When building your own race...
When building your own race car, never forget that your primaryobjective--more important than a fast car--is to build the safest racecar possible. Photo by Jeff Huneycutt
Everybody in racing likes to complain about the high costs of the sport.It's like old men talking about the weather--it's just what we do. Butthat doesn't necessarily mean that all forms of racing are expensive.You just have to know where to look.
In many ways, racers are their own worst enemy. Cost containment is nota new concept in racing. For years, promoters have put forward one typeof racing or another designed to be as economical as possible only tosee the racers find new and ever-more-inventive ways to spend money inorder to buy speed. Rules restricting carburetor size made a fortune forsome engine builders as they pioneered lightweight crank, piston, androd assemblies. There are also lightweight racing parts, custom chassisparts, multiple sets of shocks and springs, and let's not forget thepractice of buying new tires every week because they are worth a coupleof tenths per lap. Few would argue that in its purest form, stock carracing is supposed to be about a group of drivers pitting their skillsbehind the wheel against one another, but in many classes, it's simplybecome a technological arms race.
Fortunately, if you want to get started in racing, there are severaloptions for getting on the track without spending a fortune. The key isto understand exactly what you are looking for in a racing experienceand then find the type of racing and class of cars that best fits thoseexpectations. For example, many new racers feel overwhelmed by the ideaof trying to learn how to drive a car and keep up with all themaintenance and tuning necessary on a high-end race car. For this typeof racer, a ready-built spec car, such as the popular Legends from 600Racing or an Allison Legacy Car from Allison Brothers, might be theperfect solution. They are designed to require a minimum of maintenanceor mechanical skill in order to race. Seat time is maximized whilewrench time is minimized. The downside is the creative racer looking totinker with his car in order to find an advantage may be disappointedthat there isn't much he's allowed to do.
At the other end of the spectrum is the racer that is as excited aboutbuilding his own car as he is racing it. In this situation, you willwant to consider classic stock car racing. Street Stocks, Pure Stocks,and Mini Stocks are road cars that have been converted to race cars witha minimum of expensive racing parts. Of course, anybody can get out ofhand, but in general, they are inexpensive to build and race. They do,however, require extensive fabrication. That's great if you love themechanical aspects of race cars, but not so great if you just want toget out and race.
In this story, we're going to look at several types of racing that willallow you to get into the sport with a minimum of expense. The idea isto get on the track for less than $6,000. Unfortunately, this isn'tpossible with all-new equipment. However, you can do it if you are smartand willing to purchase used equipment. Buying used means you probablywon't have the best stuff on the track, but it will allow you--or yourson or daughter--to get started and begin developing a feel for whatracing is like. As you progress in ability, you can also upgrade yourequipment as your checking account allows. Also, please note that theexamples listed are by no means the only ways to get into racing. Theseare only ideas for you to start with. With just a little research, asmart racer will find several other options similar to these that willget them into the driver's seat.
Since they're designed for...
Since they're designed for competition on dirt, Dwarf Cars have a lot tooffer racers looking to develop car control skills. photo by John Pyle
Dwarf Cars are the original scale race cars. Based in Phoenix, Arizona,the family-owned Dwarf Car Company has been in operation since 1987, andCasey Cain (son of founder John Cain) says his father has been buildingthe cars for racing since 1984. If you have ever seen a Dwarf Car from adistance, you may have mistaken it for the more popular Legends Carbecause they are quite similar. The main difference is a Dwarf Car isdesigned to be raced on dirt, while a Legends Car is normally more athome on asphalt, although Legends sometimes race on dirt. Dwarf Carslack fenders because the mud from dirt tracks tends to collect underthem and bog the car down with extra weight. A Legends Car has fendersover all four wheels.
"The philosophy we've always had is the Dwarf Cars are a good way toprovide low-buck racing, but they are also fast and very competitive,"says Cain. "From what I've seen, you can buy a competitive used car foraround $5,000-$6,000. Brand new cars run about $10,000-$11,000.
Dwarf Cars have been around...
Dwarf Cars have been around for at least 21 years and are popular in theMidwest and on the West Coast. Photo by John Pyle
"A lot of the things we do are designed not only to make the carinexpensive to buy, but also inexpensive to race," he continues. "Mostof the divisions have an engine claim, which is designed to keep aperson from spending an extra four or five grand on their engine. Thesecars are powered by motorcycle engines, and there is more than enoughpower available to spin the wheels, so there really isn't much need tospend a lot of money to get even more power out of them. Most divisionsalso stick with a street tire compound. In terms of durability, you canrun these tires on dirt all season long without any problems. That's abig money saver because racers in most types of cars will tell you theirtire bill is their biggest expense."
Cain says that Dwarf Car racing is popular both among young driverslooking to gain skill and move up into bigger, more powerful race cars,and drivers looking to enjoy the thrill of racing for minimal expense.He even points out that the current NASCAR Nextel Cup champion got hisstart racing in the cars.
"The cars are limited to what you can do to make them fast," Cain adds,"so the keys to getting around a track fast are driving experience andfinding the right chassis setup. The more seat time you get, the better.That's especially true on dirt because the track can change so much. Oneweekend you might race on a heavy, wet track, and the next weekend itwill be dry slick. You have to develop an understanding of what you haveto do to the car and how you have to drive it for the conditions you areracing on. Once you have gained that experience and ability in a DwarfCar, it will be useful to you in just about anything else you will everdrive on dirt."