- Event Fee: The cost to participate will vary from club to club. The typical price ranges from $200 – $300. When looking at various clubs, be sure to factor in what is included in the event. Do they include classroom instruction? Will an instructor ride with you? How much track time will you receive? Do you have any work responsibilities, such as flagging, during the event? Don’t forget to factor in the cost of transportation for your vehicle as you will not always be able to, or want to, drive your vehicle from home to the track yourself. A service like Cars Relo may be able to get your vehicle where it needs to be so that you are race-ready.
- Helmet: You have many different options when it comes to helmets. An automotive helmet that can be used with HPDEs and club racing events can be purchased for approximately $230. If you purchase a helmet at this stage, I recommend that it be a Snell SA rated helmet so you can use it when you start to participate in club racing events. (Refer to the “How Safe is Club Racing” section for additional information on helmet ratings.)
- Membership in the club: Some clubs require that you become a member in order to participate in their club, while many others don’t. You need to check with the club to determine if this is a requirement. Typically HPDE clubs that require you to become a member charge between $20 and $30 per year, but again this fee varies from club to club.
- Gas: Costs of gas purchased at the track versus if purchased at a gas station can be quite high. During a time when 93 octane gas could be purchased for $3.80 at a gas station, it won’t be unusual to see the track charge $7.50 or more per gallon for the same grade. It may not seem like much, but it adds up quickly. The one time cost of a 5-gallon fuel jug (or maybe two jugs) is well worth the investment. The amount of gas your vehicle consumes will of course vary from car to car, but don’t be surprised if the car goes through 10 or more gallons at the track. To be safe, estimate that $40 in gas will be consumed while at event. You also need to include the amount money spent on gas getting the car to the event.
- Tire pressure gauge: A good tire pressure gauge is inexpensive, and it is something that you will use often during your racing career. Make the small investment and get a good gauge instead of just buying a low quality type. (I initially bought one of those cheap convenience store gauges, and soon thereafter threw it away after being discouraged with the quality of readings it provided.) A good tire pressure gauge costs approximately $35.
- Rims: An inexpensive set of extra rims will be worth the investment. Don’t be concerned with how they look or how much they weigh. Just focus on getting the cheapest rims that meet your needs. Four used steel rims can be bought for under $200 total.
- Tires: There are several factors that need to be looked at in order to determine what your tire costs will be. A general rule is that the faster you are going, the more you will spend on tires. Contributing factors are: 1) an experienced / fast driver and 2) a high horsepower car. When I first started driving HPDEs, I was not pushing my car to its limits, although I thought I was. This is also true of every other novice driver I have ever instructed. Don’t get me wrong, a novice driver can drive fast, but if you compare that with how hard they push the vehicle after more seat time, you will see a big difference. Because of this, I was not very hard on the tires initially and my tire budget was relatively small, meaning that I could use one set of tires for 10 or more HPDEs. Now that I have much more experience and push the car much harder, the same set of tires may only last 6 HPDEs. This general theory of “the faster you go, the harder you are on the tires” also applies to the other category I mentioned – high horsepower cars. A very rough estimate for novices driving an average car, using tires geared towards longevity versus using the absolutely fastest tire available, is $600 per year that includes 8 HPDEs.
- Brake pads and rotors: As a general rule for HPDEs, a set of rotors and performance brake pads should last a full season. The speeds at which you go through brake pads and rotors are also affected by many of the same principles discussed earlier with tire wear. Most cars are very easy on the rear pads and rotors, therefore shouldn’t require replacement as frequently. Since the price of rotors and pads vary from one car model to another, you should go to your local auto parts store and determine these costs for your vehicle. To give you a ballpark idea, with my Prelude a pair of front rotors can be bought for under $100, and a set of very good high performance pads for $120.
- Brake fluid: It is important that you flush your brake fluid at least once a year. High performance brake fluid can be bought for $12 – $15.
Things You Do Not Need to Buy
Especially if you won’t be using the vehicle for club racing, don’t spend money on parts for your car other than to maintain it. You need to develop a little voice in your head that says “don’t do it!”, every time you consider purchasing a go-fast part. One of my friends and I will often e-mail each other our great ideas of what we are thinking about buying. All too often we both find items that are a great deal, and we wonder how we could pass up the item? The typical response we offer each other is “save your money – it is not worth it.” Every time you are about to spend money on an unnecessary go-fast part for your car, consider putting this money aside for when you have a racecar. When you do get a racecar, I am sure you won’t have a problem finding ways to spend your money. However, it would be a good idea to purchase some books that discuss driving techniques. Take some time and study them. There are some very good books that will prove to be more valuable and will help you reduce your lap times much more dramatically than any go-fast part.
A couple of “don’t do it” items that may seem wise to purchase are lightweight wheels and cross-drilled rotors. Light weight wheels: only consider this if you are absolutely sure that this will be the same car you will be racing. And then make sure the wheels you buy are legal with the club you race with. As of 2008, SCCA’s improved touring classes ITS and ITA allowed a 7” width max.; ITB and ITC 6” maximum width. There are also diameter restrictions as well. My suggestion is to wait until you begin preparing the car for the class and club you will be racing with. Things can and do change. For example, in 2004 my 1987 Honda prelude was classed in SCCA’s ITA class that allows a 7” wide rim. In 2005 it was reclassified to the ITB class that has a maximum width of 6”. It would be frustrating to use the car in HPDEs and spend a decent amount of money on 7” wide rims thinking you got a great deal (even if it truly is a great deal), just to find out that you will need to purchase a different set of rims to meet the rules. Cross-drilled or slotted rotors: one of the biggest reasons you shouldn’t invest in cross-drilled or slotted rotors is that they are often not legal in many clubs’ classes. Instead it is necessary to use OEM rotors, so you may as well do that now.