Stock car racing - with everyday cars

Let’s say I wanted to buy a sports car and race it for fun (every now and then on the weekends at the track, not like backalley drag races). Let’s also say that I used said car for everyday driving purposes (groceries, work, touring, etc.). Given that racing is typically hard on cars, would this be a Bad Idea or merely a bad idea?

Many cars are designed to take such abuse. I have a BMW 325Ci, and while I don’t race it, I know many people who race their own. While they certainly chew through wear items (brakes, clutch, tires, shocks, etc.) quickly, they have very few mechanical problems with their cars. Porsches are similar. I can’t vouch personally for anything Japanese - I don’t follow them that actively - but I can’t imagine the situation would be different for any of their “sporty” models.

It’s important to follow (or even exceed) the factory maintenance recommendations, though. BMW specifies an oil change every 15,000 miles (approximately, the actual distance is determined by the engine computer), but people who race often like changing it every 3000 miles. Personally, I let it wait until 5000-7500.

It sounds like a Great Idea! Keep in mind, though, that the cost of wear items can get expensive, and most insurance policies won’t cover damage caused on the track.

What kind of car are you planning to get?

Actually, I should rephrase the first sentence in my last post. No cars are designed to take “abuse”. However, true sports cars are designed so that using them for racing is not abuse.

Of course, it’s debatable whether a BMW 325Ci is a true sports car. An M3, or a Lotus Elise, on the other hand…

That’s how NASCAR got started.

Run what you brung.

It would be a really bad idea unless you can afford to replace the vehicle on a moment’s notice. There is club racing of some sort at most road course circuits, some of the classes require street legal cars with safety modifications. I have seen many of these types of races, living right next to a race track helps. On the cost scale of participating in motor sports, it would be at the lower end. Add to the cost of your vehicle safety equipment such as a roll cage, fire suspression system, seat, seat belts, fuel cell, suspension and tire mods will add another 10 grand. Figure another 5k for the engine, 2000 for a fire suit and helmet, and your looking at $35,000 to $50, just to get on the track. Want to go faster with a BMW or Acura, double that. Look at a Porsche or Viper, you will be easily looking at 6 figures. And don’t forget your insurance company, they won’t be happy and will charge you accordingly. Driving a car on the street with a number on the door will attract your local law enforcement, you would probably get to know them by name. Here is an example of what can go wrong. The owner drove the car over 100 miles to the track and had a tire blow out at 90 mph. He said the crash will probably cost him $50,000.

You should probably check out a driving school of some sort first, besides class room instruction you will get some track time in a car already setup for the track. Most of the instructors make a living in the racing business and will be more than happy to point you in the right direction.

I don’t think there are any track racing classes in which an unmodified stocker would be anywhere near competitive, or even safe to run with the faster cars. There are open track days, and autocross has classes for street stock cars.

There isn’t? How about SCCA Showroom Stock? Safety equipment is the only modification allowed. Furthermore stockers can do quite well in slalom/solo events which are run as a time trial without the risks of a wheel to wheel race. You still face the consquences if you wreck and your insurance company tells you to take a flying *&%$ but you can certainly race competitivly with an unmodified car.

Point taken. What percentage of racers in this class are street driven? Are any driven to the track? I know there are street-legal tires, for example, that wear so rapidly that they are utterly impractical for street use. And of course, motors can be very expensively blueprinted, yet still be within factory specs. What about wheel alignment? Same issue.

There is an old saying in the hotrod shop, “speed costs money, how fast do you want to go.” A variation on TANSTAAFL really. Yes, unmofidied does not neccessarily mean cheap but until you get a sponsorship that is about the best you can do.

So it’s not enough to race you want to win too? I can absolutely guarantee that an inexperienced driver’s car will not be what keeps him from winning. I used to race with the San Diego slalom club and even though I was consistently last I had an absolute blast and did improve my driving skills some. I had a glimmer of hope as one of the most winning drivers drove a '78 VW rabbit with a stock engine as I did… .though his suspension was not stock.

