Bob Memmer had a love for Late Model racing and a specific vision for it. In 1984, he made it a reality.
His vision – United Midwestern Promoters (UMP) – redefined the landscape of Late Model racing, putting in place a standardized package of technical specifications to govern some of the biggest Late Model races in the country. Memmer carried UMP through the 1980s and 1990s, giving it the push to live well into the 21st century when it eventually rebranded as DIRTcar Racing – celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
Memmer couldn’t bare the weight running the organization forever, though. With growth and his declining health came the need for assistance and people who he could trust to shepherd his vision into the future.
Evolution of UMP into DIRTcar Racing (1990s – Present)
Volusia Speedway Park, 1992. A 33-year-old Sam Driggers was working for track owner Dick Murphy at the track’s annual Winternationals event. He’d spent several years at the famed half-mile oval in Barberville, FL, getting his first job at the racetrack as a young boy and later learning to hand-score races.
Originally from St. Augustine, Driggers spent much of his early life in Florida before a career change moved him out to San Francisco in the 1980s. Murphy called him back to work at the track several years later, where he was introduced to Memmer. It was then their historic partnership was born.
“He needed someone like me to come around and make him feel better about all of it,” Driggers said. “Someone that would go with him to all the racetracks and be with him there, hangout, and talk all the old school kind of stuff with him.”
Memmer had spoken with Driggers about joining UMP as an official and accompanying him to the brand’s major events. The Summer Nationals “Hell Tour” had become one of the most iconic and prestigious Late Model racing tours in the nation – which by then had already started competing in its traditional schedule format of multiple consecutive days of racing with few breaks – and Memmer was needing assistance to keep up with his day-to-day duties.
Before the age of the internet and social media, Memmer produced a UMP newsletter with updated national points standings, on paper, and mailed it out to competitors each week. With each year that passed and each new track and driver that joined UMP, the newsletter process became more and more time consuming.
While his duties at home steadily increased, his travel schedule did not slow down. Soon, Memmer’s health began to deteriorate, and life on the road became more difficult. That’s when Driggers started taking a more up-front role, handling some of the things Memmer used to do by himself.
“He didn’t have very many people for a long time, but his health got to where he had to start hiring people,” Driggers said. “He still would stay involved as long as he could, but I could tell it wasn’t what he wanted.”
In the coming years, several health issues struck Memmer and limited his mobility. Though the UMP success raged on into the turn of the millennium, Memmer was later dealt his worst health issue.
In February 2001, doctors diagnosed him with a split aorta – a serious heart condition with a potentially deadly outcome. He was given a month to live.
With the fate of a rapidly expanding dirt track racing organization in his hands, Memmer knew it was time to make a move for the company’s future. That’s when he turned to one of his most trusted partners in the industry – Bob Sargent.
The Track Enterprises owner/founder had been promoting dirt track racing events across the Midwest for over 15 years – many of which were run with UMP sanctioning. Sargent was one of UMP’s longest and most loyal promoters and had formed a strong professional relationship with Memmer through their many seasons of partnership.
Sargent already had discussions with Memmer regarding UMP’s future, offering up a place for it to go should Memmer ever be unable to continue its operation. Those talks were brought up again following Memmer’s heart condition, and a deal was struck for Sargent – and an additional group of motorsports professionals – to purchase UMP and continue its operations for the 2002 season.
Sargent, along with a group of new co-owners – NASCAR veteran Ken Schrader, longtime Lebanon Valley Speedway (NY) promoter Howard Commander, and fellow Midwestern special event promoter Robert Lawton – took charge of UMP, carrying the torch of Memmer’s vision for united tracks and rules.
“I wanted to make sure it was in good hands and that it grew,” Sargent said. “I had another motive because I was also a track owner and promoter, so I had a vested interest to make sure that UMP stayed on the right track and communicated with each promoter well.
“If all that worked well together, then promoters would succeed financially, and the racers would have a good rules package to be able to race all over the Midwest. I wanted to help that stay together and further it as much as I could.”
For the sale of his brand, Memmer was originally offered significant financial compensation. However, in what will forever be remembered as a true symbol of his generosity and love for the sport, he told Sargent to take the money, put it into the year-end points fund, and set both the Late Model and Modified national championship checks at an unprecedented $100,000 each.
Despite doctors’ grim predictions for his life expectancy, Memmer stuck around to see Terry English (Late Model) and Jimmy Owens (Modified) capture the 2002 UMP national points titles. Scott Bloomquist also bagged a $100,000 check for his Summer Nationals championship, completing the holy trinity in what was then the highest-paying season in UMP history.
2002 also marked Memmer’s induction into the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame for his outstanding contributions to the sport and the racers – most notably, for “the little guy,” as he often referred to the more local, weekend racers.
Memmer traveled to as many races as he could in 2003, still enduring the effects of his deteriorating health. However, prior to the start of the 2004 weekly season, Memmer suffered what would be the final blow to his failing health – a hip fracture permanently sidelined him, preventing him from attending any future races.
On July 8, 2004, Memmer passed away at the age of 69 in his long-term care facility in Louisville, KY.
He could rest in peace knowing his vision would live on, especially with Driggers, his hand-picked protégé, stepping into Memmer’s old role after his passing. He worked with Sargent and his staff through the end of 2004, when the course of UMP history was about to change again.
In late 2004, Sargent sold the UMP organization to present-day World Racing Group, who currently owns and operates the organization. A rebrand to “DIRTcar Racing” in 2007 brought along several new changes, but Driggers still remained at the helm of the brand’s direction, on a mission to keep his former mentor’s vision alive and well.
