By: Douglas Nadel
You would be surprised by how many people in Colorado want to try racing, but have a few reasons not to. If you are one of those people, or if you know someone who is, read on: racing is doable for almost anyone.
One of the main reasons that many opt not to race is price. I am not going to lie to you; usually it’s not cheap. There are a few cheap options. Various racing bodies hold individual/solo events that allow nearly any car to participate. Usually, after you join a racing governing body you will be privy to manuals, rules, instruction and advice for the novice. But, how much can you really do while keeping things cheap? Let us use solo racing as an example of easily acquired seat time.
1. Your Car: Let’s say you have a 1998 Honda Accord with tons of mileage. It runs well and you take good care of it. Still, you want to see what your old baby can do and you want to compete in something. Well, you can! Using common sense, you can drive a solo time trial and learn what you can do. Your car should be in good shape with full fluids and all bolts tightened down. You need good tires (they do not need to be racing tires for learning) and a properly tied down battery. An approved helmet and a clutter free car are about all you need to get started. You can go online and get free information about most of the prerequisite information you’ll need to begin. You do NOT need to buy a race prepped car!
2. Training: You would be surprisedto know how much of racing is instinct. Still, there are some important things to learn in order to make your experience safe and productive. First and foremost, learn and understand safety! If you ignore how to read a flag or what to do if your engine explodes – you’re screwed. So, pick up a book on rules and safety (available from most racing organizations). Second, you need to learn and understand the basic methods of turning and breaking. If you know someone who races (make sure they’re telling the truth) have them help you understand the basics. Sometimes, early breaking for a good apex approach can feel counterintuitive, learning from someone can help. Most racing organizations have drivers who will able to mentor you. A click or two from your mouse will send you in the right direction.
3. Preparation: Now you have the basics and you want to hit the track. For your first event, try to find a venue that takes place during the good weather days (it’s no fun to do your first solo in the rain – but you’ll learn a lot!) and have someone drive separately to the event. Just in case your car becomes un-drivable after being pushed hard, it’s nice to have a friend to drive you to the garage. Get to the track as early as you can, you can learn a lot by watching the veterans. Most drivers are fine with a few questions too, so long as you do not prevent them from getting what they need done or monopolize their time. Let them know at registration that you are brand new and see if any veteran will walk the track with you.
4. Walk the track! Even if no one will point out what you should be looking for, walk the track and take note of everything – without jabbering to your new friends. You need to concentrate on what you are looking at. Walk the track a few times if possible and get a feel for where you want to place your car. Keep in mind that your first run is usually for track knowledge and you don’t need to push the envelope. Just drive quickly and store what you have learned for your next few “hot” laps.
5. Race! Always finish your lap (even when you screw up – and you will). Drive the car and pay attention to what your car is saying. You might be surprised what it tells you. Powering out of a particular corner might make one of the tires squeal, or your engine dogs in a particular gear. By paying attention to what you hear and feel, you will become far more intimate with your ride. Because of this, do NOT blast music and create your own mental music video.
Five steps to fun. If you are in a hurry, you can get things going within a week. Just remember: the more you race, the better you get. After the initial expense of membership fees, books and gear you will be surprised how cheap a track day event can be. Racers are some of the coolest people you will ever meet. These people come from all walks of life and usually are fun to talk to – especially after the race.
Does it matter what kind of car you have? Not really. I mean that you don’t need an exotic sports car to compete. Your times are measured against similar cars. If you are alone in, say, a 2 liter normally aspirated car with no upgrades – your times might not be comparable to others who have turbo chargers or modified engines. In that case, you might be scored in a separate class. Still, you have the satisfaction of seeing your times improve and what you did next to other classes.
A few years back, my friend entered his 05 Kia Rio just for the hell of it. There were no other cars competing with his diminutive specifications, so he made up his own class. His beginning times were slow, but he learned each lap. A few races later, he was beating much more sport orientated machines and having the time of his life. Now he competes in the higher classes with a modified MX5.
So, what will these steps to racing cost? Pending on the organization and rules, it’s about $15 – $80 bucks for a track day event (along with your annual membership fees of $50 – $80). Your helmet (a must have) will cost $150 – $350 for a new one and $40 – $200 for a used one. Make absolutely sure that the helmet you are looking at conforms to the racing organization’s requirements (usually, Snell SA05 certification or similar) and that you get one that fits right. If you are going the online/used route, go to a motorcycle store and try on a few helmets to get the fit and style right before you abuse your credit card. Gloves and safety clothing are not required, but a good idea if affordable. Books with rules and safety information are $20 – $50 and a one day course (which I recommend, but is not a requirement to race) will set you back $100 – $300.
All in all, pending on what you need, the price range for starting solo racing is approximately $300 to $900. Your price may vary, but that type of price is the equivalent to what you would spend on a cheap/reasonable weekend getaway.
Trust me: racing is better!