Some tools you can do without, while others are a necessary part of your toolbox. Of all the tools required to work on your car, a good floor jack is one of the essentials. Without a good jack, about all you will be able to do at the track is adjust the air pressure in the tires and maybe change a shock. Being able to lift the car off the ground and place a jackstand under the chassis is a minimum requirement for tuning.

Every week we see the NASCAR pit guys use a floor jack that, with two or three pumps of the handle, lifts the car high enough to allow the tires to be changed. Those jacks cost over $1,500, and that is out of the range of most Saturday night racers. If you watch closely, you'll notice the NASCAR guys use a different jack in the garage. These jacks are not as "trick" as the ones used on pit row. But even the jacks used in the garage are not cheap: Prices can range from $500 to $700.

So what does a Saturday night racer need to use in the pits?

Ninety percent of the local racers out there will not be making pit stops during the race. That means the jacks that reach full lift in two or three pumps of the handle are not necessary. To determine our needs, we need to ask a few questions:

* How heavy is your race car? If you have a 3,500-pound car, you need a jack that will lift at least half that weight.

* How many jacks do you need? Is it possible that you will have to work on each end of the car at the same time and that your crew will need two jacks to be efficient?

* Will you have to purchase a jack just for shop use, or will you need one in the trailer and one in the shop?

* How high do you need to lift your car? That is something you will have to measure.

* Is your car low enough to require a low-profile jack that will roll under the car without a crew member lifting the car to get the jack under the chassis?

* Are the pits at your track dirt, or are they paved or concrete? That can determine the type of wheels you want on your jack.

* Is the weight of the jack an issue? If you have to carry it a long distance, this may be a real issue.

* How much do you have to spend? (This may be the primary issue facing most small teams.)

The good news is that you now have options that were not available several years ago. The marketplace is awash in lightweight floor jacks at reasonable prices. And it's a buyer's market. The jacks on the highest end of the spectrum are just that-high-end, meaning they're expensive and purpose-built. They fill a very specialized need and you can expect to pay top dollar for that type of product. The racers who make pit stops during races really need this type of jack. They command a premium price because of the special need they fill. If the racing you do each week does not require a 12-second pit stop to change four tires and fill the car with fuel, you can look to less costly options for floor jacks.

Historically, floor jacks have been made from steel and cast iron, and these behemoths are heavy. Unless you are especially strong, lugging one around is not an easy proposition. These jacks were designed for heavy industrial and garage operations. They were not designed for racing applications. For years they served the purpose but there was a price to pay due to the weight and the intended application. And they were expensive. Times changed, though, and market forces required a response.

Because of the many automotive TV shows and a general awareness of mechanical hobbies, the tooling manufacturers have responded to fill a new or a different demand. This was a demand not previously being served by the mainline toolmakers. This awareness has placed more racing hardware into the mainstream, and the racer at the grassroots level is reaping the benefits.