To some it is auto racing's All-Star Game. To others, it is the sport's version of The Masters. Either way, the most essential element holds true.
The International Race of Champions is open only to the world's best race drivers. No on else need apply.
At the same time, IROC is one of the sporting world's most unique competitions, designed to settle (at least partially) the old argument: “Who is the world's best driver?”
“We don't know if IROC determines who the best driver in the world is?” Said Les Richter, IROC chairman, “but we sure go a long way toward that goal. IROC does prove that some drivers have more skill than others regardless of their specialty or background.”
The premise conceived in 1973, is amazingly simple yet effective: Take 12 of the world's top drivers, from different types of racing, put them in identically prepared IROC race cars, give them a set of rules which virtually eliminates the variables usually associated with racing (no pit stops, no qualifying, no driver set-up of the cars, etc.) and wave a green flag at them.
Of course, that seemingly “simple” premise becomes complex to execute.
The basic argument from which IROC springs is as old as the first auto race. It's the ancient “my guy can beat your guy” debate. Race fans have always wondered how much the car influences a race's outcome. Are some drivers faster than others, given equal equipment?
Over 125 of the sports finest have tried to answer that question during IROC's 30 years.
The list of IROC champions speaks for itself: Mark Donohue, Bobby Unser, A.J.Foyt, Al Unser, Mario Andretti, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, Harry Gant, Al Unser Jr., Geoff Bodine, Terry Labonte, Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Ricky Rudd, Davey Allison, Mark Martin, Bobby Labonte, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart.
Each Driver wanted that IROC Championship, because it meant you were the best of the best. Four decades later, the faces and names have changed but the concept and quest remains unchanged – 12 modern day gladiators line up for the battle in equally prepared race cars, all chasing the ultimate title, proclaiming them to be the greatest driver, period.
Jay Signore is out to prove that the old saying,”No two things are the same,” just isn't so.
Signore is president of the International Race of Champions, which matches 12 of the world's best drivers in identically prepared IROC race cars. IROC is motor sports' version of The Masters, where the skill of the driver – not his mechanics or pit crew—determines the winner.
Equality is the key to the IROC concept. Virtually everything about the race cars, from their 350 cubic inch engines to their Goodyear Eagle radial tires, is identical. Only the car colors and numbers are different and the invited drivers are permitted only to adjust the position of the seat, steering wheel and pedals for comfort. Cars are assigned by a blind draw just before each of the four events.
Like a world-renowned chef who must please patrons with his special each night, Signore strives for consistent and equal performance from each race car in order to satisfy drivers that no one has a mechanical advantage.
“Our first priority is to make sure that all the cars are equal” said Signore, who directs the staff of 25 mechanics, fabricators and workers at the 20,000 square foot plant in Tinton Falls, NJ. “Every part is the same; each car is built exactly the same way. When the cars go on the track, they are as equal as humanly possible to make them.”
The IROC race cars are “born” in the South Carolina shop of Mike Laughlin, one of the country's premier builders of stock cars. Laughlin uses steel tubing to form the cars' skeleton, then ships the completed 600 pound chassis to IROC headquarters.
The engines are modified versions of a GM 350 cubic-inch small-block V-8. Horsepower is a conservative 500 at 68000 rpm in the interest of reliability and durability.
Bodywork is molded by Diversified Glass Products, Inc. of Marlette, Michigan.
The hidden heroes of the IROC driver roster are the test drivers: Dave Marcis, George Follmer, Jim Sauter, Jay Sauter, Dick Trickle, Andy Hillenburg and David Donohue have all been regulars throughout the years
The IROC test drivers run the cars before each series event to ensure that chassis suspension settings and engine performance are the same. Aside from contributing to the performance and handling of the race cars, the test drivers also tutor the series' drivers from other divisions and acclimate the stock car drivers to the set up of the IROC cars.
The rest is up to the invited competitors.
Drivers are selected and invited to compete in the International Race of Champions by the IROC organizers. Drivers who have won major championships or major races at major tracks are given primary consideration by IROC.
There are no qualifying sessions or time trials in IROC. At the first race, driers draw for their starting positions. Race two will line up in the reverse order of the race one finish. Race three and race four will line up by inverting the point standings.
The car number and colors, when possible, will simulate the main color and number from the drier's native series team car, or a color or number that is significant to the drivers' career.
The International Race of Champions is a series of four races, typically 100 miles in distance. This holds for all race tracks that are 1.5 miles in length or larger, up to 2.5 miles. At each of the four events the cars will be assigned by a blind draw. Once the cars are assigned, colors and numbers will be applied.
The IROC champion is the driver who has earned the most points in the four races.
A total of $1,888,000 is distributed at the conclusion of the series based on the point standings. The winner receives $1,000,000 and the eleven others receive $80,000 each. All races have full international status and are sanctioned by NASCAR.