A good time to start hunting for next year’s car is before the end of a racing season
If you have the opportunity to see a car in this form, look carefully. Everything is expos
This car’s top was not removed during construction. Sliding my fingers around the top
You may find a car that has been damaged, but repairs, if done properly, can help the valu
A Street Stock with a few nice touches. There are homemade breathers connecting the valve
If you are an experienced welder and have all the necessary equipment, this one is for you
Smiley Sitton, proprietor of the Texas Racers’ Auction.
Kevin Bowles pointed out his way of finding the value of a car by looking at the trailer.
Buying a used race car is a lot like bathing in someone else's bath water. If he was clean to start with and the soap was properly applied, it won't be too bad. The advantage here is that you don't have to draw bath water from the well and carry it up the hill all by yourself. But, if you don't know who used the bath water and how, there could be some unpleasantness involved. Much the same could be said for buying a used race car. The obvious reason for buying a racing machine which has previously seen track time is to save money. Savings can be found easily, but getting a good value requires a bit of study. I recently spoke with Smiley Sitton, one of the three co-promoters of the Texas Racer's Auction, held in Fort Worth each December. He has years of experience buying and selling race cars as well as arranging the sale of cars. His is a working knowledge of this industry. You may also know him as the proprietor of the Outlaw Driving School.
Smiley's first suggestion is to "get personal" with the car's owner. "Getting to know the owner lets you build trust," he says. "If you can't build some of that trust, then beg off and go look at another car." You should be welcome to call on a former owner for advice about the car. The former owner should be able to make or recommend parts, suppliers, and repairs. When the engine is part of the package in a used racer, use care. Unlike much of the car, many things hide inside an engine. The owner honestly may not know the engine is soon to blow up. Don't pay much for the motor unless you know the owner/builder well or know their reputation. A fact not often known is that top race teams sell their equipment more often than most. This is a way some supplement their incomes. Because they may be privy to steep discounts and sometimes free parts, they may have less than half as much invested in a car as would a racer who bought everything new for himself. Cars bought from those top teams are usually a good value. A team of this caliber cannot hide if they give you a raw deal. Also, they would like to have you as a repeat customer. Don't be surprised to find many of these teams with waiting lists for their cars when the time comes to sell one.
Smiley adds another pearl of wisdom. "Buy a fast car," he tells me, "not because it's fast, people make cars fast, but because a fast car has good parts." The right combination of good parts will greatly increase your level of enjoyment. Among the best ways to buy a used race car are attending swap meets and racers' auctions. The swap meet is probably best if you have the time and knowledge to browse. There can be some real bargains hiding in the corners. However, you may have to sort through a lot of drag race material to find what you want. Swap meets also have a lot of parts. Some of these may not be right for your application, but some can cross over. Roller rockers go up and down, so they don't know whether you're turning left or going in a straight line. Smiley explains a little something about auction sales. "Some years ago, guys would put all their junk together into a rolling chassis and take it to the sale. This is not prevalent now. Most racers want to get the best price and the way to do that is to sell quality cars and parts. Most often in a local area, the racers are well known and don't want to have any problems."
You need to ask a few questions before an auction can turn up an owner's identity. Don't be shy about asking questions. Other racers who know the car may have valuable opinions, too. Their experience can be of immense value in helping you make selections. I know of one fellow who went to an auction on Saturday and saw the car he wanted. It would be on the block Sunday. He sat down with a phone book when he got home and called four men who had raced against that car the previous season. With their collective thoughts in mind, he went back and bought the car. He paid a healthy price, but he knew he had a real value. If you don't know much about the cars you're looking at, get some help. The price of an auction ticket for a knowledgeable friend can be a bargain in itself. Tom Carpenter at Hoosier Tire Southwest in Mesquite, Texas, says he builds about 40 cars per year, mostly IMCA Modifieds. He has a trade-in program for his cars. When he takes in a used car, it is completely gone through. Then, the company stands behind this car like it would a new one. This sort of program might not be the cheapest way to go, but it could certainly net you a good value. Check with the car builders in your area to see if they might do the same.
So far, we have concerned ourselves with upper-end race cars, usually manufactured vehicles like Late Models, Modifieds, and Sprint Cars. Now, it's time to enter the world of the home-built race car. You know them as Street Stocks, Bombers, Hot Stocks or Super Stocks, among other names. In buying one of these cars, you must be careful. The experience level of the builder is critical. In my shop, I have a crossbrace from the roll cage of a Bomber car. It fell out during a rollover. I guess the builder was proud of it. He did a better job welding his name on it than he did welding it in the car! I see too many entry level cars where the top was not removed during construction. This could lead to non-welded gaps in the tubing on the top--if tubing was used. Many of these cars are constructed of pipe, and thin wall pipe at that, a definite no-no. These home-built cars look a mess after a season's use. Don't let that fool you. Unlike people, there ain't no beauty in the skin. You have to look deeper. There will most likely be damage. Look at how the damage was repaired. Look for broken parts which haven't been replaced. Most of all, does the car look well maintained? If the owner didn't care about it, you may have to do a lot of work.
Does the motor run? If it doesn't or won't, for any reason, base your offer on having only core exchange parts in the motor. Hopefully, you were able to watch your future car at the track during the season. Did it handle properly? Was it a consistent top placer? Answers to the above can add or subtract from its value. With any used race car, look around. Find the price of a similar new one. Used prices should start at a high of around 75 percent of a new car and go down from there. The IMCA Mod that looks good and was quite fast last year will be toward the upper end of the scale.
The Street Stock that is structurally sound but needs new sheet metal may be at 35 percent. If the engine doesn't run or run well, maybe 15 percent might be in order. Be realistic. Don't take home anything you don't have the ability or equipment to repair. This type of work gets expensive fast if you have to have someone else do it. Smiley had one hard and fast rule about buying used race cars: make your deal for the car and be prepared to pay for it right then. Take possession of it immediately, not later or at some other place. This will keep everyone honest. It prevents finger pointing later on both sides. If this condition prevents the sale, you are probably better off because of it.
One final word about price--don't buy into a class you can't afford. Go to the racing class that fits your wallet. The car may not be pretty, but the inside of your billfold will look real good and not because of the picture you carry. Buying a Street Stock may mean you can afford to race. The Late Model you want will make a fine lawn ornament if you can't afford to race it. If it's the right color, it will go well with the spouse's pink flamingo already there. Prepare carefully. Buy smart.