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."
Legends and Bandolero Cars
Though built for younger racers,...
Though built for younger racers, Bandoleros can accommodate grown-upslooking for an inexpensive way to go racing. Photo by Kevin Thorne
Legends Cars are easily the most well-known brand of race car when itcomes to scale cars. Built on a tube-frame chassis that's approximatelyfive-eighths of a full-sized car, these racers are powered by identical 1,250cc motorcycle engines. Legends alsorace sealed engines, which are designed to help control costs by makingit illegal for a racer to make unfair improvements to his engine.
When it comes to our six-grand cutoff, finding a used Legends Car may bea bit difficult. Jason Foxworthy of 600 Racing, the company thatmanufactures every Legends Car, says new cars sell for $12,500, and theprice for used cars has settled around $8,500. A used Legends Caravailable for under $6,000 may require a bit of work, or you may alsoconsider the Legends' little brother, the Bandolero. A Bandolero is asmaller car powered by a 30hp Briggs & Stratton engine. It is designedfor younger racers, but there is no age limit as long as you cancomfortably fit in its tighter confines.
One of the strengths of these cars is that all the cars are built by 600Racing, which means that they all meet the same quality standards. Sinceall replacement parts must come through 600 Racing and very fewaftermarket parts are allowed, there is no concern that another racerhas an unfair advantage. All racing is also sanctioned by INEX (which isshort for "Inexpensive Racing"), and a consistent rule book means racerscan travel to different tracks without worrying about whether they willbe legal or blown away by a field that is allowed extra advantages.
Beyond the initial purchase price, 600 Racing also has done a lot tokeep the maintenance costs down. "These are spec cars," Foxworthy says."And with us being the manufacturer and the retail outlet and thesanctioning body, we can control costs by requiring everyone to run thesame parts. We run a spec tire for both the Bandoleros and Legends Cars,which allows us to keep the costs down there. The motors are sealed, soyou cannot go in and cheat them up in any way--which always costs extramoney. Everyone has to run the same shock. You can't change the valving,so you don't have to go spend a bunch of money having all your shocksdyno'd and built a certain way. There are certain Heim joints that youdon't have to buy from us, but we are usually cheaper anyway. We controlcosts by controlling what everybody is able to put on their car."
Some who have raced Legends and Bandoleros have complained that the carsare too fragile, that the steering components break too easily and mustbe replaced too often. That, however, is actually a design feature. Byallowing smaller, easily replaceable components to absorb the impact ofa hit, it protects the chassis, which is much more expensive to replace."If you hit a wall and break the right-front tire off, that means you'vebroken a spindle, a couple of radius rods, and a couple of Heim joints,"Foxworthy explains. "That's maybe a $60 to $75 expense. If you have toreplace the whole front clip on a chassis, you are looking at $450 to$500. In our view, it's better to replace the small things first beforeyou have to fix the big things."
Allison Legacy Cars are designed...
Allison Legacy Cars are designed to be 3/4 scale Nextel Cup cars.They're powered by Mazda B-2200 engines. Photo courtesy of USAR
The Allison Legacy Series Cars are designed to look and drive a lot likeNextel Cup cars--only smaller. Designed on 3/4 scale, these cars arelarger and more powerful than Legends and Dwarf Cars, but still smallerand easier to work on than fullsize cars. Allison Legacy Cars arepowered by a Mazda B-2200 truck engine mated to a Mazda five-speedtransmission. The chassis also features many of the same adjustments youwill find on a fullsize race car, which makes them popular among youngdrivers looking to make racing a profession.
"There are three different types of people that come into this series,"says Pat Allison, the administrator of CompCar of NC, the racesanctioning body for the Allison Legacy Racing Series. "The ages rangefrom 12 up to 65. We have a lot of young kids looking to learn how torace professional- ly in an affordable series. They want to get startedup the ladder and believe that these cars give them a good feel for whatthey are moving up into.
"Then we have the hobbyists, which are usually older guys looking tohave fun and try racing. Finally, we have the group made up of longtimeracers who are in this series because it's competitive and they canafford it."
Allison also points out that the car engines used in Allison Legacy Carsaren't as highly stressed as the motor- cycle engines that are used topower other types of race cars. "You can run one of the Mazda B-2200motors five or six years, and the only maintenance is to freshen them uponce in a while," she says.
Finally, if you live in the Southeast, the Allison Legacy Series offersa touring series that hits some of the top short tracks in the region.In 2005, the series races on 22 dates, many of which are opening racesfor the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series.
Mini Stocks and Pure Stocks
Mini-Stock race cars are limited...
Mini-Stock race cars are limited to four-cylinder engines, but thatdoesn't mean the action isn't just as tight on the track. Photo by Jeff Huneycutt
If racing a smaller car just doesn't do it for you, there are stilloptions for racing a fullsize car and doing it affordably. Almost everySaturday-night track offers entry-level classes for racers that areusually called something along the lines of Mini Stocks (four-cylinderengines), Pure Stocks, or Street Stocks (with V-8 engines).
The idea behind these cars is that very little is allowed beyond safetyfeatures such as a rollcage, fuel cell, racing seat, and restraints. Theengine and drivetrain can be rebuilt but must remain mostly stock.
It does, however, require a significant amount of work to convert astreet car to a racing machine. If you enjoy the mechanical aspect ofbuilding your own race car, that's fine, but if you are more concernedwith getting on the track as quickly as possible, you may want toconsider purchasing a used car. Because anybody can build their own carinstead of all cars coming from a single source such as 600 Racing, thequality and cost of what's out there varies tremendously. If you arelooking to purchase a used car, make sure to inspect the car verythoroughly. If you buy a car that's not competitive, then that's merelyfrustrating. But if you buy an unsafe car, that's something differentaltogether.
Most Street Stocks are cars...
Most Street Stocks are cars originally made before 1987, which means youcan usually find suitable candidates for less than $200. Photo by Jeff Huneycutt
Be aware that because there is much more freedom to build these cars indifferent ways, it is possible to spend well over our six-grand limit ona car. Many racers also manage to get a safe car on the track forrelatively little money and continue to work on and improve it as theirdriving skills improve.
The key is just to find a way to get on the track, no matter what typeof car you are racing. New, inexperienced drivers don't need absolutetop-of-the-line equipment because their skills simply won't allow themto take advantage of it. Build your equipment and your skills at thesame time and your racing career should continue to be fun andchallenging for many seasons to come.