where it still resides today. In fact, Marcums grandson, Ron Drager, now heads the organization.
Links To NASCAR
During its early years, ARCA raced slightly modified street cars in the Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania area. Through the 60s and 70s, the organization gained great prestige and was considered by many as the NASCAR of the North.
The France-Marcum relationship paid big dividends for the new group. France called Marcum and asked him if ARCA would like to go down to Florida and be a part of the February Speedweeks at Daytona in 1964. Marcum jumped at the chance, and ARCA has been at the track every year since then, enjoying the huge exposure.
The NASCAR-ARCA sharing of tracks on the same weekend didnt stop at Daytona. Through the decades, the groups have shared weekends at Talladega, Charlotte, Atlanta, Michigan and other venues. All the while, ARCA has maintained its short-track roots by competing on tracks such as Kil-Kare (Ohio) Speedway, Winchester (Indiana) Speedway, Berlin (Michigan) Speedway, and Salem (Indiana) Speedway, where the group first ran in 1955.
Beyond sharing tracks, ARCA has other close ties to NASCAR. ARCA, with just minor changes, uses Winston Cup cars for its series. In fact, many of the ARCA machines, just one or two years earlier, carried the paint schemes of Winston Cup racers.
The arrangement gives ARCA drivers the highest technology possible, and provides experience for those drivers hoping to one day land a Winston Cup ride. Also, ARCA uses the cars until they are 5 years old. As such, models like the Oldsmobile and Buick hung around in ARCA after they were discontinued in Winston Cup.
Both ARCA cars and Winston Cup cars have a minimum weight of 3,400 pounds and use the same type of 358ci small-block engines. The only difference in the engines is that ARCA allows the use of a rocker cam. There are also slight differences in the body rules, including changes in air dam heights and deviations in rear spoiler heights and angles.
The differences were greater during the 70s and into the late 90s. With the departure of Chrysler from NASCAR in the early 70s, NASCAR basically operated with just two companies, General Motors and Ford, although there were a number of different brands within each.
Not true with ARCA. Through those years, a number of non-factory Chrysler teams ran competitively. Bob Keselowski was best in MOPARs during the 90s. ARCA also used the most famous of the MOPAR models, the awesome winged Superbird Dodge Daytona. Ramo Stott, in fact, won the ARCA championship in a Superbird in 1970. During the 70s, most of the Chryslers were LeBarons fielded by the likes of Jerry Churchill, Ron Otto, and Keselowski.
During the 90s, drivers Robbie Pyle and Roger Blackstock fielded competitive Dodge Avenger-bodied machines. The engines used were 355ci powerplants similar to those used today by the Dodge teams in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. ARCA also has followed NASCAR in introducing the Dodge Intrepid.
Like NASCAR, much of ARCAs early racing was accomplished on dirt tracks, although both series have moved away from competing on dirt. ARCA, however, never got quite over it, and even in the 21st century maintains dirt races on the schedule. The most common are races at Duquoin and the Springfield Mile, both in Illinois.
A multitude of stars ran ARCA during the Marcum years, many having multi-year title accomplishments.
Five of those stars won three straight titlesIggy Katona, Nelson Stacy, Jack Bowsher, Ron Hutcherson, and Dave Dayton. Katona also had two consecutive titles, a feat matched by Benny Parsons, Ramo Stott, Marvin Smith, Bobby Dotter and Lee Raymond. In fact, between 1953 and 1986 there were only 15 champions. During the 90s, Tim Steele would accomplish the double, while Frank Kimmel did it the past two seasons.
Needless to say, the fledgling organization didnt get much attention during its early years. In fact, one of the winners that first 1953 season was J.H. Petty, a brother of Lee Petty.
As was the case in NASCAR, the low-slung Hudson Hornets dominated early with MARC, taking its first two titles with drivers Jim Romine and Buckie Sager. But through the 60s, Ford was the dominant brand.
During the 70s, new brands came on line, as Mercury claimed three championships and Plymouth garnered two. Buick closed out the decade with a pair of titles. An amazing event took place in 1974 when Hutcherson and Dave Dayton tied for the title. In 1979, Kyle Petty made his ARCA debut with an impressive win at Daytona.
Marcum died during the 1981 season, bringing uncertainty concerning the future of the series. But the Marcum family stepped up. Marcums widow, Mildred, and daughter Suzie Drager hired longtime officials Bob Loga and Rollo Juckette to continue operations. It was tough going for a while, with only eight races in 1981, but ARCA survived.
In 1985, future Winston Cup star Davey Allison won Rookie of the Year and tied for second in points. Two years later Bill Venturini set an ARCA speed record of 205.432mph during qualifying at Talladega. Venturini had one other characteristic on his team that got the attention of the fansan all-girl pit crew that became his trademark.
In 1987, ARCA introduced a new model for the first time. Driven by two-time champ Lee Raymond, a Chevy Beretta was entered in competition that season. In order to make it ARCA-legal, the car had to be stretched 10 inches. The model was a rocket, with two wins at Pocono and a second at Atlanta in 1987. But as promising as it was, the Beretta would never make it in ARCA or NASCAR.
In 1992, the son of a former champion became a champion himself. Bobby Bowsher, son of three-time champion Jack, won the first of his two ARCA titles. David Green had his first ARCA win that year, followed by Jeremy Mayfields first the following year.
Jeff Purvis won three superspeedway races in 1993, with TV viewership reaching 10 million for 15 televised races. Bondo Mar-Hyde would come on board as the series national sponsor in 1994, an association that would last through the 1999 season. The 1994 Des Moines Grand Prix was the first street race ever run by ARCA, an event won by Scott Lagasse.
With the death of ARCA President Bob Loga in 1996, John Marcums grandson Ron Drager was appointed to replace him, and he still holds that position today.
The 1997 season saw domination from Tim Steele. He won his third ARCA title by taking 12 of the 22 races. Kenny Irwin Jr. and Adam Petty became first-time winners in ARCA in 1998. That same year, ARCA celebrated running its 1,000th sanctioned event.
More familiar names accomplished their first wins during the 1999 season with Blaise Alexander and Ron Hornaday each getting their first checkered. The 2000 season saw Ryan Newman and Kerry Earnhardt win their first ARCA race.
Through the years, ARCA has promoted a number of other types of racing. For example, in 1988, ARCA began promoting its own midget series, now called the ARCA Auto Value Midget Series. Also, that same year, it established the ARCA Figure 8 Series.
For a time during the 90s, the group had a traveling mini-stock series called the ARCA Pro-4 Series. In 1999, the ARCA Lincoln Welders Truck Series was formed and the series has been successful.
ARCA has also started sharing race weekends with other NASCAR divisions besides Winston Cup, such as the Busch Series and Craftsman Truck Series. The series also has joined forces with the Indy Racing League for a weekend show.
President Ron Drager sums up the 50 years of ARCA quite simply. I think we have a good feel on how we fit in. We are not a full-time, superspeedway-oriented 36-race series. We look upon ourselves as having a less-financed field of regulars and giving them a chance to run on a wide variation of tracks.
Everybody assumes that all our drivers have NASCAR as their ultimate goal, but thats not always the case. Many of them have shown well at the local or regional level and want to give us a try with a 3,400-pound car on high-speed tracks.
Others come to us just wanting to run only superspeedway or maybe short-track races. Then, there are times when a NASCAR team will send down a young driver to acquire experience with us. We know our place and plan to keep operating this way in the future.
I think my founding grandfather would be happy if he could see what his organization has become and how weve been able to bring many resources together. I dont think hed like all the paperwork we have to deal with these days, though.