Here in the US we are both blessed and cursed with an enormous variety of racing vehicles and events. Cursed might be your thought if you’re new to racing and trying to figure out what to race from among the many options. Virtually anything with wheels can be and is being raced.
But choices aside for a moment, let's get one thing straight. Racing is racing. It doesn't matter if you're racing a kart, street car, a Bomber on a local dirt oval. a vintage sports car or formula car. Racing is challenging, exhilarating and just plain fun. Some people say it's the most fun you can have with your clothes on!
Examples of weird and wacky types of racing include: lawn mowers, mud bog cars, snowmobiles on water (Yes Martha, they do stay afloat as long as they keep moving!), Figure 8, monster trucks, bar stools and school buses. And this is just a small sample!
We are going to limit our discussion to the more mainstream forms of racing of which there are primarily three: drag racing, oval track and road racing.
Drag racing is an acceleration contest where a pair of cars begins from a standing start and race for a quarter of a mile to see who gets to the finish line first. Some drag strips are only one eighth of a mile but that is not typical. Most drag strips measure a quarter-mile.
The largest drag race sanctioning organization is the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA). There is also the International Hot Rod Association, the Import Drag Racing Circuit, etc.
NHRA was forced to shorten the track to 1,000 feet for its Top Fuel and Funny Car classes because their speeds were getting too fast. Even at the shorter distance they are going over 325mph!
The 500 cubic inch engines they use in these cars are producing over 10,000 horsepower! You will love professional drag racing if you like raw displays of power and speed. The following video shows the work that goes into racing a Top Fuel Funny Car. The engines are rebuilt between each run and the crews have to be able to do the rebuild in 75 minutes!
The pits are usually open to spectators and there is nothing quite like standing near a Top Fuel or Funny Car when they light up their 10,000hp engine. Don’t be downwind from it though, because one of the by-products from a nitro burning engine is tear gas!
For the amateur drag racer there is a class for almost any car—from your grandmother’s Buick to a full-blown dragster.
Oval Track Racing
Oval track racing is done on an oval-shaped track (thus the name) and vary in length from a 1/12 of a mile to over 2-1/2 miles.
There are two different types of track surfaces-dirt or paved with asphalt or concrete. The small local tracks or “bull rings” tend to be dirt whereas the larger regional ones are paved.
Examples of these large tracks would be the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or Daytona International Speedway. There are a wide range of cars that are used in this form of racing.
The “open wheel” cars are built with tube frames or monocoque construction and designed just for racing. They range from go-karts with 5hp engines to full size Indy cars which go over 220mph.
The majority of oval track open wheel cars fall into the category of “midget” or “sprint” cars. There are quarter, micro, modified, three-quarter and full midgets as well as a wide variety of sprint cars. Their engines range in size from 5hp to over 500 cubic inch V-8s putting out over 1,000 hp.
The other major class of oval track cars is the closed wheel or “stock” type car. The term “stock” is very misleading since it implies that the car is not modified from its original production configuration. This is rarely true in today’s racing world.
An example is the NASCAR Sprint Cup stock car. There is virtually no part or component on these cars that can be found on a stock production vehicle whether it be a Chevy, Ford or Toyota.
NASCAR Stock Car
For the more amateur racer there is a wide variety of cars and classes to choose from. These include mini-stocks, hobby stocks, bombers, modifieds and late models just to name a few.
There are many race sanctioning organization in oval track racing from NASCAR, ARCA, USAC, Word of Outlaws, etc. Do a Google search for the type you are interested in.
The next category is road racing which is on a paved track with right and left turns and may have elevation changes. The tracks will usually be at least 1-1/2 miles long with some being over 4 miles.
An example of a road course is Sonoma Raceway near Sonoma, California. It is 2-1/2 miles long with 12 turns and 150 feet of elevation change.
This type of racing is, perhaps, the most challenging for drivers. It requires them to not only turn in both directions, but also to brake, shift and accelerate while racing with the other drivers who are trying to beat him.
Once again there is a wide variety of cars and classes available.
The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) are the two primary organizations that run amateur road racing.
Together they have over 40 classes and you can find a class for just about any car you want to race. There are three main types of cars: open wheel formula cars, sports racing cars and closed wheel or production cars.
Formula cars look like smaller versions of Indy cars. Sports racers are simply formula cars with full bodies covering the wheels. The old Can-Am cars are examples of sports racers.
The largest class are production-based cars with stock chassis that are modified for racing or tube framed cars with stock appearing body work. Examples include Corvettes, Vipers, Miatas, Mustangs, Camaros, Audi, BMW, Honda, Porsche, etc.
Crap Can Racing
If you like a lot of track time for not much money, then “crap can” racing may be for you. This is endurance races of up to 24 hours with cars that are worth no more than $500. This value is set by the race organizers who establish what a particular car is worth and performance modifications are very limited. This value does not include safety items such as a roll cage, fire extinguisher, racing seat, racing seat belts, driving suit, helmet, etc. In addition, you will need at least two sets of wheels and tires, a trailer to haul the car, and pit stop equipment. If you do the work yourself, you will probably spend $2-3,000 and if you pay someone you can double that.
You will need to get 2-4 other drivers who will share the expenses and hopefully help you with the work. This can be a fun experience for a family or group of buddies. The two largest organizers of this type of racing are www.chumpcar.com and www.24hoursoflemons.com with new groups starting up every year. Look for a future article about crap can racing on www.RacingExplained.com
Vintage Road Racing
One of the fastest growing categories of racing is vintage road racing. This is due the large numbers of baby boomers who are retiring and getting into cars. There is again an enormous variety of cars ranging in age from the early 1900s to 2010 and encompassing formula, sports racing, GT, FIA Makes, IMSA, Can-Am, Trans-Am and NASCAR stock cars. The largest vintage racing sanctioning organization is the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association and they have a great website www.svra.com.
What do I do next?
Attend the types of races you have an interest in. Go into the pits or paddock area where the racers are working on their cars. Talk to them about their cars. Most racers will be glad to answer your questions, if they are not busy getting ready for their race.
Ask them: How much time does it take? What does it cost to race in your class? Where can I find a car to buy? Are they hard to maintain and repair?
One of the best things you can do is offer to help a team work on their car in exchange for teaching you about racing. This can be a priceless education especially if they are a front running team.
All of these and more will be helpful. If you decide to take the plunge, you will find racing to be one of the most fun and challenging sports you can do.
Look for more how to articles and videos on our website www.racingexplained.com