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ROOT / History / SportsCar_1979 / index.html
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Formula 440:
A Look at a New Low-Cost Racing Class

By Mike Hull (reprinted with permission of SCCA from the November 1979 SportsCar, translated by Cameron Wagner)

Most people's impression of a Formula 440 is a go-kart with a plastic body, not meant for serious SCCA amateur racing. This is almost a repulsive and unclean idea to most road racers. After an initial analysis, my impression is F-440 may have merit and its place in SCCA road racing.

When Paul Oxman invited this technical editor to participate in an SCCA Regional race at Road Atlanta in a Knievel Formula 440 for SportsCar, the initial reaction was on of surprise, bewilderment, and then sheer disbelief. How could he send me to analyze a plastic-embodied go-kart? Is this punishment? For what? How could he be doing this to me? My columns are usually delivered on time. However, the outcome produced a positive and pleasant surprise, and it would be worth doing again.

A Formula 440 is an open-wheel, solid axle, 70-inch wheelbase race car which weighs just 600 pounds. It is powered by a 60 horsepower Fuji Chaparral engine. The mere thought of driving such a vehicle borders upon the ridiculous. First impressions would send most intense lions on a dead run elsewhere; however, as one who is willing to try anything once in combination with a plane ticket and a stay at Lake Lanier, this experience proved after the fact to be worth the effort.

Powell Hassell, the Red Devil F-440 distributor for the Southeast, graciously provided his personal car and professional assistance for a Friday afternoon test session and a two day Regional at Road Atlanta. First impressions while being fitted to Powell's F-440 were that it felt like a race car, looked like one, and that this cluster of enthusiasts were very serious about their brand of racing.

With the helmet strap secured and a sound similar to that of a field of D Sports Racers, onto the Road Atlanta circuit we went. The very first driving impression was on of complete consternation over the roughness of the ride. The 440 wanted to bounce, jitter, and absolutely jump into space. My thought was that a serious F-440 driver would need his chiropractor and dentist in full-time attendance trackside. After three or four laps either the tires warmed up or total numbness took hold, because the bouncing stopped and the ride became much smoother. In fact, this open-wheeler would actually go where it was pointed, was predictable in the high speed, and seemed to do all the things bigger racecars do. It required precise braking points, smooth throttle application, extreme sensitivity, and classic lines to cut a quick lap.

The engine is a water-cooled Fuji Chaparral snowmobile motor. The cylinder head temperature is critical to the life and performance, and Powell's began to overhear, so the test day came to an end. Amazing as it may sound, the mechanical failures of the 19 F-440's entered in the Regional were for the most part to be driver-influenced. There were four DNF's during Sunday's main event.

In the Saturday morning qualifying session while speeding down Atlanta's long backstraight, the clutch in the test car disintegrated, so my "run for the pole" ended with a fifth qualifying position. The afternoon heat race started in good fashion with no incidents, but my car's exhaust pipe came adrift on the second lap. The good thing to come from this mechanical failure was that as a spectator, the heat race was quite a spectacle. The race for the lead between Ray Little, my Red Devil teammate, and Bill Vann, driving a Micro/Belmont Engineering Roadrunner, was as intense as any race at any circuit in the world. They constantly changed positions lap after lap. It was quite a show. The battles throughout the field were also serious confrontations. To be quick in a F-440 a driver had to be a master of the basic fundamentals so he could think about how to beat his opponent. The good drivers acted upon ingrained fundamental instinct and raced for the flag. It was good stuff, and probably the best and most intense race of the day. The Formula Ford and Formula Vee races were mild-mannered in comparison.

The Formula 440 and Formula Vee pole times were within one-tenth of a second of each other. There were 13 FV's and 19 F-440's. Four seconds split the top 10 in qualifying for the F-440 field, while eight seconds split separated the Vee field. The Atlanta Region allowed the F-440's their own race after a trial affair and it has produced good feelings between the region and the competitors alike.

