Each race season a new group of racers hit the track to chase that elusive checkered flag. Youngsters as young as five turn laps in Quarter Midgets, and middle-aged guys-and increasingly-gals decide to make the journey from the grandstands to the starting lineup of a Street Stock or Mini Stock race at their local track.
The choices available when selecting an entry level race vehicle are as varied and diverse as they've ever been. And the money required to go racing runs along a broad spectrum, from a single grand to tens of thousands of dollars.
The staff of SCR has compiled the following guide for entry level racing options. The list is not all-inclusive, but we've attempted to offer a wide selection of options. Whatever choice you make, you can bet you're about to enter one of the most enjoyable of all sporting events. Racing isn't easy, nor is it inexpensive. But in terms of family fun and interaction, it's hard to beat.
It doesn't get more entry level than Go-Karts. We've all had a blast driving "fun-karts" at the local amusement park, but a Go-Kart built for competition is a different beast entirely. The adult divisions will reach speeds (depending on the size of the track) of 70-80 mph. And don't forget, you're only an inch or two off the ground.
Karting gives young racers the foundation for what it takes to compete at the higher level
I believe Karting is the best type of entry level racing regardless of age. This is because Karting is not only a great place to learn basic skills, but also because of the advanced car control it teaches. A Kart's steering is extremely touchy, requiring a driver to slow the steering input and feel everything the Kart is doing.
A lot of graduates to the upper levels of racing got their start in Karting. When I first started racing in Karts around 10 years ago, it was huge in the Midwest. You could travel a couple of hours in any direction and be at a very competitive race. It has since waned a little in the Midwest, but on the East Coast it still draws fairly large car counts.
Another great thing about Karting is it can be relatively inexpensive; $2,000 to $2,500 will get you a very competitive Kart. And because of their small size, you don't have to have a trailer to haul a Kart. They'll fit in the back of a normal-size pickup. Another benefit is safety. Some people maintain Karts are dangerous because of not having a seat belt or any type of harness. But with helmets, neck harnesses, and fire suits, it's a relatively safe way to race.
If you're not careful, though, you can invest a lot of money in tires and engines. Luckily, sanctioning groups like the World Karting Association have started to institute spec tire rules to help with the costs. -John Gibson
The Upside: If you invest your money in the right places, Karting can be inexpensive.
The Downside: If you're not located near a racing hotbed, it might be difficult finding a track with strong car counts.
World Karting Associationwww.worldkarting.com
Of all the entry level options out there, Quarter Midgets have produced a heritage of talented racers few race vehicles can match. Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman are among the many top drivers who started in these vehicles.
A Quarter Midget is essentially a scaled-down version of an actual Midget racer, approximately 1/4 scale. The cars are built around a tubular frame and are fully suspended with springs or torsion bars and shocks. The bodies are fiberglass, usually painted to the driver's preference. Surrounding the driver is a chrome-moly rollcage and nerf bars. The engines are single cylinder units manufactured by Honda, Continental, Briggs & Stratton, and Deco, producing between 2.5 and 4 hp. Modifications in the upper classes allow these engines to reach several times the stock power levels. These air-cooled 4-cycle engines are reliable and can produce as much as 10,000 rpm in their more highly modified forms.
Quarter Midgets are a great way for a young driver to learn car control. They've been prov
One of the benefits of racing Quarter Midgets is that it's still a family sport, untainted by the upper divisions of racing. Kids learn the basics of racing and how to race correctly. You must be between the ages of 5 and 16 to compete in most sanctions. Quarter Midget tracks are very similar ovals of either dirt or asphalt. Each track is usually a part of a regional club that works with other tracks to provide fair and competitive racing.
A new turnkey Quarter Midget is $5,000, while a decent used one will be in the range of $3,500.
The cars are built so that talent will prevail more than equipment. The cars teach young drivers not only to drive but also about chassis setup and chassis dynamics. You'll see youngsters leaning as far as they can to the left to provide their car with that little bit of left-side weight to help the car handle.-J.G.
The Upside: Low cost, and fun for the entire family.
The Downside: The cars are intended for children or teenagers because of the age limit and size of the vehicle.
Quarter Midgets of Americawww.quartermidgets.org
Bandoleros are a good entry point for aspiring racers, especially those with experience in
With their full-bodied design and 570cc Briggs & Stratton Vanguard engines producing in the neighborhood of 30 hp, Bandoleros offer an excellent means for youngsters to develop driving skills. Ideally, a fledgling racer has experience in either Karts or Quarter Midgets before climbing into a Bandolero, but INEX allows drivers to compete as young as 8 years old, and teenagers and older competitors have been known to have a blast in these cars.