“I remember Sam when he worked at the ticket window there at Volusia Speedway Park in Florida 100 years ago, it seemed like,” said Dirt Late Model Hall-of-Famer Billy Moyer. “He got with Bob [Memmer], and Bob took him under his wing. He went around to enough of them races with Bob through the years that he kinda learned the ropes of how Bob did things. I think he’s tried to follow that same pattern as close as he could for all these years.”
UMP’s history is deep rooted in Late Model racing. But by the turn of the century, there were more Modified competitors racing at the weekly UMP tracks. Every February, UMP-style Modifieds flocked to Volusia Speedway Park by the dozens to compete. Having spent much of his early career in racing at the famed venue, Driggers was always a proponent of the division in the way Memmer was with Late Models, going back as far as the mid-1990s.
1990 UMP Late Model national champion Bob Pierce later began producing his own brand of Modified chassis, and still stands today as of the winningest car builders in UMP/DIRTcar history, having won Chassis Builder of the Year 10 times since starting his business over 20 years ago.
“The Modifieds weren’t all that much when Memmer was doing it,” Pierce said. “When Sam came along, they were as full-bore as Late Models.
“And that wasn’t really what he was supposed to do. Bob didn’t plan on that.”
UMP’s rebrand to DIRTcar in 2007 brought along more new changes and divisions to the local racing landscape. World Racing Group had also completed the purchase of another sanctioning body of weekly racing in the Northeast and folded it in with the former UMP divisions, creating the modern-day version of DIRTcar.
Brian Carter, DIRTcar’s CEO, was among those working with Driggers to complete the transition into the World Racing Group family, and helped spearhead the Midwest’s mesh with the Northeast even before the UMP name was retired.
“I remember meeting Sam at Bob Memmer’s trailer and getting to know Sam and his team that had been with him a long time and, candidly, are all still here with us working,” Carter recalled.
World Racing Group also rebirthed the World of Outlaws Late Model Series in 2004. The national Late Model tour had been dormant since its second year in 1989 and was called back into action featuring the nation’s best racers from around the country, who eventually were required to conform to DIRTcar Late Model tech specs – shades of Memmer’s first vision brought to the forefront then, and still now 40 years later.
“I take great joy in seeing where it’s at now after 40 years,” Carter said. “When I first got introduced to DIRTcar, it was in 2004. We were working against trying to figure out how to get the weekly racing integrated with the Late Model racing, and at the same time, looking to acquire what would later become the World of Outlaws Late Model program.
“DIRTcar was one of the organizations that was foundational to the development of a strong weekly program.”
Crate-engine Late Models and Modifieds, traditional Street Stocks, Factory Stocks, even four-cylinder engine Sport Compact-type cars were also brought into the fold. National points fund money was increased, and regional points fund checks were added, rewarding drivers for finishing well throughout the year against both the traveling racer and their weekly competitors. The DIRTcar Membership program was also created, giving drivers extra insurance in case of accidents and rights to the penalty appeals process.
Overall, the conformity of rules at over 120 different tracks and multiple different series – which, for Late Models in 2023 includes the refreshed Midwest Auto Racing Series, Hunt the Front Super Dirt Series, COMP Cams Super Dirt Series and Ironman Late Model Series – has kept not only Late Model racing afloat, but every division of weekly competition.
DIRTcar has evolved to sanction nine different divisions of racing at over 1,200 events and 120-plus tracks across the country. The regular season has traditionally spread weekly events from April-to-October and has also expanded to include DIRTcar-sanctioned events taking place in all 12 calendar months.
“I think it’s definitely helped the car counts,” Moyer said. “You get into the Midwest area, and I feel like they’re as strong as they are anywhere for weekly car counts. A lot of that has to do with the rules package and trying to keep the rules somewhat under control with the tires and bodies.”
“With DIRTcar coming on and actually being professional and organized, that’s what it needed to keep it alive,” Pierce said. “Or, it probably wouldn’t have stayed alive. It probably wouldn’t have made it.”
On the pages of the history books, the Pierce family will forever be in rare air with the near-instant success of Bob’s son. At 26 years old, Bobby Pierce has already made a name for himself as big as his father’s with five DIRTcar Late Model national titles, five Summer Nationals championships and a victory in the 2016 World 100 at Eldora Speedway.
Bob is one of few retired racers in the Late Model world who’s been around to see all the changes UMP and DIRTcar have gone through. From building his own cars before standard rules practices, to now conforming to a book in the efforts to build his son’s career, the 2003 National Dirt Late Model Hall of Famer said he’s pleased with the way things have evolved.
“Racing’s good right now,” he said. “As far as racing goes, and for my son right now, it’s a good deal. He’s making a good living, and I’m just very fortunate I’m still around to see all this stuff go.”
Still presiding over the weekly, regional and national racing behemoth that is DIRTcar in 2023, Carter has also been around to see the changes grow the brand. He still assists Driggers in keeping Memmer’s vision alive, helping to provide the resources Driggers and his staff need to be successful. Together, they’ve fostered the network of tracks, drivers, sponsors and fans that make up the modern-day weekly racing community.
“It’s the people around us at the racetrack that make us want to keep coming back,” Carter said. “Most of the time, it’s just about being around like-minded people that are enjoying the same things we’re doing and creating that community.
“That community happens at a lot of racetracks across the country every Friday and Saturday night. It’s been happening for 40 years.”
Stick around that community long enough, and you’ll see plenty of change. Drivers rise and fall, teams form and disband, fans come and go. But to anyone that came to know the founding fathers of DIRTcar, there’s a common sentiment they both share that will carry weekly racing on for another 40 years.
“One thing about Bob and I both – we never came into this business to get rich,” Driggers said. “We did it for the love of the sport.
“That’s what this industry needs. A whole lot more of that.”