By Max Goodwin
Off in the distance, the sound of race car engines rip and roar through the fall night in a wooded area of Grain Valley, Mo at The Valley Speedway.
It’s September 25, the final night of the IMCA racing season and Dillon Raffurty, a 24-year-old from the Marlborough neighborhood of South Kansas City, awaits his turn to unleash the Mod Lite car he built himself on this short oval dirt track.
Dillon and the car he built lead the IMCA STARS Mod Lite National Points race as the season comes to an end. On October 5, it would become official, and now Dillon is the 2021 IMCA Mod Lite National Champion.
Dillon climbs in through the roof of his small car as his father, David, explains how Dillon reached this point. Dillon and his brother Michael have been around racing all of their lives. David says he had the first Mod Lite car in Kansas City in the ’90s. A Mod Lite is a 5/8th-scale version of a Modified car. They can go over 100 mph, with average speeds of about 80 mph.
“They’re purpose-built race cars that are small and they’re motorcycle engine powered,” Dillon says. The engines typically come off of crashed motorcycles.
Dillon has been racing them since he was 12 years old. David is a machinist, he runs an excavating business, Raffurty Excavating. His father, Richard, Dillon’s grandfather was the originator of the Raffurty racing tradition. The Raffurty family has deep roots established in South Kansas City. Richard, who passed away in 2018, was a 1960 graduate of Center High School.
“He liked working on them, he didn’t really like driving them,” David said of his father. “But he liked going to the tracks with me and my brother and all of us just to be around us, just to be around the racing.”
About six years ago, David was basically the king of Mod Lite racing in the Kansas City area, but now Dillon has taken that title and more. At this specific track, The Valley, David has three wins on the year compared to Dillon’s 10. It’s their weekly track, every weekend this is where you can find the Raffurty men.
This is the first year that Dillon or anybody in the family has built a Mod Lite car. It was David who suggested Dillon build his own car coming into this year.
“He won a lot of races last year,” David said, “and a well-known chassis builder wanted to give him a car, and he was ready to get it, but I told him, Dillon anybody can get a car, but it’s not your car. There are very few people that can design their own car, build their own car and set your car up to drive it.”
That’s what Dillon did, drawing up the design for the chassis on CAD software and waiting months for the parts he ordered to arrive. The result of his work has made him one of the most consistently fast Mod Lite drivers in the country.
“He built the car from scratch,” David says. “I mean, he designed it, bent it all up. I welded it together for him but that’s it.”
Dillon held a 41 point lead going into the last weekend of the season. A race win at an eligible track earns a driver 40 points on the season. Dillon won both of his races of the weekend, at Lakeside Speedway in Kansas City, Kan., and at the Valley. The Valley is a track that is eligible under IMCA guidelines to provide bonus points for winning track championships, which Dillon did by winning the feature race on Saturday at the Valley.
IMCA Points and Membership Director Virginia Lindsay waited until everything had been calculated before the IMCA officially announced the national champions.
This is the first year that Mod Lite has been part of IMCA sanctioning, making it the ninth division of racing within the IMCA and bringing more awareness and respect to Mod Lite racing. Dillon has won just about everything in this first year, and his name has spread as a result.
Bill Martin, Media Director of the IMCA, said that Dillon could have walked into IMCA offices a year ago and they would have had no idea who he was. That has certainly changed after the season Dillon has put together this year.
In the first week of September, the Mod Lite division competed for the first time at the IMCA’s biggest event of the year, the 39th annual Speedway Motors IMCA Super Nationals fueled by Casey’s at Boone Speedway in Iowa. Hundreds of drivers bring cars from all over the country. Dillon took home two trophies, winning the Super Nationals title and The Race of Champions, against other track champions from around the country.
“I won the Race of Champions at Boone, I won the Super Nationals at Boone, to complete the year and win the national title, winning those three big IMCA accomplishments in the first year of the IMCA sanction would be pretty cool,” Dillon said.
He’s had all of this success by investing less money into his car, though more hours working on it than many competitors.
David and the IMCA share the same philosophy, that Mod Lite racing is supposed to be affordable racing. They don’t put extra money into the motor of the car the way others do, sending them into motor companies to have them tweaked to perfection. David says it’s not about the motor in Dillon’s car that makes him the fastest, it’s how he handles it in the turns.
“You won’t see him passed on a straightaway,” David said. “Because he doesn’t have the motor, he passes in the corner, he’s way faster there. That’s how you win the race. The car that goes through the corner fastest is automatically going to go down the straightaway faster. You’ve got to make your car rotate in the corner.”
Dillon is now in his car as his dad speaks, he has closed the top hatch he just climbed into the car through and has his helmet on. As the words leave David’s mouth, Dillon starts the engine of his car. He drives slowly in his small colorful Mod Lite towards the race track in the distance for his final heat races of the season.
“I better get in my car and get ready,” David says, following his son’s lead.
By the end of the night, Dillon would add another victory to his season total, his 31st win out of 41 races for the year. Starting from the middle of the pack, Dillon worked his way through the field of competitors, just as his dad had explained, picking them off in the corners as he rotated his car quicker around the turn.
Dillon accepted his trophy for the night with his brother and dad next to him, Michael finished second and David in third, as the Raffurty family swept the top three spots of the race.