A centrifugal clutch eliminates the need to shift gears, so it's all about mashing the gas, turning the wheel, and learning to apply the left foot-brake. Young drivers have the opportunity to not only learn to drive but also to maintain and prepare the car for competition. These little cars offer the chance to learn spring selection, tire wear, and other racing variables. They're an excellent vehicle to get into for a season or two and develop the skills necessary for moving into a Legends Car, especially considering that the cars often compete on the same tracks.
Bandoleros are nearly 11 feet long so you'll likely need a small trailer for towing to races.
Expect to pay $7,000 for a new Bandolero, but that price may be slightly higher by the time you read this, and then you'll need support equipment to race a full season. Used cars, with equipment, can be found for as low as $4,500 or as much as $9,000, depending on equipment. -Larry Cothren
The Upside: These cars are neat little burners for driver development. They look cool, they're relatively easy to maintain, and a used Bandolero and equipment can be purchased for a reasonable cost.
The Downside: Bandoleros are not toys. Crash one and-like any form of race vehicle-they're going to cost you money, especially considering 600 Racing's control of the hardware. And the cockpit is cramped for all but small adults.
These cars were designed with a nod toward the open-wheel cars of the '50s. With an open cockpit and long 96-inch wheelbase, Thunder Roadsters are a different animal, measuring over 14 feet from nose to tail. Like the Legends, they're powered by 1,250cc sealed Yamaha engines. But with the longer wheelbase and a higher weight of 1,500 pounds, including the driver, they're more stable than the Legends.
The cars have a five-speed sequential transmission. They also have an adjustable rear Panhard bar and adjustable rear pinion angle.
In recent years, 600 Racing has added a fendered version of the Thunder Roadster, making the cars eligible for competition under the SCCA sanction. Beginning this year, all new Thunder Roadsters have fenders, and the cars are being run on tracks as long as 1.5 miles.
Expect to pay $13,995 for a new Thunder Roadster. That's for a water-cooled version with the new body style. Used cars run around $10,000.-L.C.
Thunder Roadsters are increasingly found on larger tracks. KEVIN THORNE
The Upside: If you're looking for something different, this is the car. And 600 Racing is targeting Thunder Roadsters more toward larger tracks for experienced racers looking for a new challenge.
The Downside: Unlike Bandoleros and Legends, these cars lack mass appeal so finding venues to compete might be difficult at present. Check your area tracks before purchasing one.
H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, formerly of Speedway Motorsports and Lowe's Motor Speedway, is the brainchild of 600 Racing and its line of entry level racecars. Founded in 1992, 600 Racing has produced thousands of Bandoleros, Legends Cars, and Thunder Roadsters, which have become popular around the U.S. and in several other countries.
The cars are manufactured in Harrisburg, North Carolina, approximately 2 miles from Lowe's Motor Speedway and squarely in the heart of stock car country, so racing heritage runs deep with these little burners. In fact, the company's flagship racer-the Legends Car-is designed with that heritage in mind. Eleven Legends body styles are available: '34 Chevy Coupe, '34 Ford Coupe, '34 Ford Sedan, '37 Chevy Sedan, '37 Chevy Coupe, '37 Ford Sedan, '37 Ford Coupe, '40 Ford Coupe, '40 Ford Sedan, '37 Dodge Sedan, and '37 Dodge Coupe. The cars are meant to capture the aura of the sport's early days, when racers like Lee Petty and Buck Baker were getting started.
That's quite a legacy to live up to, but the Legends Car delivers. Two of the top young drivers in the sport today-Kyle Busch and Joey Logano-honed their skills in Legends, and the list of Legends graduates currently racing in NASCAR's top levels is rather long.
A 73-inch wheelbase and relatively narrow overall width of 60 inches make Legends twitchy and challenging to drive. Generally run on smaller ovals, these cars help drivers develop throttle control and lap consistency. Legends, in fact, are a destination for the weekend enthusiast looking for a hobby, as well as the young driver eyeing a career in motorsports.
The cars are powered by 1,250cc sealed Yamaha engines, producing approximately 122 hp, according to 600 Racing. That and their weight of 1,300 pounds, with driver, give the cars a relatively high horsepower-to-weight ratio. Twitchy indeed.
