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
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”
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.