The Des Moines Register – Thursday, July 11, 2013 – Chris Williams

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series runs 36 points races in 39 weeks in 2013, a grueling schedule to say the least.

But that’s nothing compared to the schedule run by one of America’s most prestigious dirt late model series. This summer, the DIRTcar Summer Nationals “Hell Tour” is scheduled to run 31 races in 39 days. And for the first time since 2010, the “Hell Tour” returns to Iowa and 34 Raceway in Burlington. Saturday night’s first prize is worth $10,000.

From start to finish, the “Hell Tour” includes more than 100 hours and 5,700 miles of travel — during the hottest stretch of the summer — for those who dare to attempt all 31 races. Nine states are visited, and 2013 marks the largest “Hell Tour” schedule ever for a series that has been in existence in one form or another since 1986.

“It’s crazy if you actually think about it,” said Oxford native Chris Simpson, a “Hell Tour” regular and one of the top dirt late-model drivers in Iowa. “I have the utmost respect for them.”

Top NASCAR teams field hundreds of employees. For your run-of-the-mill team running the “Hell Tour,” it is two or three guys preparing the car for the next night.

That can create multiple problems. There are obvious issues that include parts failures and wrecks. But for late models that run night after night on rough dirt tracks, standard maintenance becomes quite the chore.

“The biggest deal is grooving tires every day,” said Simpson, who has competed in four “Hell Tour” events this season. “They’ve probably got to groove four to five tires a day. That can take anywhere from a half-hour to an hour per tire. It can take quite a while just to have one guy sit there and do that.”

Simpson grabbed what was arguably the biggest win of his career, a $10,000 “Hell Tour” event June 21 in Pontoon Beach, Ill. The Five Star Shop Service parts purchaser by day and racer by night is having a banner season that includes top-five finishes at two of dirt late-model racing’s most celebrated events — the Show-Me 100 (third) in Wheatland, Mo. and the Gopher 50 (second) in Spring Valley, Minn.

“It’s been a heck of a year nationally running against the big guys,” Simpson said. “It would be really neat to get a win like that in the Hawkeye State and pick up the $10,000.”

The 34 Raceway races UMP late models (the same sanctioning body as the “Hell Tour”) every other week. And based off of car counts this season, the track is expecting between 40 to 45 of the top late-model drivers in the region and beyond Saturday night.

Saturday will mark the second night of a national touring series coming to 34 Raceway this season.

The venue held a World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series event June 7 that drew a record crowd of more than 5,500. The 34 Raceway is averaging 108 cars a night and approximately 2,000 fans during its weekly events.

“That gives me confidence that when we do put out a special like this, even if it is a higher-dollar ticket price to cover the cost of the higher dollar purse for the drivers,” track owner Amy Laue said, “people will come.”


WHAT: DIRTcar Summer Nationals “Hell Tour”

WHEN/WHERE: Saturday, 34 Raceway in Burlington

TICKETS: $25 for adults, $22 for seniors, $13 for students, kids (10 and under) are free

DRIVERS TO WATCH: Muscatine native Brian Birkhofer won the second Summer Nationals event of the season June 14 in New Richmond, Wis. The two-time World 100 winner has captured feature events in every major touring series that the U.S. has to offer during his career. … Already a four-time feature winner this summer, Illinois native Shannon Babb has three DIRTcar Summer Nationals “Hell Tour” titles on his resume. … Two-time feature winner and 16-year-old Bobby Pierce is one of the brightest young stars in American dirt-track racing.

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