Legends Cars teach car control and lap consistency-and hot to rebuild a crashed car. KEVIN
Four divisions are offered under the INEX sanction, which is also controlled by 600 Racing. The top-level Pro Divison is generally for experienced racers who've moved up the ladder, sometimes after starting in one of the three lower divisions. The Masters Division is intended for drivers age 40 and above, and the Semi-Pro class is considered a novice division for beginners or competitors with little recent experience. Then there's the Young Lions Division, where competitors between ages 12 and 18 can move into a Legends Car, often after getting a start in Karts or Bandoleros.
A new Legends Car can be purchased for $12,995. With a long list of possible upgrades, the price for a new car could easily be a couple thousand dollars more. Used cars generally run between $8,500 and $9,500.-L.C.
The Upside: Mark Martin once said if a driver can win consistently in a Legends, then he's ready for any level of NASCAR.
The Downside: 600 Racing tightly controls the hardware for these cars, leaving few options to purchase parts on the open market.
Allison Legacy Series
Relatively new to racing is the Allison Legacy Series, founded in 1992 by Kenny Allison, Ronald Allison, and Donald Allison, sons of NASCAR Legend Donnie Allison. In just 16 years, the Allison Legacy Series has established itself at several racetracks.
The Legacy Car is a three-quarter scale replica of a Sprint Cup car and is powered by a four-cylinder MAZDA B-2200 truck engine that produces approximately 125 hp. The cars use a standard MAZDA five-speed transmission. The cars weigh about 1,400 pounds dry, but for competition must weigh a minimum of 1,675 pounds with driver.
The Allison Legacy Series is a spec series designed to minimize costs and place the emphasis on the driver instead of the equipment. While there are regional series that utilize the Legacy Cars, the main attraction is the touring series, which consists of 23 races at 11 tracks in three states.
The series typically draws 25-30 competitors at each event. This is impressive at a time when a lot of Late Model divisions are struggling to draw 20 cars. The high car counts make it extremely competitive.
A new Allison Legacy Car costs $18,800. You can pick up a good used car for around $12,000 to $13,000. -J.G.
The Upside: You can get the feel of what it takes to run a full season in a touring series and gain experience on larger tracks.
The Downside: The biggest complaint about the series is the cost. The price of a new car, $18,800, is expensive, especially considering that a couple thousand more would buy a 400 hp Limited Late Model.
The Allison Legacy Series704/278-0174
Mini-Stocks, Rookie-Fours, Mod-Fours, Pony-Stocks, you name it. The four-cylinder class of racecars has a multitude of names, but they have a singular purpose: They allow racers to get into the action on the cheap.
Of course, there will always be racers in every class who find new and inventive ways to spend loads of money on their racecars, but-at least in the Mini-Stock class-that won't always help you win. The general baseline for the Mini-Stock class is a compact or fullsize chassis outfitted with a carbureted four-cylinder engine. By far the most popular choices are the Ford Mustang and Toyota Celica. You may occasionally run into a Ford Pinto-which make good racecars if they can be found-Chevy Cavaliers, and a compact pickup when they are allowed.
Price is held in check in this class by limiting the amount of upgrades allowed on both the chassis and engine. Normally, all bracing on the chassis has to be done through the rollcage, all suspension pickup points must remain in the stock locations, shocks must be stock replacement, and the entire drivetrain must be of the same type that originally came in the car (so no quick-change rearends in your Mustang). This limits your tuning options, which makes it easy to get in and get racing without requiring an engineering degree to properly set up your chassis. But it can also be limiting if you're trying to prepare yourself to race Late Models in the future. Likewise, the engine must usually use the stock block, cylinder head, and intake manifold.
Mini-Stocks, with their four-cylinder powerplants, are a nice entry point for aspiring rac
When preparing this story, we spoke with three different engine builders-Esslinger Engineering, KT Engine Development, and Johnson's Racing Engines-which all specialize in the most popular engine in Mini-Stock racing, Ford's 2.3L four, and they all gave approximately the same answer when it came to costs. A complete engine built to be competitive, but without going to extremes, can be had ready to race (from carburetor to flywheel) for $6,000 to $6,500. This includes a cast crank (no problem with the limited horsepower), forged steel rods, forged pistons, a race spec camshaft, and a quality valve job. You can do it for less, but this range should get you a quality engine that should get you into the thick of the action and last 15 to 20 races before needing to be refreshed.
A car can usually be built for $3,500. And the major cost here will be the safety components such as a quality racing seat, fuel cell, and gauges. Quality of construction varies wildly in this class because there are many newcomers, but a competent car builder should be able to produce a quality racecar without breaking the bank.
