If you’re thinking about going racing, chances are you’ve already acquired some seat time on track. Going from track days to racing wheel-to-wheel however, is no small feat. But with the right approach, you can make it cost effective and save yourself some time as well. As someone who’s dedicated much of his adult life to the sport, there is nothing quite like racing to get your heart beating, adrenaline pumping and to wholly focus your mind on the task at hand.
Virtually every racer, from amateur stalwart to top flight pro, has competed in some form of club racing. The great news is that club racing is alive and well, both here in Canada and the good ol’ U.S. of A.
One of the biggest challenges you’ll face is deciding on the right club racing series. On the other hand, that decision could well be determined by the type of car you want to race. For me, I compete in America, in NASA’s Performance Touring category for its high level of competition, attractive contingency programs and a refreshing lack of politics.
Getting to your first race requires more than just a willingness to compete, and every sanction requires you complete and graduate from a recognized racing school. In addition, every club racing organization requires that a driver pass a prescribed medical exam before they can issue a racing license. Despite the knowledge available to drivers about safety gear, it’s shocking to see how many drivers skimp on their own equipment. My approach is this – if I can’t afford the best safety gear, then I can’t afford to race. It’s that simple. Trust me, you don’t want to be caught wearing a cheap racing suit when your car is upside down and on fire.
Plus, when you have the best safety gear, you’ll be able to jump right into any professional series as those sanctions typically have higher safety standards than club racing. Having the right gear has not only protected me, but has also allowed me to jump into pro seats in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series, SRT Viper Cup and Mazda MX-5 Cup series.
If you’re not ready to buy or build a race car yet, the easiest way to get behind the wheel is to rent a car. In the business of racing, this is called ‘arrive and drive’ and, with the right team, it’s a great situation that allows the new driver to learn the ropes without the financial commitment required to purchase a racing car, trailer and tow vehicle.
An experienced team knows the ins and outs of the series, which can dramatically shorten a new driver’s learning process. Figuring where to go for registration and where to go to get your safety gear approved, for example, all takes valuable time on a race weekend.
Similarly, renting a car from a good team will ensure that you have a safe, reliable and quick car, giving you an excellent starting point. When selecting a team, look at their race results, get referrals and ensure they use the best equipment. Generally, you’re going to get exactly what you pay for, so if you select a race car rental based on the lowest price, you’re going to have a low level of preparation and chances are your equipment won’t be prepared to perform at maximum levels.
Purchasing a car of your own and the necessary equipment is undoubtedly exciting, but unless you have some solid advice from some knowledgeable people, your learning curve will be endless. There are two schools of thought when it comes to buying a race car – build one from the ground up or buy a used car. In either case, racing cars typically require endless parts, tuning and preparation, so put together a reasonable budget – and then add another 50%.
Building a car from scratch is a great way to do it right the first time around, particularly if you know what you’re doing. Sure, it’ll certainly take longer to have a car completely built and it’ll cost more than buying a used racer, but, most importantly, you’ll know exactly how things have been fabricated and assembled.
Buying a used car, on the other hand, puts a relatively complete race car in your hands almost instantly. However, used race cars have been hit, crashed, and undoubtedly run hard, so you have to be careful choosing a used race car. Buying from a reputable team is usually a good first step and, with any used car purchase, a thorough inspection will give you a good baseline understanding of the car.
One of racing’s old adages is this – racing costs money, so how fast do you want to go? Porsches are certainly quicker than the Hondas I’m accustomed to driving, but I’ll let you in on a little secret. While the Hondas aren’t as fast in a straight line as a 911 for example, a Civic can be set up to corner just as fast – and that’s where all the fun is, isn’t it?
For us, we chose a Honda platform because it manages to tick all three of those magic racing boxes – quick, reliable and inexpensive. It’s not really inexpensive – we’re talking racing after all – but it’s relatively inexpensive compared to something like a Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Corvette or any kind of Porsche. In addition, the Honda aftermarket is so well-developed that we can buy off-the-shelf parts instead of having to engineer our own.
On the other hand, for someone new to racing, the Spec Miata series should be worthy of some serious consideration. The competition is very deep and, if you work at it, the level of discipline needed to excel in that series will prepare you to be competitive in just about any kind of car.
Racing is undoubtedly a privilege for those willing to make the necessary sacrifices. It’s also a wonderful way to spend some free time. As I like to say, it sure beats playing golf. Yet, the amount of time you spend in wheel-to-wheel competition is a small fraction of the total time it takes to dedicate to racing, so you had better enjoy it.
For me, the thing that I enjoy the most is working with a great team. The most rewarding parts are the friendships I’ve made with the people I work with towards that common goal of maximizing performance. That’s something you’ll never get out of a round of golf. Like I said, there’s nothing quite like racing.