By Blake Schnitker
The sport of racing, especially dirt track racing, is widely popular throughout the Midwest from smaller rural towns like Jacksonville, Macon and Lincoln to the oval tracks of Quincy and Peoria. Not only can fans of dirt racing be found in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, but also on the opposite ends of the globe, places such as New Zealand and Australia, the latter of which being the former home of Kerry McCombs, who eventually landed in Jacksonville.
McCombs’ former racing team, McCombs Racing Australia (MCR), began competing in the Australian Motor Contest Association (AMCA Nationals) as early as the year 2000, before eventually making the move to the US in 2012. Now a veteran of the dirt racing world, McCombs – working out of his personal garage in Jacksonville – has been developing a way to bring the fans and the sport closer together through his new project, the Down Under and Dirty Racing Experience.
“The Down Under and Dirty is a driving experience we’re going to start up in Jacksonville,” said McCombs of his current project. “We’re building four cars, and the idea is to give the basic fan, the guy that sits in the stands who’s always wanted to do it but can’t afford the time or money, a real racing experience. So we’re going to run a basic course for people who’ve never driven before, and it’s going to be a full day course. We’d like to have twelve people per course, four people per car, and we’ll then suit them up, introduce them to the car, go through all the safety issues, and then slowly get them out there and slowly drive them around for the morning.”
“Then in the afternoon we’ll have lunch, and after lunch then we’ll start doing a little more speed,” McCombs said of the day long experience. “So we’ll have the Down Under and Dirty car being used as the pace car, and the students will be behind it one at a time, and be going around and start increasing the speed. We’ll do that all afternoon, keep rotating the students until we get them to a point where they say ‘hey look, I don’t want to go any faster’. And we want to keep (the price) reasonable, we’re hoping to keep the whole day under $450.”
As for the cars themselves, McCombs is in the process of building four V6 Wingless Sprint Cars similar to those used in the Australian Wingless Sprintcar Association (AWSR), which will contain GM L7 (Buick) 3.8 liter V6 engines. These vehicles are designed to run on methanol, with modifications being done on the injectors and matched through upgraded computers, all of which have been imported from Australia. In terms of performance, these vehicles are comparable to that of Late Model cars, in that the lap times of the two classes are similar to those set at Sydney Speedway.
“How we intend to do it, and it’s still in the planning phase, is we will probably run a test course using people that we’ll pick from the community, perhaps someone from the police station, someone from the fire department, someone from the city council, a couple people from the media,” said McCombs. “And so we’ll get twelve people together and we’re going to test this and make sure the timings are right and everything’s right and we’ll run through the whole course as if they were paying students.”
Participants of the ‘Experience’ will have all of the necessary equipment and support provided for them. The package will also include a catered lunch at the track, as well as a t-shirt and photo as a way to remember the occasion.
“At this stage we’ll be out at Jacksonville Speedway,” McCombs said. “But we’re planning on making it mobile so that if we get enough interest, we can go to other tracks such as Lincoln, Quincy, Macon, or anywhere there’s a track for us to get out on.”
Similar to McCombs’ former racing team, MCR, which, through their partnership with Xbox was able to support a number of charitable organizations such as Ronald McDonald House, Westmead Children’s Hospital, and Teenagers Living with Cancer, the Experience hopes to enable McCombs and his team the opportunity to become involved in other philanthropic endeavors in the local area.