Spec miatas at Watkins Glen for NASA champs 2016

5 Reasons why Spec Miata is the best class in budget racing… maybe ALL racing.

The Spec Miata Post:

Is Spec Miata the BEST class in racing? I think so. Is it perfect? Certainly not, but there is SO much going for it. You can get great competition and great bang for your buck.

To start: Spec Miatas race all around the country. I write about my own experiences with my local club, NASA Northeast. Spec Miata may be a bit different near you (with competitiveness, general cost, the people, etc). I’m still green behind the ears, I only just started my third year of wheel-to-wheel racing. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but I do have opinions.

I want to start with some quick fact vs fiction with common Spec Miata misconceptions:

“Miatas are slow, it wouldn’t be fun to race one:”
Miatas are low power cars (think 100-130 horsepower), but they carry serious speed through corners. Now imagine sliding through a corner 3 Miatas wide or bump-drafting in a train of five cars. If everyone in your class has the same power, the racing will be close, and fun…


“Miatas are easy to drive, I can already drive [insert other car here] fast, so I would just clean house.”
Miatas are fantastic cars to start track days with – you can’t rely on traction control or excessive power to overcome mistakes. With their slower acceleration you need to carry as much speed as possible through every corner. Any mistakes are magnified by a lack of ability to “make it up” by adding more power at any point (Spec Miatas never, ever lift… right?). Plenty of drivers from faster cars get humbled when they strap into a Spec Miata. It is easy to drive a Miata, but not easy to drive a Miata fast.

“You need to spend $25,000 30,000 or even $40,000 on a professionally built car if you want any chance of having fun or being competitive.” *
Stop, please just stop. There are ton of really nice Spec Miatas for sale for $15,000 and under. There’s even decent ones under $8,000. My car needed a lot of work when I bought it, but I paid much less. Minus indulging on a new cage, without a ton of other work (I’m still around $10k total invested in my car) I’ve managed to do quite well in my region… and trust me, the biggest limiting factor isn’t the car, it’s the driver. I’m way down on power from a built pro motor, but I’m still in the fight and having a blast. Plus I can use power as an excuse for not winning.
Prefer to build your own car? General online consensus is about $10-15k for a relatively basic car if you’re doing it all the labor yourself. I’d recommend buying a completed, used car.
Does this still sound expensive? Even a cheap ~$7,500 spec Miata is a serious chunk of change, but with low consumable costs and cheap replacement parts it can be one of the cheapest racing classes out there.

*These $5,000-$15,000 cars may be perfect for your region, but if you are looking for a car to win with at National Tour or Championships? It’s going to cost you more… quite a bit more… but the same goes for almost any class with more than a handful of competitors.

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Photo by Windshadow Photo Studios

“Spec Pinata? Those idiots just bang into each other all day long.
Is there contact in Spec Miata? Sure, a bit. There is contact because it is a big class and cars are closely matched. When you have a lot of cars running VERY close together there will be incidents. I’d rather have to do some bodywork here and there than race in a class by myself or one where cars rarely get within a carlength.

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Photo by Chris Wynne (@captdistraction)

If you want to go racing but you want to stay on any sort of budget, spec class racing is for you.

A perfectly prepped car will give an undeniable advantage. Unfortunately, there will ALWAYS be someone outspending you, in any class. The advantage of a spec class like Spec Miata is that there’s only so much they can [legally] do, all cars are “equal”. The difference between a $7,000 and a $50,000 Spec Miata is nothing like the differences between a $7,000 and $50,000 car in a generic power to weight class.