Sunday's race was a repeat performance of the previous day, except this time Powell's car and the California shoe lasted the entire event in close proximity to some of the hot-shoe 440 regulars. The race was hard-fought and close from start to finish. To be come a competent 440 driver, you need to be in good physical and mental condition, well organized in the pits, and a master of car control. A knowledge of "drafting" is essential. All the necessary ingredients are housed in this class.

Formula 440 is a reasonable alternative in today's SCCA learning process. It is now approved as a Regional Class and could fill a void which has been created by the rising costs of open and closed wheel racing. A new F-440 sells for $4000 ready to race. By comparison, new Formula Fords sell for four times this amount, and new Formula Vees for at least twice as much. If one purchases a used FF or FV, the race-to-race maintenance costs may limit the number of races in that all-important first year.

It is very inexpensive to maintain a Formula 440. The competitors at Atlanta seemed to have about the same expenses. Most use Goodyear tires which cost $240 per set and will last a full season. What bliss, no two-hour tires! A new motor sells for $300 complete and an engine rebuild is half the cost of a new engine. A prepared FF crankshaft today sells for more than the entire F440 powerplant. The motor should last the entire season with the same set of spark plugs. Incidental expenditures include new brake pads and drive belts every eight to 10 track hours, fuel/oil additives and clutch parts. The average cost amon the 19 competitors seemed to be $40 per track hour or $80 per race weekend for expenses directly related to the car! Most participants anticipated a 15-race season in the Southeast, which would cost no more than $1200 for mechanical expenses. How could you go wrong? This seemed too good to be true. Every National driver ought to have a F-440 for additional track time and at the rate on the meter, each driver should supply one for his or her spouse.

There were two serious crashes during the weekend with no physical injuries. Either would have put a FF or FV on the trailer for good. Both cars made the grid. In a crash the hubs, wheels and rear driveline seem to take the brunt of the damage. Since it has a solid axle suspension system, exotic components are not required as spares or for reassembly. For something less than $100 in parts and a good stout hammer trackside, most F-440 enthusiasts will be back on course in short order. Hubs and wheels are from aftermarket utilitiy trailers and cost $110 apiece! Turn back the clock. It is like racing in 1968.

The normal preparation between races include a general clean, lube of the chain drive, and watchful eye on the few moving parts. If properly set up, these cars are relatively trouble free. This is a refreshing change, especially for a beginner. One can actually concentrate upon driving the car, unhampered by the major expense and physical effort for unmeasurable track time.

[unreadable printing error]..were a diversified mix. The drivers ranged in age from a 22-year-old foreign car specialist to a 55-year-old former sprint car driver who just wanted to race unhampered by excessive maintenance. The Director of SCCA Club Racing, Tex Arnold, who was driving a Marquis Stinger, took part in this contest, along with a lawnmower shop owner, a deputy sheriff, a motel owner, a transmission shop entrepreneur, and a couple of prominent business investment types. Instead of a stack of young lions, this field consisted of grassroots racing enthusiasts from very diversified backgrounds who enjoyed the sport and could actually participate uninhibited by the pressures of the high expense and maintenance ills. In fact, one of the competitors owns a small bore Production car, already qualified for the Champion Spark Plug Road Racing Classic, but desires additional track time in a class which doesn't take all his time and money. He stated it was good fun for a reasonable investment and had brought racing back into a reasonable perspective for him.

Formula 440 is a good entry-level position for SCCA racing. A beginner can purchase a new open wheel car and then afford to campaign it for a full season of races at the circuits of his choice. After a season, a rational decision about the future based upon a good amount of track time can be made. A beginner can learn the system, study the competition firsthand, organize an effort, and have a good feeling for his chances without a great investment. What more could one ask?

Formula 440 is not all things for all people, but the diversification contained within the SCCA ranks should allow a good number of people to afford either an entry-level position in a Formula 440 who would otherwise be frustrated spectators forever, or it could become a place to pursue your road racing habit on a more feasible financial basis.

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