Well, it depends on what you mean by “racing.” I bought a Nissan 350Z about 2 1/2 years ago. Today it has 26,000 miles on it, 4,000 of which were driven on ten different tracks in the Mid-Atlantic area, including Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio, Virginia International Raceway, and my home track, Summit Point, in West Virginia. The car is my daily driver, although I also have a 1988 Accord “beater” that I use to keep the mileage on the Z lower.

But not one of those track miles was in a race. I participate in High Performance Driver’s Ed (HPDE), which is basically non-competitive track time in ordinary street cars. You start out with classroom and on-track instruction in race driving techniques. In the beginning you always have an instructor in the car with you, but eventually you are allowed to “solo.” It’s possible to start in HPDE with an absolutely bone stock car of almost any kind–it doesn’t even have to be a sports car, just in good mechanical condition. (A tech inspection is required by all HPDE organizers.)

It’s great fun. But it isn’t racing: you aren’t timed, you aren’t competing against other drivers. And for this reason it is quite safe. Accidents are rare, and usually involve only one car. It’s also quite inexpensive: I started in a Miata more than five years ago, and ran for two years with basically no expenses other than the cost of the classes and slightly more frequent brake replacements. I did nothing to modify the car and at first used a motorcycle helmet I already owned.

If you’re really set on racing, it can still be done, and much less expensively than racer72 would have you believe. But as a general rule, the modifications you’ll have to do to the car to make it race ready will either make it very inconvenient to use as a daily driver, or illegal to drive on the street. (For instance, a roll cage and doors welded shut make it a little tricky to get into some race cars. Most race cars don’t have passenger seats or glass in the side windows. Racing tires are usually not legal on the street.)

The easiest and cheapest way to start racing is probably in the Spec Miata series. You run in race prepped Miatas with only limited modifications permitted. I’m told you can get a competitve car for about $10,000 and spend about that much more for a year of racing. No need for the six figures racer72 was bandying about. There are, of course, many other amateur and semi-pro series in which you could spend much, much more, but you don’t have to spend millions to have fun.

But I would strongly recommend you start in HPDE with your current street car to get a sense of what track driving is all about. Probably the best resource for this is NASA: the National Auto Sport Association (not the space people). They have HPDE activities (and racing) at tracks all around the country. Find your local chapter on the Web site and see what events they’ve got scheduled soon at tracks near you.

There are many other organizations that run HPDE sessions. You can find them on the calendars of the tracks near you. They include car clubs (Porsche, BMW, Audi, etc.) and commercial organizers. If you’ll tell us where you are, I can tell you about the tracks closest to you.

A one-day HPDE session will cost between $150-$250. If you’re lucky enough to be within a short drive of the track, that might be your only expense. Many events are 2- or 3-days over a weekend, which make it more worthwhile if you have to drive a while to get there. Of course, then you’ll have the expense of a hotel room.

Once you’ve run some HPDE days, you’ll have a better feel for the kinds of activities you’re interested in. You might find, as I have, that just getting out on the track (without racing) is enough fun, and stick with that. And if you really want to race, you’ll have met lots of folks who can help you decide which series is right for you.

Good luck, and have fun!

Well, you’ve guessed my dream car. I’m going to tell people she’s my mail-order bride.

Unfortunately, owning one is still a couple of years off, but I can dream, can’t I?

There’s always autocross racing. You don’t race door-to-door with your competition, but rather against the clock. The tracks are also laid out with cones in an empty parking lot so there is no damage other than to your pride if you go off course. It’s truly a “run what you bring” event also, with everything from Neons to Ferraris turning up, and often with the majority of entrants driven to the race. A skilled driver can be quite competitive with a showroom stock car in many of the classes and it’s quite fun to boot.

And thanks for the advice everyone else. I figured there’d have to be some modifications, but didn’t know how what sort they’d be. I would definitely need to take a driving class. That HPDE sounds like a great idea.

I should have clarified that for “racing” I meant something closer to hobbyist (guys on weekends, go out for beers afterwards) rather than any sort of competing for cash/make a living at it sort of thing.

