(Getting) Ready to Race

Racing your own car, even at the club level, is a major kick in the butt. But prepping your own race car, even at the club level, is a major pain in the butt. How so? Let me count some of the ways.

Modern race cars are like old street cars in that both of them require constant attention. This is equally true of an F1 Ferrari as it is my little Spec Miata. Okay, so it isn’t exactly equally true. But my partner, Aaron Robinson, and I don’t have an army of engineers, mechanics and vendors to help us, not to mention cute umbrella girls to provide shade and local color.

For the past nine years, I’ve been racing a Nissan 240SX in the SCCA’s Improved Touring S class. It’s a great car, and I love driving it. But ITS isn’t very well-subscribed these days, at least in Southern California, whereas Spec Miata is the most popular class in SCCA history. So earlier this year, Aaron – who’s a technical editor at a rival car magazine that shall remain nameless – and I bought a 1990 Spec Miata from Tony Wofford of AWR Racing. The car featured a lovely cage and spectacular aluminum work in the cockpit, but it had never been raced, and we’ve suffered through various teething issues. (There’s an expression in the home-built airplane world that applies: Ninety-five percent complete and 95 percent to go.) That said, it ran well (except for a starter issue) during its last outing at Buttonwillow last month, so I wasn’t expecting to have to do too much work to prep the car for next weekend’s four-hour enduro at Laguna Seca – oops, I mean Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. (Sucking up to Mazda is a good idea when you race a Miata.) I was wrong. Very wrong.

Our to-do list reminds me of a frog in a well, climbing up three feet, then slipping back two, up four, then down three. At the moment, we’re up to 58 items. Granted, a lot of them are pieces of cake that were polished off in a few minutes. (12. Change engine oil. 36. Install video mount. 50. Measure car for vinyl graphics.) But just this morning, I had to add 58: Buy and install new CompactFlash card (to replace the one that got corrupted for no apparent reason when I reinstalled it in our slick Racepak G2X data-logging unit). Oh, and there’s now 57: Buy a tailpipe tip just in case the Miata exceeds the 90 db limit at Laguna Seca during early morning and late afternoon sessions. And we’ve still got to take care of 7. Apply graphics. (This, of course, is contingent on 6. Buy graphics.) Not to mention 38. Install radio (which has to be removed from the 240SX, which is 37). And about a dozen other items. Not to mention the ones that will probably come to mind Friday morning, just before I head out onto the track to bed our brand-new Carbotech brake pads.

Are we having fun yet?

P.S. – After writing this entry, but before posting it, I set out on a quest for five missing components that took me to two auto parts store (one of them twice), a hardware store (also twice), and four computer shops. Eventually, I was able to find all of parts I was looking for. But three of them turned out to be the wrong size. Four feet up the well and three feet down ….