Then there is nothing left to do but go and have fun!-Jeff Huneycutt
The Upside: Full-scale racing on a reduced budget.
The Downside: Limited adjustability may hinder the learning curve if you move to a more advanced class of cars.
Johnson's Racing Engines
KT Engine Development
Dwarf Cars are easily recognizable and are considered the precursor to Legends Cars and th
Dwarf Cars & Mod-Lites
Dwarf Cars have been around for 20-plus years in various forms. The current evolutionary state of the cars shows some real positives and good development. Dwarf Cars are essentially the precursor to Legends Cars and Mod-Lites.
Dwarfs utilize a large displacement 1,200cc Japanese motorcycle engine. These are racecars through and through. One of the biggest differences between Dwarf Cars and Mod-Lites are the tires. The Dwarfs are required to run a DOT-approved tire while the Mod-Lites run a Hoosier or a Goodyear racing tire. So when traction is at a premium, the Mod-Lites have an advantage.
Mod-Lites are a fairly recent evolution. To the average fan, the cars look very similar. The Dwarf Cars have steel bodies that are reminiscent of '30s and '40s sedans, only much smaller. The cars are both fully suspended and have fully adjustable suspensions. They have fuel cells and as much as 160 hp can be generated from the motorcycle engines they use for power. They have a driveshaft and aren't chain driven, a real positive.
The Dwarf Cars use a modified Toyota passenger car rearend while the Mod-Lites are allowed either the same Toyota rearend or they can use a quick-change rearend. Multiple gears are available for the Toyota rearend and the quick-change has many possible combinations that can be changed in short order.
The racing is intense and the cars usually race on smaller quarter-mile and 3/8-mile ovals on both dirt and pavement. The racers run close and contact isn't uncommon, but the racing isn't as physical as the Street Stock guys. These cars teach great car control and the fact that they have a pretty good horsepower-to-weight ratio makes them a pretty good ride for the driver and they put on a pretty good show for the fans.
These cars are built by multiple manufacturers and the prices are reasonable when you consider that they're full-on racecars. A new Mod-Lite can cost upwards of $19,000, ready-to-run, but the price can drop if you're willing to do a good bit of the assembly work and buy some of the bolt-on parts.
Mod-Lites look cool on the track and oofer excellent opportunities for competition, especi
Dwarf Cars are a bit less expensive, but a new car can still reach into the mid-teens. Used Dwarf Cars can be found from $4,500 to $10,000, depending on the condition and the age of the car. Both of these cars require a bit less racing infrastructure to maintain and move around. You won't need a big truck and trailer to haul your car to the races. The majority of the Dwarf Car and Mod-Lite drivers use a medium-duty truck or car to haul the car and trailer. These cars are easy on the wallet to maintain as well. You might go through 4 to 5 gallons of pump gas on a race night. And, with the price of fuel only getting higher, it's nice to know that you can go racing for $20 to $30 worth of fuel (pump gas) instead of $100 to $150 of race gas for a night.-John Hill
The Upside: The cars are easy to drive and most racers feel very comfortable in them very quickly. Even though they're a fairly small car, there is still a good bit of room, even for larger drivers. Tires aren't a real cost driver with the Dwarf Cars as they run a DOT tire.
The Downside: The rules are fairly restrictive and the cars have a very narrow range of owner-inspired engineering allowed. If you want a car that you can work at developing new and different part combinations, this class is a bit restrictive from a rules perspective. Depending on options, the cars can be a bit on the expensive side if you purchase everything new.
Peter D Motorsports602/716-0212
Dwarf Car Co
Sport Modifieds offer the racer a car that has all the looks of a more expensive IMCA Modi
The idea of building their own car is to many racers just as much fun and as good a reason to get into racing as driving the car. Sport Modifieds have all the looks of a more expensive IMCA Modified with the costs being just a bit higher than two really good Street Stocks. That is true if you are willing to build the car yourself.
There are some chassis builders who are offering this car as a lower-cost alternative to an IMCA type of Modified. You can even buy the rollcage bars bent and notched ready to weld together for about $1,000 if you're so inclined to build your own chassis. From the stands, the cars are identical in appearance to an IMCA Modified. If you get under the hood or the suspension, you'll find a stock GM metric frame and stock rearend under the car. No Ford 9-inch rearend, no four-link suspension, no fabricated A-frames in the front. Nor will you find a $10,000 engine. What you will find are the stock suspension parts you would find in a street car. Although some of the associations that race these cars are allowing some aftermarket A-frames to be used on the front end, for the most part the cars are equipped with OEM-based suspension components.