Biggest ways Spec Miata stays affordable:

5) Spec Suspension –
Spec Miata suspension kits take a miata from bone-stock to full spec for around $2,000. This includes EVERYTHING (shocks, springs, sway bars, hardware, etc). Spec Miata just jumped from Bilstein to Penske shocks. The cost per shock went from $100 to $200, still cheaper than the struts in your daily driver and way cheaper than nearly any other race car damper out there. The Penske upgrade also has an advantage for the budget conscious: Many people were paying big money “rebuilding” (gray area or just plain cheating depending on your opinion) Bilsteins to be better shocks.. But the labor and cost of this operation gave a big advantage to those with deep pockets ( $1500+ for a set instead of $400). The new shock package is much better suited for the car and has multiple controls in place to keep competitors from tampering for an advantage. 


4) NO Aero allowed-
Aero works. Wings, splitters, canards, airdams, do amazing things. The issue with Aero? Cost and complication. There is an incredible amount of engineering time that goes into designing effective aero parts. Production is labor intensive, takes time, and materials are expensive. Even if you can get by with cheap DIY aero parts, as your car gets more complicated even simple things like loading onto the trailer become an endeavor. Have a bad off? You may probably will rip the splitter off your car. Rub another car in traffic? You may break your canards.

The lack of aero also helps with bump drafting. Our stock Miata front and rear bumpers line up just perfect for pushing each other down the straights… Which is half the fun, and adds interesting strategy to our races.


3) The cars can be a halfway decent investment:
Spec Miatas are one of the few classes where the cars can nearly be considered investments. Generally stable class rules and large fields mean cars don’t come in and out of style often. Sure, if you spend $40,000 on a top build you won’t make that back. But a $7,500 SM 5 years ago may likely still be worth surprisingly close to $7,500. You won’t make money on a Spec Miata, but there have been plenty of people who sold theirs without losing much money.

2) Parts are still plentiful and cheap:
Whatever you choose for a track or race car, look at the cost and availability of repair parts. The bigger, faster, and heavier your car, the more your repair bill will go up (even if the fun factor may not).
Miatas are reliable on track. They don’t have many big, expensive weak points (expect to replace front hubs relatively often but they are an easy 15 minute job to replace and can cost as little as $20). Torsen differentials basically last forever, Transmissions last a while but can often be found for under $100, etc etc. 

Cheap spares are literally everywhere

1) Small, Low power cars consume less.
Simple: Less power and weight means less wear on brakes and tires. Even then, those brakes and tires are cheap. I replace all four brake rotors once a year for about $70 TOTAL. In a season full of both race and HPDE days I go through 2 sets of front pads and one rear. Almost all of that cost is covered by generous Hawk contingencies. 4 Toyo RR race tires cost about $700 total. I get one fresh set for a season and usually a set or 2 of scrub (used tires). Even modest race finishes gets me enough contingency prizes to significantly cut my tire bill.
Please go ask someone who races a Corvette in ST2 or M3 in GTS what their consumable budget is.

Places Spec Miata can get out of hand?

Pro Motors:
“Pro Motors” are the single biggest gripe I have with Spec Miata. To put it bluntly, this shit is out of hand. Spec Miata requires “stock” engines, but within the rules there are certain allowed machining modifications to make up for factory tolerances. Over the years pro engine builders have kept improving these “stock” engines until they are making 25-30 horsepower MORE than any real factory engine, with way better torque curves.
For reference: a healthy stock 1.8 miata makes about 110 horsepower. Put a pro head on it, you can make around 120, get a full pro build and you should be all the way up to 135 horsepower. Pro engine builders don’t post their prices online but word on the street is you’ll pay $6500-8,000 for a full pro rebuild.
Yes, people are spending ~$7500 for a 135 horsepower engine. A new 500hp crate LS from Chevrolet (With a warranty!) costs less than that…. I understand it’s not a true apples to apples comparison, but it sure is eye opening.
Is there a simple solution? Not really. The “Spec Miata Advisory Committee” rule creating board, as well as a large amount of participants don’t seem too concerned with it. If engine rules get tweaked, engine builders find other creative (sometime legal, sometimes not) ways to make more power. Why is there not a reasonable horsepower cap? NASA has a published horsepower cap, but the gutless rule does not disqualify, it only justifies an invasive inspection (Teardown). SCCA has no cap at all.

