Evolution of Rocket Chassis

Rocket Chassis (1991 - 1993)

The original Rocket Chassis House Car. Mark Richards Racing Enterprises #1j super dirt late model driven by Davey Johnson.

In 1991, Mark Richards had Ray Callahan, owner of Bullitt Race Cars build two chassis to Mark’s specifications. Davey Johnson drove one of the cars to win two races at West Virginia Motor Speedway in the same day. Johnson mentioned to Mark, “This thing comes off the corner like a rocket!” The following week at Pennsboro Speedway, the car had Rocket Chassis on the nose.​

After winning the races at West Virginia Motor Speedway, Callahan called Richards and told him he wasn’t going to build anymore of the cars that Richards designed. Mark had orders for that new car design and they had to be fulfilled, so they decided to start building their chassis design in Shinnston, WV.

These cars stayed relevant until Richards decided it was time for a update.

Rocket Chassis Black Front End (1994 - 2003)

“The Floodwall Flyer” Mike Balzano in his famous #E1 racing against Tim Hitt in the Rocket Chassis house car.

Prior to 1991’s original Rocket Chassis design, 1994’s Black front end car was Rocket Chassis’ first big design change. Released in 1997, the black front end car carried Rocket Chassis through the turn of the century to 2004. The handling characteristics of the car made it perfect for the weekly local/regional racer. The car’s handling was always a little on the “tight” side, meaning it was slightly difficult to turn.

That made it great for the local 25 lap A-mains at your local dirt oval, but made it harder on the right rear tire on during longer 50-100 lap regional/national events. The “tight” nature of the car caused more heat and wear on the right rear tire. The longer the race, the more the right rear tire would fade. Tires are critical in racing, you want to manage them the best you can.

The premature fading of the right rear was the catalyst for the next generation of Rocket Chassis. The black front end won several national crown jewel events along with national titles. It could arguably go down in history as being the most popular style of chassis in dirt late model racing history.

Davey Johnson pilots the Rocket Chassis House Car at Eastbay in February of 2000 (Rick Schwallie photo)

Steve Francis pilots his Rocket Chassis car at a UDTRA race at Muskingum County Speedway on 07/04/01 (Rick Schwallie photo)

RJ Conley at KC Raceway STARS race 04/01/00 (Rick Schwallie photo)

Rocket Chassis Blue Front End (2004 - 2015)

Josh Richards made his full-season debut in the Rocket House Car in 2004. (Rick Schwallie photo)

The famed Blue front car debuted in 2004 and its goal was to increase the longevity of the right rear tire in longer races, but not lose some of the characteristics that made it so popular. Mark Richards is quoted as saying “The Blue Front End car was the work horse for Rocket Chassis for nearly a decade. There were several front end combinations for the Blue Front End car; Blue, Orange, and Gray. The most popular/successful being the Blue/Gray combination. Throughout the years, the Blue Front End car won World 100s, Dreams, Dirt Track World Championships, North South 100s, Knoxville Nationals, Show Me 100s, thousands of local and regional wins and many championships including several World of Outlaws championships. The Blue front end car lasted 11 years until the birth of the XR1 in the fall of 2015.

Steve Baker in the Bill Bland #0 at PPMS (Rick Schwallie photo)

Bart Hartman at Eldora Speedway on 09/12/09 enroute to wining the World 100 (Rick Schwallie photo)

Eddie Carrier Jr won the the 2014 North South 100 in his Blue front Rocket Chassis (Rick Schwallie photo)

Rocket Chassis XR1 (2015 - Present)

The Rocket Chassis XR1 was a total departure of how Mark & Steve developed the cars in the past. Prior to the XR1, Rocket Chassis developed and built cars by the way the car looked in its state of static posture. (Static posture is the way the car looks while it’s sitting still.) With the XR1, the car was developed using dynamic posture. (Dynamic posture is the state of the car while it’s being driven dynamically around the race track.)

Josh Richards, Eldora Speedway – World 100, 2016 (RacePix photo)

We raised the roll cage to allow for more head room and increased the amount of bars around the cockpit to increase the safety around the driver.

“We personally feel like the XR1 will be the car to take us into the next generation of dirt late models. After one year of competition, the stats prove that it’s proven piece and we couldn’t be more proud of it.” Stated Mark Richards.

The XR1 is a stiffer, more structurally sound car that puts more emphasis on the suspension components. Doing that closes the scale and width of chassis/suspension adjustments.

Changes are now done on a much smaller scale now compared to cars of the past. The car is now constructed using Docal tubing. We assessed several materials when developing this car and felt Docal was the best solution from a construction and safety standpoint. Everything about the material makes it an improvement over past materials used. From a construction standpoint, the fabricators enjoy it more because it’s so much easier to work with compared to the 4130 metals.

Brandon Sheppard’s 2016 Dirt Track World Championship winning Rocket Chassis XR1 (Tyler Carr photo)

Max Blair won a total of 32 races in his XR1s in 2016 (Chad Wells photos)

Matt Cosner won nine races in 2016 with his XR1. (Heath Lawson photo)