So, you're king of your local track and have the competition covered on a regular basis? And you've been whipping up on them so bad the track is now known as your "house." Well, what's next, Hot Dog?

If you're thinking NASCAR Nextel Cup, the logical step up from local track king may be the ARCA RE/MAX Super Car Series. ARCA runs virtually the same cars on many of the same tracks as NASCAR. The fit is so precise that NASCAR teams working development deals use ARCA races to educate and evaluate their new talent.

"I think the best way to go, for a late-model racer or somebody wanting to move up, would be to do a deal and go run Salem (IN)," says Larry Clement, an ARCA championship team owner. "If you can run fast and competitively at Salem, you can drive any speedway track there is. If you're driving a 2,800- to 3,000-pound late-model with 400 or 500 hp, and you get into a 3,400-pound car with way more horsepower, it's a big transition to make . . . If somebody's got the talent to run there, I think they could go to Michigan or Kentucky and stay out of trouble and be competitive if they're in the right car."

So, you take your test drive, do well, and decide to go ARCA racing. But how much should it cost? We talked to a few top ARCA teams that were willing to give us real numbers on what it costs to run in the series.

Bill Venturini is a two-time ARCA Champion (1987 and '91) and owns the ARCA car his son, Billy, drives. "What's it take to do it right?" says Bill. "We'll spend close to $350,000, probably, by the end of this year. That's for the whole year."

The biggest part of his budget is the same in basically any type of racing. "Everyone bitches about the tire bill, and rightfully so, because it's a necessary evil," he says. "We'll probably spend more than a quarter of our budget on tires. My tire bill at the end of the year will probably be about $90,000 . . . Usually engines are my next biggest expense, but I'm hooked up with Shaver Racing Engines this year and they've got a kick-butt contingency program and I've qualified for it at a lot of races. So it's helped me keep my engine bill in check."

But Venturini has learned to cut some expenses. "Hotel bills," he says. "I haven't paid for a hotel in two years. Believe me, I work my butt off to get those free hotel rooms. I spend 40 hours a week on the phone working deals. Ruby Tuesday's restaurants have been great. Most of the cities we go to, the Ruby Tuesday's restaurants give us free dinners. I put a Ruby Tuesday's decal on the car. That may not seem like a lot of deals, but I've got a lot of volunteer help that comes every week. When we go to dinner, there's 14 of us. My dinner bill is like $400. That's how I do it."

He talks about the guys who have won ARCA championships: "You know, the Bowshers, the Keselowskis, the Venturinis, the Kimmels-we've been here for 30 years, so we have to know how to stretch a penny. If we need a part that's going to make us better, we figure out a way to afford it. I'd die for a million-dollar sponsorship right now."

Money TrailWith ARCA RE/MAX and NASCAR Nextel Cup cars being the same, there are quite a few deals available on used cars. "Today, you could go buy an excellent Nextel Cup car for $25,000-for whatever [track use] you want except [plate] superspeedways," says Venturini. "What used to be your big-dollar expense was buying the car and engine; today it's not. Granted, if you build a new one, you're going to spend $60,000-$70,000 to build it, where you can go buy one that's one year old for $25,000. You're a fool not to. That's what we're all doing now."

Andy Belmont is another ARCA vet who is just as savvy working a deal, and his costs fall into a similar vein. "I don't see how you can do it for less than $400,000," says Belmont. "I don't see how you can be right without spending $750,000. And to be up with the Joneses, it's over a million. It depends on what kind of car you put on the racetrack, obviously . . . You've got an engine lease. You've got a $100,000-$110,000 tire bill. You've got $50,000-a dollar a mile-to run the tractor-trailer up and down the highway. You've got salaries for three or four people . . . We do it as efficiently as anybody, and we still spend about $1,200 per race in travel alone."

Belmont points out more than just the obvious: "There's an awful lot of incidentals people don't think about. You spend $10,000-$12,000 a year in decals. You spend $18,000-$19,000 at the start of the year for uniforms. You spend $10,000-$12,000 in licenses . . . I spend 90 percent of my business day working on sponsor money. I don't get to work on the cars anymore, not hardly, anyway."

Are short-track races cheaper? "Hell no, they're not cheaper," says Belmont. "You can't get to the front without tearing the body off the car. I mean, that's insane. If you can get through a speedway race, you've probably got a $6,000 or $8,000 tire bill, but you've got a whole race car-you've still got a motor to freshen up and all that. You run these places [short tracks] and you've got a $7,000 or $8,000 bill to fix the body right, and that doesn't count the components you tore off along the way underneath."

