Author: Hank Brandenberger
Many motorheads and shade tree mechanics dreamt as children of winning the Indy 500, a National Dragster Final, or the Daytona 500. They see themselves in victory lane getting kisses from the Hurst Shifter girl or drinking Champagne from the Borg Warner Trophy. Unfortunately as with many things these childhood dreams are usually replaced by adulthood realities: marriage, job, kids, house, and a dog. Eventually they trade their IndyCar fantasies for a yard tractor and the occasional seat in the stands at a local speedway to see others live out their dreams.
Today’s’ professional racing teams, in any class, require multimillion investments in the cars, engines, and support personnel. Often teams have their own race shops to build cars and engines for almost every track they run at. Racing has always been a rich man’s’ game that follows the golden rule; he who has the gold, makes the rules.
It still is not cheap, but there is a class of racing that although the expense should be hidden from spouses, it probably won’t put participants in the poor house or divorce court; it’s called club racing.
Club racing is all about the opportunity to compete. There are no cash payouts to the participants; racers are there purely for the enjoyment and the adrenalin rush. There are many of these associations with classes from spec racing through unlimited classes. Some of the most popular groups are SCCA, NASA, and Porsche Club of America.
All groups have an interest in safe, fair competition, and require drivers to have a racing license in order to compete in wheel to wheel events. A racing license will generally cost approximately $3,000.00 dollars and includes both classroom and track instruction. This professional guidance and supervision insures that drivers are able to competently control their race cars prior to competing on an open circuit.
In deciding which organization to join it is important to know how active the club is, where they race, the types of cars used, and the number of competitors they draw for a weekend. Participants may want to be more or less active in races depending upon their financial situation and other commitments that they have in their lives. It is important for racers to choose a club where the expectations for attendance best match the drivers’ availability.
It is also critical to choose a series that races a car type that you love and can afford. A Ferrari division would be great, but there would be no cars in it. It would be better to get involved with a Mazda Miata series because you know that due to the availability of cars, a good number of them will show up to race. Let’s face it, it is no fun racing when only one or two cars show up.
The next step is to actually go to a few events in the series under consideration and check it out. See if the races are run in an organized manner. Do they start on time? Are there safety inspections? Scouting out a club prior to bringing the car and the gear can save a tremendous amount of time and effort if the club doesn’t fit your expectations.
Speaking with competitors is very helpful. In most series, the competitors are both rivals but also friends. If someone needs a part it can usually be loaned for the day. After the racing is finished, competitors often assemble for some adult beverages and to discuss the race day.
Once the type of race car and series is chosen, a decision needs to be made on whether to buy an existing race car or to build one. Should you choose to purchase an existing race car, remember the adage, caveat emptor, or buyer beware. Cars are usually available from drivers who are either moving to another race class, or lost interest in racing.
Some participants decide to build their own cars. These racers usually have a fairly extensive background in mechanics and welding. Their reasoning is that they do not want to buy a car that has been possibly wrecked or that is in poor condition. There is also a great deal of satisfaction with building your own car.
Race Car Checklist
Before purchasing a car, the buyer should have it go through a technical and safety inspection with the series that they want to race in. Imagine spending $8,000.00 on a race car to find out it can’t be raced.
The most important thing when purchasing an existing race car is to investigate the car and owner thoroughly. Most race organizations require the cars to have a log book which gives you the number of races the car has been in. It is also important to confirm that the car is legal to race in the chosen series.
There are time limits for all safety equipment. From the fire extinguisher system and the seat belts, to the window netting. Depending on the race series, these items require change out every few years. If the car passes inspection, that is a good starting point towards being a competitive racer.
Before actually racing a car, it is very important to get a feel for how the car performs. Most new drivers will take their cars to track day events at local race courses where they can shake out their cars. This helps for making adjustments to the suspensions so the car is better at cornering. Gradually, as the driver becomes more familiar with their car, they will increase their speed with each session.
Track days are also great times for drivers to put into practice the knowledge they gained in their instruction to get their racing license. Once a racer has the car shaken out and is comfortable driving it at speed, it is finally time for them to enter their first race.
Most organizations require new drivers to have “rookie” stickers on their cars so fellow competitors know to be careful while driving with them. Some groups even require that rookie drivers start at the rear of the pack regardless of how fast of a car they have. This allows them to get used to race speed and stay out of trouble.
Rookie orientation usually lasts for one season and has proven a great way for new drivers to get adjusted to racing. Whether racing a Porsche or a Miata, club racing is a thrilling experience for those who enjoy competition and the adrenaline rush of pushing a car to its maximum performance limit.