A simple overview of the various types of cars can be broken down into two types of race cars; Open wheel cars and Closed wheel cars.

Open wheel cars are generally purpose built race cars and have no counterpart among street driven vehicles. There are no fenders covering the tires; hence the name “open wheel”. The most obvious example of this would be a formula 1 or IRL car.

Closed wheel cars, generally speaking, are race cars that started life as a factory produced street car. As such they are also commonly referred to as Production Cars. They are called “closed wheel” because they have fenders. A well known example of this would be a “Spec” Miata.

There are cars that exist somewhere between these two generally referred to as GT cars, or Sports Racers. These are cars that often look like street cars but underneath their fiberglass or carbon fiber skin they are a tube framed purpose built race car. The most obvious example of this would be a NASCAR style car.

Each type of car has arguments pro and con that far exceed the scope of this article. Suffice it to say I would advise gaining some seat time in whatever type of car you are considering before you plunk down your cash to buy one.

To accomplish this you can simply rent a race car for your first few races. I strongly recommend that you do this. Many, in fact most, race schools have reasonably priced arrive and drive race programs for both open wheel and closed wheel race cars. Also there are many drivers that will rent you their own car to offset the cost of their own racing. A little research on the internet or within the local racing community will yield many opportunities in this regard.

It is worth pointing out that renting a race car is not really all that more expensive than owning a race car. This is especially true if you factor in the necessary maintenance (both time and money) as well as the expense of having to own a tow vehicle and a trailer. If you consider these costs, as well you should, arrive and drive programs can suddenly look very attractive.

If you feel that you must own your own race car I highly recommend that you do not try and build it yourself. This is a huge undertaking and will generally cost you much more time, effort, aggravation and money than you ever imagined. If you have been racing for several years then there are arguments that can be made for building your own car but I wish to emphasize that this is not a job to be undertaken by the uninitiated or the inexperienced.

If you simply must go this route find a quality race shop that has been down this road before with whatever car you are thinking of building and pay them to do the initial work (suspension, engine prep and roll cage) for you after you have gutted the interior of the car yourself. Paying for their expertise and experience will be cheaper in the long run.

The recommended approach to owning your own car is to find someone who is changing to a different type of vehicle or who is getting out of racing all together. Cars such as this can generally be purchased for dimes on the dollar when compared to what it cost the seller to build them and then sort them out. These cars will often come with spare parts (spares) that can be very useful. For example a couple extra sets of rims, one for the rain tires and one for the fresh set of race tires waiting in the wings, is pretty much a necessity and can be very costly if purchased new. That spare differential, perhaps with a different gearing more suited to a different type of track from the one that the car is set up for now can be a life saver: All this to say nothing of spare engines, transmissions, alternators, doors, what have you. The main advantage however is that you can start racing immediately in a car that is already sorted out. This is a huge advantage for the rookie driver in that it allows you to focus entirely on learning race craft, not car craft.

Put simply; don’t take on more than you can effectively accomplish and don’t fool your self into thinking you can chew a bigger wad than the rest of us.

There are many places you can find race cars for sale. The best place is at the track on any given race weekend. Ask around and you will be surprised at what you find. Also publications such as Grassroots Motorsports or the SCCA monthly club magazine contain many such ads.

Often times the seller will be willing to rent you the car in question for a test day or a race weekend and take the rental fee off of the cost of the car should you decide to buy. A word of caution here: Make sure everything that is on the car when you rent it stays on the car when you buy it. Unless you are buying from a known source do not assume that this will be the case. In short, the car should return home on your trailer, not theirs. Also make sure that the car comes with a full set of current alignment specifications. If the seller is unwilling to provide this; walk away.

Finally, don’t be tempted to race that one of a kind such and such that you have always admired so much and that nobody else races. To begin with there is probably a reason nobody is racing that particular car and secondly you need a car that enjoys a strong aftermarket and consequently a ready supply of affordable parts as well as dealers who can give you useful advice about building, developing and racing that particular car. Additionally should your car break down on any given weekend, and believe me it will, racing a car that enjoys a great deal of popularity among racers will greatly multiply your chances of finding the parts and necessary skills for track side repair.

Under all circumstances remember this: In the event of a major on track catastrophe, if you can’t afford to walk away from it don’t put it on the track in the first place.

 

 

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