If you were to ask 10 racers if it would be cheaper to buy a used racecar or build one, 9 will tell you that it is definitely cheaper to buy it and the other person is lying. This is because of an incredible phenomenon, appropriately named from the Greek term for “flushing money down the toilet”: Racecarious Depreciatous. A good analogy of why it is cheaper to buy a built racecar versus building one is looking at a souped-up Honda Civic with a body kit, turbo charger, and all sorts of other goodies. The resale value of this car would be less than a stock Civic. The same basic theory applies to racecars. The typical resale value is approximately one-third to one-half of the total amount of money into the car. While this is not good for the person selling the car, it means that you can find great bargains on already built racecars. One of the best ways to find a well-built racecar is by going to the track and speaking with racers. Tell them that you are interested in starting to race, and that you are looking for a racecar. Ask if they know of anyone selling a nice one. Many of the great deals I have heard of were found by people simply talking to others, and expressing an interest in finding a well built car. In addition to talking to people, search various racing forums and internet sites (a few are listed in the appendix). When reviewing the various ads, try contacting some of the people whose ads are getting old. Maybe they have not yet sold the car and are getting anxious to sell it. When talking to the seller, ask which clubs it was raced with, when it was last raced, and if the car’s logbook is up-to-date. If the car has not been raced within the past several years, you need to verify that it will still comply with the current rules. If it does not, you should determine how much work would be needed to get the racecar in compliance. Even if the seller states it is still in compliance, but simply does not have a current logbook, be aware that the car will need to go through an inspection to obtain one. Ask the seller if they would be willing to accompany you at the inspection to answer any questions and ensure things go smoothly. It is not uncommon for this practice to occur.
Be wary of cars that are being sold in several pieces, such as with the motor not yet installed. Trying to put a racecar back together can be difficult, especially when you did not have the experience of taking it apart and knowing how the parts should look once together. Talk with other people about the racecar being sold to see if they know anything about it. Maybe someone will say “oh yeah, that car was fast!” Or possibly they might say “that piece of junk?” When going to look at the racecar, see if anyone familiar with racecars in the club you plan to race with lives in the general area where the car is located and might be willing to take a look at it with you. I realize that it might be tough to ask someone you don’t know for help like this, but it is very likely someone would be more than willing. Where would you ask someone? There are several chat forums where you could create a post asking if an experienced racer would be willing to inspect a racecar with you. (However, if you think you may have found a good deal, you might not want to post something too specific about it in a forum or you just may end up advertising for the seller.) Remember what I said in the “A Day at the Races” section: Club racing is almost like a fraternity where people genuinely enjoy helping fellow racers. This next piece of advice may sound a bit obvious, but be careful that the people from whom you are obtaining information about the car are not too close to the source. If you happen to unknowingly ask one of the seller’s good friends, the review of the car might not be impartial. When inspecting the racecar, it is important to verify that it will meet all safety requirements, (again, this is why it makes things easier if it has a current logbook) and is legal for racing in the club and class you’ve chosen. Verifying that the car is legal can be difficult. It would be extremely hard to fully verify that the internal engine parts comply with the rules or not. Don’t forget to bring your rulebook with you when looking at the racecar!
When buying or building a racecar, I recommend that you choose one that will meet SCCA’s and/or NASA’s rules, even if you don’t plan to race with either of these clubs. SCCA and NASA represent a very significant amount of races that are hosted throughout the nation. Not only might you one day want to race with one or both of the clubs yourself, but if you decide to sell your racecar at some point, there will also be a much larger market for the car. As for which specific car you should choose, much of this will depend on your budget, goals, and familiarity with certain car makes. As with the other phases of racing, you need to give thought to what your goals are when buying a car.
One myth I want to dispel is that every car has the potential of being competitive, no matter what the make and/or model is, and that it comes down solely to the ability of the driver. This is not true. While clubs try to classify cars that have fairly similar performance potential together, there definitely are the cars most desirable to have, the mid-pack “tweener” cars, and the cars to avoid.
A built racecar with current logbook that is safe and legal can be found for approximately $3,000 – $4,000. A racecar in this price range will get you out on the track and you will have a great time, but don’t expect that it will be a front running car as-is. You may choose to pursue a car that has the potential of being a front-runner in the future with some additional development. Or maybe you have the budget and desire to buy a car that is very well developed and already has the potential of being a front-runner. Purchasing a built vehicle with a great club racing record is one of the best options. However, be advised that just because a car has two wins to its credentials does not mean that it currently has the potential of being a front-runner. If you decide to pursue this route and are buying a car based solely upon past performance, make sure that it is still the same car it was when it did so well. Stories have been heard of the seller taking out some “magic” parts before turning the car over to the buyers. Even if it is in the same condition, maybe the events the car won were not typical, such as in a heavy rainstorm.
If you are working with a smaller budget, a good option would be to simply focus on obtaining a safe, legal car that is not known to be very poorly classed, but on the other end of the spectrum, will never be a front-running car as currently classified. Often times these “tweener” cars can be found for the best price and will allow you to experience all the fun of club racing (except winning).
As a novice, it is better to race often in a slower, less competitive, less expensive car, than to race infrequently in a very fast, expensive front running car.