Race Classes – What’s Available
By now you have probably decided which club(s) you would like to race with. The next step is to identify the category and car classification in which you want to race. Most clubs have general information about the various categories and classifications on their website. This will provide you with a good starting point to determine what options are available. The same basic principles for buying or building a racecar apply regardless of which club, category, or class in which you decide to race. When looking at the various classes, learn what modifications you are allowed to make on the car. Typically, the more modifications allowed in a class, the more it will cost to build or buy a competitive racecar and vice-versa. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. For example, in the case of SCCA’s Showroom Stock, there are very few modifications that are allowed, but the cars are only eligible for 12 years of competition beginning on January 1st of its model year. This eliminates many of the older, less expensive cars, and raises the price to race in that class, despite saving on fewer modifications. When looking at SCCA and NASA, three categories that I suggest you look into are the SCCA’s Improved Touring category, NASA’s Honda Challenge, and NASA’s Performance Touring categories. As of 2008, these represent classes that allow competitors to race more economically, compared to many other classes. Within SCCA’s Improved Touring (IT) category (as of 2008) there are five classes of cars: ITR, ITS, ITA, ITB and ITC. The ITR class includes vehicles that have the greatest speed potential followed by ITS, ITA, ITB then ITC. NASA’s Honda Challenge category (as of 2008) is composed of HU, H1, H2, H3, H4 and H5.
The HU class includes vehicles that have the greatest speed potential followed by H1 then H2 and so forth (obviously these classes are only for Hondas). NASA’s Performance Touring (PT) category (as of 2008) is composed of PTA, PTB, PTC, PTD, PTE, PTF, PTG, and PTH. The PTA class includes vehicles that have the greatest speed potential followed PTB, then PTC and so forth. In addition to these, there are many other racing categories within SCCA, NASA as well as other clubs that may better suit what you are looking for.
A common perception is that the faster the class, the higher up it is in ranks of racing. Going along with this general theme, many people believe that these faster classes also have better drivers, and that the slower classes are geared to less-talented or less-experienced drivers. These ideas are misconceptions, but I too, had this perspective when first looking at the various classes. The truth is there are great drivers and not-so-great drivers in every class. I know of a few professional drivers who began their careers racing ITB and ITC cars. After gaining experience and developing their driving skills in these classes, they transitioned straight into the professional circuit, where they have very impressive driving records. One of the primary differences between the classes is the speed and lap time potential for the racecars. Another important difference is the costs associated with racing cars within each class. As an example, look at a relatively new 190 horsepower BMW in SCCA’s ITS class compared to a 15-year-old 76 horsepower Honda in ITC. If you think that you can buy a BMW that is in SCCA’s ITS class for even close to what it would cost for an ITC Honda, you are kidding yourself. Then you will need to consider the ongoing costs to race the cars you are looking into. Typically a faster car will go through tires, brake pads, rotors and other various parts quicker than a car with lower horsepower. How much do replacement parts cost for the car? How much would an engine cost if you ever need to replace it? Having a pretty, high-horsepower racecar is great, but if you can’t afford to race it, what’s the point? I know what you may be thinking…How much fun could a 76 horsepower racecar be? I think you would be very surprised once you got behind the wheel!
Many times people believe they simply can’t afford to race. Quite often it comes down to the fact that they can’t afford to race the car of their dreams. It does not require the car of your dreams to have fun racing. If you are attracted to a car in a faster class and you can afford it, then go for it. If you can’t afford your dream car, but have a less costly option available to you, once you start racing it you will wonder why you didn’t start sooner. When I started racing, my old 1987 Honda Prelude was far from being my dream car, but now I won’t trade my racing experiences with it for anything.
While attending events, pay attention to the various classes and determine which are most appealing to you based on your budget and goals. Get a good idea of how many racecars in those classes are typically at the events. Why is it important how many cars race in the class? In my opinion, it is more fun to have several cars in the class. There is a greater possibility that there will be someone else in the class with whom you are very competitive. While this is my belief, some people prefer to race in a class that only has a few cars that participate in it. If a class consistently only has four cars, you might want to consider a more popular class, if you are anything like me. Don’t form your opinion of a class based upon only one race, because it may be that the numbers were simply down for that one particular race. Talk with people at the track or on internet chat forums about the classes and participation numbers. Give some serious thought to what attracts you to that class, and the cars that are competitive in it. All too often people jump into a car that they want to drive, unaware of the class particulars or costs to build and race it. All that said, what is most important is finding a way to get out on the track and race.
Acquiring a Racecar
You’ve now determined which club(s) and class(es) you’d like to race with. Just one small problem, you don’t have a racecar. I prefer to own my racecar versus renting one, but at the same time there are benefits to renting. When renting, you don’t have to worry about building or buying the racecar, the business you’re renting from will transport it to and from the track which means you won’t need a tow vehicle or trailer, and you are not responsible for performing the maintenance. Sounds great, right? There are also some downsides to renting. One of the nice things I like about owning a racecar is having more control over things. If something gets damaged, you decide if it truly needs to be replaced, and how the repair is completed. There have been times when I’ve received a love tap on the rear quarter panel and I’ve decided to quickly pound the dent out with a rubber hammer. While not the ideal way to complete the repair, it met my needs and budget. Often times these less than optimum ways of performing repairs is not an option when renting.
While it can be time consuming to build and then maintain a racecar, there is also something to be said about driving a car you developed. If you’re willing to put some time and “sweat equity” into the car, owning might be the ideal choice for you. And just because you won the car doesn’t mean that you can’t sub out some of the work and allocate your time elsewhere. If you do decide to rent a car, look at the contract closely especially the “buy out” cost that you are obligated to pay if the worst were to happen. If you do not have the financial means to cover the replacement cost, don’t rent the car. Also learn how they treat repairs to any damage you do to the car, and how the fees are determined. Be sure to speak with various people and research which companies have a solid rental reputation for the type of car you’re interested in renting. Not all rental companies are alike in their programs.
If you’ve decided to obtain your own racecar, it brings up the next decision – to buy or to build? It is much like other fundamental questions in life, such as “why are we here?” and “onion rings or French fries?” Unfortunately, these answers are not always simple. There are multiple factors that will influence your decision.