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by Larry Roberts

January 09, 1999

There was a time many decades ago when professional "stock" car racing meant just that - cars raced just as they came off the showroom floor. But that was before the National Association for Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) became an entertainment business and its race cars became purpose-built "formula" sedans.

Over the years, the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) has sanctioned and administrated a couple of professional "spec" sedan racing series and its current offering centers around Chrysler's friendly little Neon sedans and coupes. Ostensibly, the SCCA Neons are the same garden- variety models that you can buy from your neighborhood Dodge or Plymouth dealer, but with a slight difference: they're labeled ACR (American Club Racing) Neons and come ready to race - minus a roll cage and some ancillary equipment. All a buyer needs to do is provide the necessary interior roll-over protection, buy the usual SCCA approved driver's attire (helmet, driver's suit, etc.), go through a recognized driving school and the proud new owner is ready.

The coupe and sedan versions of the ACR Neon are somewhat different from each other, however. The sedan carries four doors, a 2.0 liter four cylinder, 132 horsepower single-cam engine and on the amateur side of SCCA racing, qualifies to run in the Showroom Stock "C" (SSC) class. In my own SCCA Region, there are six of these four-door ACR Neon "family cars" contesting the top seven spots in SSC.

The coupe is powered by the same 2.0 liter engine but in this case, it receives a dose of steroids in the form of one more camshaft on its head, a slightly higher compression ratio and an additional 18 horsepower. It addition, its chassis is tuned for crisper handling and by virtue of these changes, its assignment in SCCA amateur racing is Showroom Stock "B" class (SSB).

But owners of true "garden-variety" Neons that have come off a used car lot or bought cheap from a neighbor whose family has outgrown it aren't eligible for the amateur SCCA Showroom Stock program. The ACR is an official variant and unless the I.D. plate carries that legend, its not an official showroom-stock raceable ACR Neon.

As originally conceived, the SCCA ACR Neon racing program was to involve participation by Dodge and Plymouth dealers who would "adopt" a racer but I've been told by drivers that it takes a great deal of work to ferret out a dealership that is enthusiastic about racing.

In order to take part in the pro side of ACR Neon racing, an amateur must participate in at least three SCCA National (as opposed to Regional) road races early in the season. In addition, only the top 10 finishers in the first of the four pro ACR Neon events will be guaranteed a starting position in the second, third and fourth contests. The field at each of the four races is limited to 40 cars and so far, the grid has not been short of challengers.

On occasion, the pro ACR Neon races give the drivers a chance to rub elbows (and fenders) with celebrities. As a warm-up race to the Detroit Grand Prix this year, a group of the rich and/or famous were assigned to factory-entered ACR Neons to compete against the serious SCCA amateurs.

So if you're inclined to get into "stock" stock car racing, you might want to give a glance to the ACR Neon program, but like any other kind of automotive competition, it isn't easy. You local region of the SCCA can fill you in on the details.

But be forewarned: While ACR Neon pro racing is not as expensive as racing with the Indy Racing League teams at the Indianapolis 500 or even in the Formula Atlantic warm-up races at tracks like California's Laguna Seca road course, it can cost three or four times the initial investment of buying the car to make the circuit.

An old-time professional oval track racer once told me "There's no such thing as cheap racing. Some forms of it are just less expensive than others."