You’ve just described HPDE to a tee. Where are you located?

I have been involved in the local auto racing scene in my area for well over 30 years, but I guess I don’t know shit. I based the costs I used on entry level SCCA racing, not some club type pantywaste autocrossing. And you will notice when I mentioned 6 figures to go racing I referenced cars that would cost a big chunk of that 6 figures to just acquire. Read the whole post, just not what you want to read. :wally

I did this once in a bone stock Ford F-150 pick up. They thought I was out of my mind. It was a blast, cheap thrills on a Saturday morning.

And how many of the people you have raced against have used their race cars as even part time daily drivers?

As far as pantywaist :wally club racing, recommending anything else to someone who wants to, pardon me while I check the OP,

is doing Chairman Pow a disservice.

Not all of us live next to a racing facility. For those of us that are 50 miles from the nearest road course and over 200 miles from the next closest, club racing is as good as it gets without a six-figure operating budget.

Just out of curiosity, what about rally racing? I keep seeing the Subaru Impreza models–mostly the WRX and WRX STi–listed as great rally racers. Is that sort of racing pretty much pure stock?

racer72: I’d suggest that you follow your own advice about reading other people’s posts carefully. I did not intend anything in my post to be a put down of you or what you said. And I didn’t say that anything you said was wrong. But it was clear to me (from reading the OP) that this was not someone who had long experience in motorsports or a ton of money to spend. If he had listened only to you, he probably would have given up on the idea of having simple, cheap fun in a car. I presented some alternatives that don’t cost the huge sums that you mentioned. And I didn’t call you a putz for presenting your opinions and experience.

And for someone with all that motorsports experience, I’m surprised you didn’t know that Spec Miata is not autocrossing, but an SCCA regional road racing series running on tracks like Laguna Seca. I specifically left autocrossing out of my post because I think those guys are a bunch of pantywaists. (No, not really, but IMHO, autocrossing doesn’t give you enough track time.)

asterion: Rallying of the kind that is seen in the World Rally Championship – sliding around on dirt roads and snow-covered trails – and which is the basis for designs like the WRX and Mitsubishi Evo, is certainly done at semi-pro and amateur levels. I’ve never been involved in it, but if there are people out there running dirt trail rallies without at least safety mods (which can run in the thousands and, as I mentioned, reduce the practicality of the car for everyday use), they are insane. The potential for serious accidents in that kind of situation is so great that running a street car without a full roll cage, racing seat, and harnesses, would border on the suicidal, IMHO. (But that’s not to say that someone somewhere isn’t doing it.)

No, this type of racing is definitely not stock. I have what is probably one of the most stock rally cars out there (1983 Toyota Celica), and while is has no engine modifications, it does have:
-Full roll cage
-Race seats
-Six point FIA-rated belts
-Two fire extinguishers
-Stripped interior
-Skidplate to protect bottom of engine/transmission
-Upgraded clutch
-New rear diff with LSD
-Welded shut sunroof
Most rally cars also have pretty extensive engine mods. As far as rallying a WRX or STi, as a novice you’re not going to get to. There is a tiered car classification system that has been implemented, and the newbies drive the slow cars. :wink:

Now, if you are interested in getting into this stuff, there is a great way to try it out: rallycross. It’s like an autocross on dirt, but you get a lot of the same experience as rally (i.e. all the sideways sliding fun) albeit at a lower speed. You could take your daily driver out to a rallycross to try it out with little risk besides the need to replace a tire or maybe throw some touch-up paint on a rock chip. Good, cheap fun, and it will show you if you want to get into a little more serious form of rally.

The bad news for you is your in Albuquerque, and there might be a rallycross program down there, but I haven’t heard of it. The good news is that you’re relatively close to Colorado, which has one of the premier rallycross programs in Colorado. You can feel free to drive up some time. We’d love to have you. About the furthest south we hold events is in Pueblo, so it’s still prety far away for you, but it might be worth the trip to try out.