Your options are wide open if you want to get involved in stock car racing. You're limited only by your desire and your right rear-if your right rear pocket is where you keep your wallet.

For 99 percent of the potential new racers out there, the local short track is a great place to start driving. It makes sense to start in a simpler and less costly class. The idea of starting at the highest levels is not only an unreasonable expectation, but it's restrictive due to costs and infrastructure requirements. Most tracks have beginner classes that use older street cars as the basis for the race car. The common vernacular, of course, is Street Stock.

When you say Street Stock it can mean many different things, depending on the region of the country where you live. Street Stocks run the full gamut of a simple street car that has been gutted-with all the interior glass removed and a few rudimentary bars installed to act as a rollcage for a modicum of driver safety-to the other end of the scale. There you'll find a well-prepared car with a full rollcage, a special racing seat, upgraded seatbelts, a fuel cell, and some limited suspension upgrades like adjustable shocks and aftermarket springs. Again, the definition of a Street Stock is very open and very regional. The common thread is the use of an older street car as the genesis of the race car.

Starting in a Street Stock racer gives you all the thrills of competition for about the most reasonable price in all of racing. Street Stocks provide the opportunity to sample the full racing adventure while gaining a good bit of mechanical and setup experience. It offers the racer the opportunity to get in a car and learn about driving. It also can demonstrate that being a crew chief is not as easy as simply sitting on the pit box and making decisions about whether to take two tires or four, or one can of fuel or merely a splash.

Just how much do you have to spend to get a car ready? The first and most convoluted answer is, "It depends." Primarily, it depends on the rules in the local class you plan to run and how much you have in your budget. If you're willing to do all the labor yourself and have a minimum of tools, you can get involved for a reasonable cost. That said, it's possible to get a car on the track for around two grand.

The first logical place to look would be the local speedway to see what classes are being run and if there are any cars for sale. It may be possible to buy the car ready to race and avoid doing any work at all; however, half of the fun is building the car. But sometimes you can get a race-ready Street Stock for a reasonable price, as racers are always in a state of flux moving on or moving out of the sport. There are opportunities out there if you look.

Building your own car has a number of advantages. Most importantly, you're aware of every nut and bolt on a race car in which you will be placing your posterior, and building it yourself is the best way to go if you have basic mechanical ability.

Going to the local speedway and talking to the racers in the pits is a great way to gather information. Racers in general are a gregarious lot and more than willing to help a new guy get started. It may even provide an opportunity to do some volunteer work. Ask if a team could use some help on race days or back at the shop. Few racers will turn down volunteer help, and working on the cars is always time well spent. It offers a good opportunity to meet new friends and learn about the cars.

Then, if you still want to build your own car, make sure you research what other area racers are using as the basis for the cars they're racing. You also need to get a copy of the rules and have a complete understanding of what you need to be looking for to build your racer. Many tracks have a specific type or range of years they use as the basis for the Street Stocks they race. Do your homework prior to buying a car to start this project. Once you have all the data on the type of car that is working well at the track, and you know what is allowed, the next step is to look for a car.

The best place to start looking is with the help of your friends and coworkers. Let them know what you are looking for and be specific with regard to the year and model.

A local racer was telling me about the path he followed to get the donor car for his Street Stock. He let his pals know he was looking for an older car. He gave them the brand, model, and year he wanted. One of his pals said his neighbor had the exact car he was looking for parked at his house. He was given the owner's phone number, a deal was made, and the car was towed away for less than $100. Another driver told me he got his car for free; the owner just wanted it off his property.

There are still plenty of '70s and early '80s Fords, Chevrolets, and Dodges out there that are rear-wheel drive and prime candidates for developing into Street Stocks, but you have to search.

Now that you have a car, what's next? First, look it over and see if there are any saleable items you won't be using. It's possible that the interior parts may have some residual value. The point is that before you start tearing apart the car, you might be able to get a few dollars from the sale of the parts you won't be using-not a real probability, but you never know. It never fails that just as soon as you break out the front and rear windshield, you have some guy walk up and tell you he would've paid you $100 for the glass. Live and learn.

First and foremost, our Street Stock will have a stout rollcage that will give the driver a safe environment offering a good level of protection. We'll also install a fuel cell for more protection, and our budget will include a top-quality aluminum, purpose-built racing seat mounted to the 'cage, along with a good set of five-point racing seatbelts. Remember, the idea that a race car is inexpensive to build while also being as safe as possible is not a contradiction in terms. Safety must be built in from the start. After all, you'll be the one sitting in the car.

What we will not include in our budget is extensive engine modifications, as most Street Stock rules do not allow significant engine mods. Most associations require a stock iron intake manifold. We will budget a reasonable amount of money to ensure the engine runs as well as it can without spending large sums of money. What we need from our engine is reliability. In this application, reliability is more important than brute power.

Conversations with Carl Blohm of Stock Car Products supported the engine reliability needs.

"Reliability in a Street Stock is what wins races," Blohm says. "These cars do not have a large amount of grip, so big power is more of a hindrance, especially on dirt where traction is sometimes a difficult commodity to get."

Essentially, we need the engine to start and run reasonably well. This includes a well-thought-out cooling and fuel system. The ignition system will be OEM and should be just fine. These cars do not see high rpm, so investing in an aftermarket ignition will not be required, nor do most associations allow the use of special ignition systems.