ARCA runs restrictor-plate races at Daytona and Talladega. The speeds aren't the only thing to increase. "A plate race, just because of the specialty, is a whole different animal," says Belmont. "I can't do a plate race for less than 50 grand. I mean, [engine builder] Joe Rhyne gets 25 grand to rent a motor for one race. You don't have any equity in it; you just rented it and you've got to give it back. You can't go to a plate race without testing, so you've got 2,500 miles in travel, two times, we do, anyway. We have to look at it four times-a test for each one and a race for each one. So that's four events the way I see it. You can't go to Daytona and test in December and come back with the same motor in February and expect to run fast because you suck all that sand down through the motor. You've got to freshen it."

Even the tire bill is different for the plate tracks. "Two things happen when we run a superspeedway race," says Belmont. "Your tire bill instantly goes from, say, if you buy three sets of tires here that would be $2,200 for a short-track race. At the dirt tracks, we only buy one set. You go to the superspeedways, you buy four sets. But you're not talking $750 a set; you're talking $1,550 a set. So now my tire bill is usually $6,800 to $7,200 at a speedway race-any race that we have the radial tires on."

Clement's take on a season's expenses is in the same ballpark. "If he's going to run competitively, not counting buying the cars and buying the transporters [because you can rent a transporter], but to run the race team, rebuild or lease engines and all the equipment, and pay for the expenses, I would think it would take $400,000 to $500,000 to be respectable," Clement estimates. "And it takes probably twice that much to consistently run up front or win a championship."

An AlternativeIf you don't have deep pockets to set up shop, there is another option-rentals. Cars can be leased for one or a group of races, saving money over buying all-new hardware. It's also a good way to test a driver, crewchief, and crewmembers on how well they adapt to the bigger cars on bigger tracks. But renting, like outright buying, has its detractions.

"There are people that have rent-a-cars, and there are people that rent race cars," says Venturini. "I've rented race cars to people. I don't have rent-a-cars; I rent race cars, meaning that it's a car that my son Billy races that I just put your number on and your name over the door and you drive it. For a short track, I wouldn't do it for less than $35,000 a race. It has new tires to go racing with. It's got a motor, it's got a crew, and the car's ready to go. Speedway races, I wouldn't do it for less than $50,000."

Belmont has similar prices. "Thirty thousand dollars," he says. "Ten thousand dollar crash clause. They buy the tires. If they tear the car up, a maximum of 10 grand. I get a $10,000 retainer up front. So they give me 30 grand plus the 10 grand retainer. If they don't hurt the car, I give it back to them after the race."

Crash clause? "I have a crash clause," Belmont continues. "And we agree before the race that car is worth $15,000 to $20,000, whatever it is. That's the maximum you will pay to fix it over and above your rental fee . . . You're going to have a $50,000 investment if you wad it up into the corner, because you've got the $30,000 rental fee and $20,000 crash clause. If you don't crash the car, you've just saved yourself 20,000 bucks."

What if a driver or owner wants to put together a program of multiple races? Are there any deals to be had? "If somebody is running multiple races, and they can bring something to the table, I'll work with them," says Belmont. "That's a different deal. If you look at my website (www.andybelmont.com), my rental price is on there and the reason is on there, as well. You go to the second page and it breaks down all the things you get.

"People rent the car and they forget or don't realize that [after] every race, you've got to revalve the shocks or buy pistons for the shocks. They don't realize you've got to buy $400 worth of brake rotors for the front; you've got to put new brake pads in, new brake rotors on just about every race. There's a lot of consumables that people just don't realize . . . If I get prepaid for three or four races up front, I might consider absorbing the crash clause because the costs are fixed. It doesn't change. You go to Hutch and you buy brake pads or lug nuts. You use them every race. It's not like we're getting rich off of this stuff; it's just how we make our living."

The crash clause is where the renter signs an open check for any needed repairs and/or replacement. But what determines how bad a car is wrecked before it's a total write-off? Leading Edge Race Cars of Charlotte, North Carolina, not only rents cars for intermediate tracks, but also repairs cars and hangs bodies. Owner Pat Beattie says, "You can clip both ends of the car [repair a frame section], but when you get into the middle of a car, that's usually when you start throwing it away." His rates are $20,000 if the renter has a crew with all the tools and parts and, as he says, "$30,000 if you want to just show up with a helmet."

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