Why the mini-stock class gave a major boost to grassroots racing

23 Aug

This photo from Wikipedia is of a Chevy Vega, which gives you an idea of what a mini-stock car was when the class got started.

Doug Thompson says that when you race cars for as long as he has, the numbers tend to look good. Don’t let that statement fool you: not too many people win 361 feature events, 10 track championships, and multiple Hutchinson Nationals and state titles. However, his contributions to racing extend beyond being a good driver. Among them, he created the mini-stock class.

In 1986, Doug and his brother Roger bought what is now known as Whiskey Lake Raceway, located between Junction City and Manhattan, from a foreclosure sale. The night after they purchased the track, they went to the races. An underwhelming crowd watched a few cars, and Doug approached the track’s announcer.

“I told the announcer to announce that next week we’re going to have a brand new class of cars, and everybody would be able to afford to have one of them,” Doug recalled, “and he wanted to know what they were, and I said, ‘I have no idea.’”

To find an idea, Doug and Roger went to the salvage yard. The challenge was creating an affordable class of cars that would allow young people to get involved in racing. A solution appeared in the form of an old white Chevy.

“’There! Let’s take this Vega,’” Doug recalls saying. “’It’s got a little aluminum engine, it’s got a five-speed transmission, let’s just make one out of that.’

“And so we got a case of beer and went to work on that on Friday night, and by Sunday night we had the car done, and it didn’t cost much money to do. It would run about 70 miles an hour, 75 maybe, at the end of the straightaway. Anybody could do it, and anybody could drive them; they weren’t too hard to drive, and that was the start of the mini-stock class.”

They brought the prototype back to the track, and the Vega drew a crowd, particularly with the announcement that in the coming week there would be a race for this new class of cars – a race that would bring $200 to the winner.

“Lots of people came and looked at them,” Doug said. “They were very simple to make, they were cheap, didn’t amount to anything, didn’t even have roll bars in it, and the next week we had three of them.”

An exciting 10-lap feature event in the cars put the mini-stock class on the map for good. Doug, Roger, and another driver put on a show that breathed life back into the racetrack.

“We were bumper-to-bumper, side-to-side, and every corner the lead changed, and at the finish line, as chance would have, we all came across about even, and slid the cars into the pits and we got out and the crowd was standing and cheering,” Doug said, “and the announcer said, ‘Man, these are just fantastic, and these are only like $7,500 cars to make!’”

“I said, ‘Yep, everybody has access to an old Pinto or Vega or one of these little four cylinders.’ I said, ‘Just take the glass out of it and come on out and go racing!’”

People did exactly that. The track’s car count increased to around 70, and other tracks heard about this new class that people were getting involved in. It was introduced to Colorado and Nebraska, then Oklahoma, and before long it was nationwide.

It still is today. If you begin to type “mini-stock” into Google, it will quickly try to complete your thought with “mini stock racing” or “mini stock cars” or “build mini stock car” or “mini stock parts.” Indeed, it seems that a more affordable version of auto racing is still alive and well, and that only seems appropriate, since that is where it all started anyway.


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