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Can you compete with an unmodified junkyard engine or maybe one with only headwork? Sure, especially at the local level. I have a junkyard engine with some headwork done. I still do well and have a blast, but on big horsepower tracks (Pocono, Watkins Glen) the horsepower difference is a big disadvantage. If you want to be competitive in the most serious events (ie Championships and SCCA Majors tour) you better pony up for a pro motor.
Spec Miata is huge and continues to grow. Races get more prestigious and sponsorships get more lucrative. It is recognized as a feeder program towards pro racing. Despite Spec Miata’s continued success, I hope the leadership remembers what this class is all about. Good, AFFORDABLE, close racing.

Top prep/Blueprinting can get out of hand:
Blueprinting doesn’t stop at engines. People sell everything for these cars to gain the tiniest advantages. Specialty rebuilt transmissions, diffs, hubs, you name it. My first season I called a shop to buy cheap used tires and the person on the phone went on how I NEED specialty this and that. He said I need to replace ball joints after a very short amount of hours, etc etc. Don’t be scared away from Spec Miata by this. You DO NOT need a $40,000 car to get started in Spec Miata. Maybe in a few years I’ll eat my words, but I don’t think any of that excessive blueprinting or maintenance makes enough difference to be worth even a fraction of what it ends up costing. A good motor will be the biggest dollar-to-speed addition, whereas blueprinting everything on the car will be add up to be an incredibly expensive, though tiny advantage. 

*Edit: Tires: I didn’t include tires as an excessive expense in my first version of this post. Within an hour of posting I heard from multiple people how crazy expensive Hoosier tires can be. My budget won’t allow two completely different tire setups so I run exclusively with NASA who use Toyo RR and RA1 (wet) tires. SCCA uses Hoosier SM7 and H20 (wet) tires. Tires are the only big difference between the two clubs’ Spec Miata rulebooks. The Toyos are competitive for at least double heat cycles than the Hoosiers. Since everyone is on the same rubber, why not run where you can get 2-3x your money out of your tire budget. RR’s barely even slow down in the 15+ HC range, they just get a bit harder to drive quickly. The Toyo RA1 rain tire can hang for years, the Hoosier H20 is Significantly faster in the wet, but considered by many to be good for only one session. An $800 set of tires… Oof.

Hoosier is actively developing the next generation SM8 and H20, with a focus on increased longevity. I’m not holding my breath.

Spec Miata gets a bad reputation for being excessively expensive to buy, build, or maintain a car good enough to have fun and be reasonably competitive with. If you want to compete at the tip top of the class at the biggest races, then yes you will need “top prep” (And damn good driving ability). To go out and have a blast, even a cheap modestly maintained car can be more than enough for you.

My unqualified, unsolicited opinion for improving the class
Cap horsepower at a reasonable number… perhaps 115 or 120? I’m all for allowing some engine rebuilding, but use a reasonable cap in so those with the deepest pockets don’t get such a huge advantage. Sure, builders will build motors that have the most power “under the curve” right up to the cap but it will still close the gap. Again, what is this class supposed to be about?

Go back to all using the same tires between clubs. Crossing between clubs now takes a significant investment (12 more wheels and tires: Race set, practice set, wet set, etc). There are obviously big contractual issues with SCCA and Hoosier, but still…

When a class is as popular and competitive as Spec Miata, the cost to run at the top will obviously rise. A few rule tweaks wouldn’t likely drop costs at the top levels, but they may help maintain modest costs and keep racing closer and more fun at the regional level races. Some of the SMAC (Spec Miata Advisory Committee) members would appear to benefit from encouraging expensive top level builds for both engines and car prep, but hopefully they can ultimately choose what is best for the class. The more we can encourage new, young people to come in and race at a local level, the healthier the class will be.



Despite some small issues, Spec Miata is the best class in racing, period.

What are you waiting for? Come Racing!

Thunder At The Glen

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