Spec Miata is the largest, most well-known class in amateur “Club” Racing. Drivers are drawn to the class for a myriad of reasons. The tight racing, large fields, low running costs, and support from Mazda, are just a few.
But lately a reputation of extreme costs within Spec Miata has been growing. Is it true, or just rumors?
With great competition and attention, a class draws not just driver talent; but also mechanical talent and Money. This happens in every racing class. The more popular a class, the better drivers, more prep tricks, and more MONEY will be spent to race there. Sometimes it explodes, often it’s a slow simmering arms race (price creep).
Plenty a driver has enjoyed great success racing in a class for years, only to be spent right out of the class by new competitors almost overnight. Want an EXTREME example? Check out Dinner With Racer’s podcast of Dinner With Racers – The Level 5 Special .
If Spec Miata is a “Spec” class with VERY few allowed modifications, then HOW are cars being built for over $40,000? Let’s touch on the reputation, the facts, and a whole lot of opinion to see if Spec Miata is still a bargain or if it’s a victim of its own success.
A Spec Class is designed with a very tight ruleset for a few major reasons
- Keep cars closely matched to promote a “Drivers” battle vs an equipment arms race.
- Keep costs down for competitors.
- Create “Easy to build” cars with tight, straightforward rules and specific modifications.
The most important rule in the Spec Miata Rulebook is “Modifications, addition or removal of parts or material are not allowed, unless specified or approved in these rules.” Which means – If the rules don’t specifically say you can do it, then you can’t.
But here’s the issue: some people say “Spec classes end up costing more“ – Yes, correcting simple issues can become much more challenging, but Does it really cost more in the long run?
Example #1: A Spec Miata may have trouble getting desired rear camber. So, your options are: Slot the upper control arms (illegal), Bend the subframe (gray area, but time consuming and can be dangerous… actually, that sounds illegal), install rear offset bushings (illegal), etc. To be legal, Drivers are forced to go “parts binning” IE try several combinations of rear subframes and different control arms to find one that’s “Bent just right” to get you where you need. If you were racing in a more open class, chances are you could easily get more than enough camber with some sort of aftermarket camber kit.
*How’s this for timing? The SAME DAY this article posted, a rule change was posted allowing slotting of the rear upper control arm. For those curious: “126.96.36.199.u. On the upper control arms, the original outer mounting holes may be slotted to obtain additional camber. The max slot size shall not exceed 0.433” X 0.600”. No material shall be added.” So I guess that concern has been addressed.
Example #2: Spec Miata Engines: Engines are the hardest single pill to swallow for Spec Miata. I long for the days where a decent driver could consistently be on the podium with a fresh junkyard motor. The truth is, Engine Builders have gotten so damn good at pulling power from these motors that the advantage really is just too great… and it has been that way, even at a most regional levels for quite a while now. Want to be up front? Be prepared to write a check in the $7,000 range. Want to get most of the way there? Find someone willing to build a legal head and you can get much of the way there.
True: Tight rulesets require creative, expensive, and time consuming modifications. BUT in reality: If you were building to a top prep in any class, chances are you’re still out looking for the same “perfect” subframes, and then tossing significantly more expensive parts on there anyway. In Spec Miata, you may end up going through 3 subframes, but they’re cheap or sometimes free. Replacing 5 parts-binned control arms is cheaper than a single tubular adjustable one.
Sure, $7,000 may get you 430hp of LS V8 power (And a warranty), but 135hp can carry you to the front row in SM. Also, if you’re racing a big honking V8 expect to need expensive oiling components, drivetrain parts, etc etc.
Big money WILL Be spent for ANY advantage in
spec class racing. If all cars are capable of turning the EXACT same lap time around a track, and you are able to “top prep” some item for a 1/1000th advantage, that is still an undeniable advantage. Some of these “top prep” modifications are done within the rules (“Blueprinting” Torsen Diffs), others were not: (Axle cages modified for an iota less rolling resistance [since been made legal for SCCA]). Did they lead to a win? Did they actually do anything? Sure, top prep parts could have added up to something, but probably not. I do know they can easily double or triple the price of a build.
Big money is NOT limited to just spec class racing. Some open classes see some similarly tight competition. The difference with a more open class is the lack of a ruleset designed to stop the arms race. Worse yet; Rulebooks in a more open class may even be updated to allow things like big aero or widebodies… parts capable of quickly ballooning the price of being competitive in a class. A Spec Class rulebook minimizes the effects of spending big money, even if it may be less fun to chronic tinkerers.
Your region and club are another one of the big factors in competition and running cost. There are more than just a few places where you can race Spec Miata, it is more popular in some areas and clubs than others. NASA, SCCA Regional, SCCA Majors, SCCA Runoffs, SVRA, etc. Each of these offer different competition levels and prep costs. Research what your region has, Often you have a few to choose between.
The rising costs of racing in general are not skipping Spec Miata. Data Systems, Driver comfort systems, new safety components, and Advanced Fire Systems all add up to big money and certainly go a long way towards the $40k+ pricetag of some top builds. Don’t forget full fresh Paint jobs, full Rotisserie builds, powder coated subframes, etc. All these add up to create an incredibly pretty car, but won’t make you faster on the track.
Are you reading this blog because you want to go racing on a reasonable budget? Then don’t worry. You do not need to spend $40,000, $25k, or even $15k to have fun racing Spec Miata. You do not need to spend $20,000 to be reasonably competitive either. Depending on your region and driving skill, you may competitive in a $5-10,000 car. Certain items like a pro motor go a long way towards lap times, but all those other little tweaks, tricks, and even cheats won’t add up to more than your own driving inconsistencies from lap to lap.
If you want, you can also be like me: be under $10,000 and reserve the right to cry “no budget” as an excuse anytime you don’t win.
While the Spec Miata Rulebook is quite stable, There are general updates to the NASA rules at least once a year and SCCA updates their general rulebook Monthly. When looking for a rulebook, check that it is current: NASA has a specific SM page so it can easily be found, SCCA has the SM rules buried in their massive general rulebook… In either, the search function is your friend.
SCCA and NASA SM rules are very similar, though not identical. The one large difference is tires. NASA uses the Toyo RR and RA1 (rain) and SCCA uses the Hoosier SM7.5 and SM-Wet (rain). There are some small sub-classes in SCCA (SM-T and SSM for example) who use Toyos as well, but the main SCCA SM is on Hoosiers. Toyo RR’s and Hoosier SM7.5’s are nearly identical in cost, but the Toyos remain competitive for 2-3x as long as the Hoosiers. If you are on any sort of budget, you could save a significant chunk on your budget by running where you can use Toyos.
Otherwise, the differences are small like sticker requirements and allowance of one (SCCA) vs both (NASA) front camber aids (Front Offset Bushings and Extended Lower Balljoint). By swapping tires, nearly any SCCA Legal car can participate in NASA and vise-versa.
At the end of the day, there will ALWAYS be someone who will show up and not bat an eye spending exponentially more than your stretched budget. Cost to be competitive in a series is driven much by the popularity, so it makes sense that the most popular class out there has a lot of big spenders. Could Spec Miata do better with a bit more focus on lowering costs? Sure, but it’s still the best value in racing.
Whatever class you choose to race in, pick a spec class and hope the big wallets are bad enough at driving that the advantage they bought won’t be enough to guarantee them a win.
Have experience in another Spec Class? I’ve heard very similar numbers for running competitively in Spec E30. Any opinions from other spec classes out there?
Itching for more endless rambling about my favorite racing class? Check out 5 Reasons why Spec Miata is the best class in budget racing… maybe ALL racing. or any of the many Other Articles by No Money Motorsports