Few Street Stock classes allow any more than the stock exhaust manifolds and enough of an exhaust system to get the exhaust out of the engine compartment and away from the driver. The wiring system will get simplified. We do not need lights or any power routed to nonessential accessories.

Most new racers may or may not have access to the fabrication equipment required to build a rollcage. If you do, then great, although it's more than likely you won't have a tube bender-but you may have a welder or a buddy with a welder. If you fall short here, not to worry. There are several places that cater to racers in need of rollcages. It's surprising how reasonably you can purchase a 'cage kit with all the tubes prebent and ready to weld together. You may have to notch some of the tubes and make adjustments to fit your application, but the cost isn't that great. With a bit of research and some phone calls, I was able to find a prebent cage in the $255-$450 range, including delivery. That's a real deal when you consider how much a good tube bender costs.

Many of the 'cages I located came in various levels. The first level was one with heavy reinforcement on the driver side of the car; for as little as $30 more you could get an optional kit to put additional reinforcement on the passenger side as well; for another $40 you could get a seat-rail kit so the seat could be mounted as an integral part of the 'cage and not the floor board of the car.

An economy aluminum seat designed for racing was priced from a low of $149 to a high of $175, depending on the features of the seat. A seat cover was an additional $75-$85. It's not even a real consideration to use the OEM seat. Seatbelts were priced from $80 to $120 a set. From a safety perspective, a racing seat mounted to the 'cage provides a much greater level of safety for the driver in the event of a hard hit or a crash that may include a flip or a even a slow rollover.

An 8-gallon fuel cell with the foam bladder and a premade can ready to paint can be purchased for less than $250. Some Street Stock associations allow you to use the stock tank. We need to remember that this is a major safety feature, and the cost of the fuel cell is way less than the trip to the hospital burn center and rehab. It's your nickel.

Why 8 gallons and not a larger tank? The majority of Street Stock races are on short tracks and average about 20-30 laps for the main event, so the chances that you'll need more fuel aren't that great. Many of the racers and vendors we consulted recommended the 8-gallon cell as being more than adequate for 99 percent of the racers' needs.

In most applications, the car will have a steering column that's designed to collapse in a front-end collision. You should not have to replace the column. If you don't have to remove it in the construction process, try to maintain the safety feature that this column provides.

It's possible you'll want to remove all the wiring in the car and start over and develop a simple electrical system. This could make a race-day electrical problem much easier to solve. Remember, think reliability. You can purchase premade wiring harnesses for under $50. If you've priced wire, connectors, and switches, this is a real deal.

You'll need a battery. Chances are that a $500 car won't have a new battery or one that's up to the rigors of racing. Don't skimp on this purchase; plan on buying a good battery. You'll wish you had spent the extra money if you spin and stall the engine and the whole field drives by you twice because the battery won't spin a hot engine. You won't see the value of saving $25 at that point. Also, take the time to mount the battery where it won't be damaged in a front-end hit, and mount it solidly so it won't get damaged or fall out.

Brakes need to be in peak form. Fortunately, brake parts for cars of this era aren't expensive, and turning the rotors and drums isn't an expense that will break the budget. It's possible to get upgraded pads and shoes at the local parts houses or through the mail from many of the racing parts vendors. Inspect the brake lines, both the metal and flex hoses, at each end of the car. Using the stock components should be fine for this application.

Most Street Stocks utilize an automatic transmission, and it's possible-depending on the condition of the car and the number of miles it has been driven-that you may need to only change the fluid and clean or replace the screen. If you find that you need a substantial amount of repair work, it may be less expensive to go to the local auto recycler or wrecking yard and buy a different transmission or one that's been rebuilt.

When it comes time to paint the car, whether you're considering repainting or some touch-up, the cost can be reasonable. You need to remember you are not building a show car. The car will more than likely be raced at night, and the general finish of the paint is not that important in the grand scheme of things. I've seen cars turn out well when painted with spray paint from the local discount store. Some well-placed vinyl graphics or lettering do a great job of dressing up the car as well.

You'll likely have to budget for some noncar expenses like a floor jack and various tools, including a good tire-pressure gauge, a battery charger for between races, fuel jugs, and some other nondescript tools.

Let's go over our budget and see how much money we'll have to spend to build this Street Stock.

Car (possibly free)$200-$500
Rollcage kit with seat rail and
passenger-side door bars
$370
Aluminum racing seat$235
Seatbelts$80-$125
Misc. engine, transmission
and brake costs
$500
Battery$95
Paint and lettering$200
Belts and hoses$75
Support tools$300
Total:$2,055-$2,400
With donated car:$1,855

This still leaves you a good bit of your budget to spend on a driver's suit, a helmet, and gloves. If you get lucky and the donor car's engine is in good mechanical shape, you won't need to spend that portion of your budget. Please remember, these costs are not absolutes.

Also remember that how much money you spend will be a matter of how resourceful you're willing to be. It's time well spent going to the track and taking pictures of the cars and getting a real understanding of what goes into building them. You'll learn about the cars, the people, and the process of racing. Every short track in the country runs the show a little differently from every other track. It's a good idea to understand how the show is run at the track you'll be racing each week. Remember, this is doable, and you can do it.

Take the plunge. Get started. You never know what will happen or where this could lead. We may be seeing you every Sunday afternoon spraying Pepsi, Coke, or Gatorade all over your crew.

But let's work toward those Friday and Saturday night races first.

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