The engines are highly regulated with the intent to keep costs down. No aluminum blocks or heads. No roller anything! No porting, no lightweight rods. Flat-top pistons with four-valve reliefs cut into the crown are mandatory and no lightweight cranks allowed. The engines are really lightly modified V-8s. You're allowed either a two-barrel Holley carburetor or a Quadrajet.
Keeping the costs under control is the goal. You are allowed any cam, but it will be limited by the heads and the stock rocker arms. No need to put a monster cam in the engine if you don't have the components that would allow a monster cam to do its job. You're allowed an aftermarket HEI distributor and headers. The cars are making around 300 to 350 hp in race trim. They seem to be fairly reliable and engine failures rare. You have a choice of using an automatic transmission or a manual transmission. The rules require you to use an OEM single-disc clutch and OEM flywheel.
The racing is tight, and due to the fairly narrow tires and very equal power, a premium is placed on driver skill. It's not uncommon for a good driver to beat out a car with more power just because these cars require a good bit of driver control. These are momentum cars and if you drive with the tail hung out, it may look cool and be a good bit of fun, but it's not always the fastest way around the track.
Conversations with the racers find the cars start at $17,000 for a factory built car ready to race. Most of the racers are quoting a cost of $7,000 to $11,000 to build a race-ready car. Nothing beats a full field of racers having a blast racing. This class of racers seems to be gaining popularity in the Southwest and Central states.-J.Hill
The Upside: The class is growing and the parts to build the cars are plentiful and very reasonable from a cost perspective. The rules that govern the suspension and the engine are open enough to allow the backyard engineer enough wiggle room to have a great time playing with setups.
The Downside: Even in cost-conscious divisions, there are racers who will find a way to circumvent the rules and still spend money. This type of activity can cause the technical inspections to become longer and more invasive.
Dan's Racing Supply480/615-6440
As a beginning racer, you have nothing but options. The only limitations are your level of dedication and your budget. With many Saturday night racecars, the starting point isn't what one would consider a purpose-built racecar, but a modified street car.
This type of racer is called by a variety of names across the country-Street Stock, Bomber
This type of car is called by a variety of names across the country-Street Stock, Bomber, Hobby Stocker-but the point is that they are usually an older V-8-powered street car with the interior, all the glass, the stock seats, and anything that isn't necessary to make the car mobile, stripped out. Then a rollcage is built, more to protect the driver than to act as a chassis stiffener or a mounting point for the suspension. The exhaust is removed except for the barest minimum of the stock system to route exhaust from the engine past the driver. Headers aren't usually used. The engines are mostly stock with any modifications intended to improve durability executed on the externals of the engine, at least at the start.
Wheels and the suspension are usually left in stock trim with the exception of possibly some better shocks and some other modifications to the suspension that are legal and dependent on the local rules. Some racers will make some different adjustments to the camber to aid in the car turning. On some of the better-prepared cars, the entire electrical system is removed and a much simpler system takes its place. The duties are limited to starting the car, providing a charging system for the battery, some minimal power to run gauges, and some other minimal devices.
This class of racecar can be built for less than one would think. With some careful selection of the car and some faithful searching in the racing classifieds, you could build a Street Stock racer and spend as little as $2,000. The cars can often be purchased used for quite a reasonable price, but don't expect the car to be in showroom condition. In fact, this class seems to have a good deal of turnover as racers will often gravitate to other classes, so used cars are usually plentiful.
The racing in these classes is intense, physical, and just plain fun. The low cost of the cars, the lower horsepower, and narrow hard tires make the cars a great place to learn about car control. Often the fastest way around the track is to drive a bit slower and less sideways and lower on the track. That's not to say that the cars aren't capable of some real sideways action, it just may not be the fastest way around the track. Theone thing you notice is that these drivers are smiling before the races and they're smiling as they get out of the car after the races. Sometimes it is just about the fun.-J. Hill
The Upside: The cost of entry is about as low as it can get in any racing series. You can get your feet wet and test the racing waters without taking a financial bath. You'll learn about the mechanicals and the driving side of the sport.
The Downside: It's difficult to earn respect in this class unless you're a consistent winner. The equipment is at its mechanical limit and breaking parts even without the help of the other competitors is a fact of life. These cars will require maintenance and repair on a fairly regular basis; fortunately, junkyards are full of low-cost parts.