The car you choose to drive on track may be the single most important factor in keeping an affordable track budget.
Miata is not the only answer, but it is obviously the best answer (Though I may be slightly biased)
Four important factors to consider when choosing a track car that can also stay on budget: Reliability, Consumables, Parts, and Ease of repairs.
Some cars are designed from the factory to survive track use and abuse. Other cars are “Race cars” that overheat in a few laps. Sorry to all the Subaru and Mitsubishi fans… WRX’s, STI’s, and Evos are NOT good track cars, they don’t even seem to hold up super well at autocrosses (go ahead and argue with me if you disagree). Beware of Turbo, Supercharged, and AWD cars. Do some research, If a car you are interested in requires significant modifications to survive the track… it’s probably not a good starting point for a budget conscious track car.
3) Power+Weight (Consumables)
The more weight and power your car has, the more your consumable budget will be. Tires and Brakes are two of the biggest budget items for Track Days. A heavy car with several hundred horsepower will take significantly more braking power to slow than a lighter car with less power. The heavy car will eat way more brake pads …Heavy cars also tend to create enough heat to crack rotors regularly, so rotors become a consumable as well. When I started, I went for 3+ years of daily driving and track days on one set of miata rotors. (I do replace them annually now, but doing all 4 only costs me about $60).
Tires are very expensive. I’m all for coming to the track with whatever is already on your car for your first day(s). However, once you get serious you will need a high performance tire setup. Just like brakes, a heavy powerful car will eat MUCH more in tires. Also, the larger you get with a tire, the costs follow. For Example: A 205/50/15 (miata size) Nitto NT01 tire is about $150. A 275/35/18 (Size that can be found on a Mustang GT) is about $260. So a set of tires for a Miata is $600 vs $1040 for the Mustang. Also, the mustang will go through those tires much quicker than the miata. I love Mustangs and still miss both of mine terribly, but they don’t fit my budget.
2) Part Prices and availability:
Whichever car you choose, big or small, you will wear out and break parts. Finding a car with cheap, easily available parts is huge for staying on budget. If you get an obscure, low-production vehicle, not only will part availability be poor, but prices will likely be higher. If something on my miata breaks at the track I can likely call any local auto parts store and what I need will be in stock. If i was driving an older, or more obscure car, it’s likely parts wouldn’t be stocked and I would be done for the weekend or paying very high overnight shipping costs.
High production cars also mean you’ll have access to lots of used parts. Junkyards are great but forums and facebook groups can be your best resource for super cheap “partouts”. I have near enough spare parts to build 3 miatas… all because I kept my eyes out for opportunities to grab up useful parts for pennies on the dollar. When I needed parts that weren’t in my stockpile, forums came through on more than a few occasions.
Extra bonus: If you have a very common car (Miata, e30, Honda, etc) there’s a good chance other people at the track will have the same car so if something breaks they may have spares to loan or sell you on the spot.
1) Ease of repairs:
Some cars are a dream to work on, others are a nightmare. Do you want a track car that requires removing the intake manifold to replace the spark plugs? I shutter at the thought of doing maintenance on a mid engine Porsche. I can replace (and bleed) the clutch slave cylinder on my miata in 10 minutes without even lifting the car up. Meanwhile, my brother had to drop the transmission to replace the slave on his GTO.
If you’re not sure if your current car is a good starting point, ask some track people. Ask a forum but beware of misinformation (more on bad forums later). Some cars that seem like great track cars aren’t all that great in practice, and others that seem terrible make great track toys.
Do you want one car to make it from HPDE all the way to wheel to wheel racing? There are many more factors to consider for racing. Look for a later post on choosing the “right” car for wheel to wheel racing.
What do you think? What is your top budget track weapon? Some of the common cars are Miatas, e-36 BMW’s, older Mustangs, 90’s hondas…. Leave it in the comments!