Driving around in cars like Oldsmobiles, Buicks and Pontiacs — those that would appear to be better suited for peaceful Sunday drives rather than Saturday night races — the Cruisers have carved out a niche of being a little different.
The reason why that class’ competition is so much different from the others is more than just the look and the build of the cars themselves, though.
The cars are driven in tandem — the traditional driver controls the steering and the brake, while the passenger in the car controls the gas pedal. As in most passenger cars, the gas pedal easily overrides the brakes, so communication is crucial.
“It’s a little more challenging because you have two people,” driver Joe Trantham said. “That just makes it more interesting to me. You have to have good communication and have a best friend sitting in the car with you at all times. Plus, that best friends helps work on the car and splits everything with you.”
Trantham has been driving in the Cruiser class for 11 years, and he was a part of a points championship-winning tandem in 2010. Last year, he and his driving partner won 12 races, but even Trantham knows that, when communication fails, it often results in crashes into the outer wall.
“I’ve flipped a car five times and hit the wall numerous times head-on,” he said. “Last year, when I won the (fall) championship, I got hit on the broad side, and it bent the whole side of the car in, then I hit the wall. I fixed it under caution, then won the race.
“My friends think it’s cool. My family, it depends on the day of the week. For the most part, my family is very supportive. They wish I was in a bigger class, but they also understand that a man who works for a living can’t afford all of that without high dollar sponsorship.”
In addition to the difference in driving style, there’s also a difference in both the attitude of the drivers, and in the price tag of getting a car into racing shape.
The Cruisers are a class that allows for cars to drive for much cheaper than other series. According to Jim Clark of JCR Racing, cars can be built for between $3,000 and $4,000 for drivers looking to have fun. Other drivers will spend more based on how competitive they want to be.
“I try to help the guys that don’t expect the help,” Clark said. “(Drivers) are hard-working just like we are. (Cruisers are) more blue-collar than the other series. The dirt tracks, period, are mostly plumbers and carpenters. Joe (Trantham) works in construction. That’s typically what you see.
“In the bigger classes, with companies sponsoring them, guys can spend $30,000-$40,000 for an engine. In this class, it’s a lot more like Joe. He probably has $10,000 in his whole car.”
Tonight at Dixie, the Cruisers will have their share of the limelight, as the track is hosting a championship race for the class, in addition to its regular racing program. Over the course of the season, Chris Neese’s car holds a two-point lead over Jimmy Wilson’s car with 116 points.
Trantham and his partner, Clay Kremer, sit fifth with 82 points, but Trantham is confident that, with a new car he introduced last week, his standing in the points race will change.
“After this weekend, it should turn around,” he said. “I’ve got my new car. All year long, I’ve been running my old car, and last week was the first week that I took the new one out.”
In last week’s race, Trantham’s car finished seventh, while Neese’s won, followed by those helmed by George Wilson and Edwin Scott.