Once upon a time, starting out in motorsport was difficult. At the entry level, you could take part in an autocross, a low speed event in a parking lot. Good fun, but not fast enough for many adrenaline junkies. To get onto an actual race track involved going to school, getting a racing license, buying or renting a race car and then actually going racing. Lapping days as we know them today did not really exist.
Part of that was because the cars really weren’t very safe and neither were the race tracks. Today’s cars are safer, more reliable and definitely perform to a much higher level. Likewise, most tracks in North America have evolved so that they are more friendly (as in safer) for lapping day type events.
My cousin John, a one time Supercross racer who was known for his crash-tacular style, recently made a return to motocross action after three decades away. Today’s bikes jump higher, farther and faster than they did back in the day and when Cousin John hit the dirt this time, his body was quick to point out that he is no longer a spring chicken. The speed bug has bitten again however, and John is determined to feed it, but has decided to come over to the dark side and do it on four wheels, with a roll cage. The inevitable question has arisen: “What kind of car should I start with?”
Over on the Grassroots Motorsports forums, the answer to every question is “Miata”. While I don’t disagree at all, I myself don’t fit in most Miata race cars and I suspect that my cousin (we haven’t been face to face in years) wouldn’t be at home in one either. Rather than start throwing out potential ideas, I have put together a series of questions for him so we can narrow down the field a bit.
- Roughly what sort of budget parameters are we looking at? The conversation has to start here. There is no point in looking at ex-Chumpcar entries if you are willing to spend six figures on your first car. Let’s start with some basic idea of how much we are going to spend.
- Are you planning to drive the car on the street or will it be track only? If you have the space to store a dedicated track car, a tow vehicle and are willing to buy and store a trailer, then your options open up greatly.
- What is your own physical shape? If you are a round guy like me, or a very tall guy, you should plan accordingly. There are lots of great track day options out there that I simply do not fit in, because I am too fat. No NASCAR style road course cars in my future. Likewise, as much as I love the Ariel Atom, it just isn’t comfortable for more than a dozen or so laps.
- How fast do you think you want to go? For some people, fast isn’t really that fast. For someone like my cousin, who has experience with speed, fast is likely going to mean FAST.
- What type of track is your “home” track? Is it tight and twisty or is it a high speed monster? Having a track day car that suits the place you are starting out will flatten out your learning curve a bit.
- What do participants at your local track drive at lapping days? Sure, it is fun to stand out from the crowd, but if everyone drives Mustangs and you show up with a Camaro, you will notice the difference. That is not to say that you won’t be welcomed with open arms, but you might not meet anyone who knows your specific car well enough to answer any questions you have along the way. You might also become the target of some friendly ribbing every now and then.
- Do you have any aspirations or expectations that you might move on from lapping into competition? If you have unlimited budget, then this may not be so much of an issue, but if you are scraping together your shekels to buy a track ready car, you might want to find out if there is a class that it fits into at your local venue. This will make the transition that much easier.
- Do you enjoy wrenching on your own car or would you prefer to just show up and drive? For some people, there is just as much fun in building and maintaining a car as there is in driving it. That is cool, but others have no interest in that aspect and would rather just strap in and go. Those guys might be more inclined to drive a newer, production based car that is turn key, or have a local shop look after the car and bring it to the track for you. That is another budget consideration.
- What kind of cars do you actually like? While Miata may be the answer to just about every question, the roadster platform might not fit the bill if you are addicted to the angry rumble of a big, hairy muscle car. Yes, I know that you can shoehorn an LS into a Miata, but that might not be an optimal choice for a first time track toy.
Answer these questions as honestly as you can and list them in the comments below, so we can begin the decision process!