Ultimate Spec Miata Handbook for BUDGET racers

Online conversations about Spec Miata are often steered by a few voices at the utmost top of the class. Prep shops and top drivers flaunt their impressive resumes and hard earned experience to show they are the end-all for Spec Miata knowledge. While their experience running national championship winning level programs is helpful in many cases, it’s not always directly relevant to someone getting started or trying to just have fun regionally. Especially for someone on a tight budget. Top tier parts and excessively short maintenance intervals are not necessarily a requirement to have a decent, reliable car.

This page will share some information, but primarily contain links to all the Spec Miata resources around this site. The main lesson I want people to learn is that starting out in Spec Miata need not be as intimidating, or expensive as it seems.

The purpose of this guide is not to get you into the top 10 of a 90 car championship field. This is a guide to get you A) Started in Spec Miata racing or B) To be reasonably competitive and have fun in regional competition without requiring an astronomical budget. Running on an absolute shoestring budget, I’ve been able to stay in the front pack of my region, including a win and a pile of hard earned podium finishes. My lone mechanical DNS/DNF was qualifying for my first race ever (bad crank pulley/balancer). While I know a bigger budget could help me in some big areas, I blame the driver for much of my shortcomings. I run regional NASA Spec Miata, I don’t run SCCA Majors or Super Tour. My experience may be different from some, but we’re all out here racing these cars as hard as we can.

Everything you read here is my opinion. Based on what I’ve seen, done, and learned in 5 years of racing Spec Miata, and a bunch of time in HPDE before that. There are a lot of people in the class who are smarter and more knowledgeable than mebut there are few who get it done cheaper than me. I’ve also been on the right side of some good luck and a lot of generosity from more experienced racers. Your own mileage may vary, I know what has worked for me, and hopefully it works well for you also.

I recently spoke to a rookie: He rolled into the paddock for competition school, with a new-to-him car and hay still falling from his dual-duty farm/racing open trailer. After passing everything from 48’ fifth wheel monsters to toterhomes & stackers he said he nearly turned his truck around and went home. He felt seriously out of place. This continued once the cars started unloading; some cars placed on full alignment rigs between sessions, with hired mechanics constantly making adjustments and checking each nut and bolt. If you don’t slow down and take a look, you might not notice that there are still plenty of people at the track with a rickety open trailer towed by a half-rusted 1500 pickup. These people may not do much more than drive and put fuel in the car all weekend, and often end up consuming more beer than their car burns gas. Many of us go racing with a smaller budget than the typical HPDE driver in their M3 or Corvette. Everyone is doing this “for fun”, and we each have our own definition of it… It doesn’t really matter how much you spend as long as you are having fun doing it.

The community at large is one of the biggest parts of what makes Spec Miata great. Of course you’ll have big egos and the occasional crazy uncle, but they are few and far between. You’ll see competitors lending spare parts, turning wrenches, sharing data, and hanging out between every session. Some of my best friends have come from this community, and I live much of my life waiting for my next race.

Spec Miata has an ugly reputation to some as being a crash-fest of a class, sometimes called “Spec Piñata”. Much of the rep is unfounded. Racing is racing, and any field of 50, 60, 70, 80(!) cars is going to have some issues. When you look at the amount of cars we have on track and just how close the racing is, it’s really quite impressive how clean nearly all the racing is. Don’t let the “drama” from giant championship races scare you off. The “sexy” crash videos always get overblown, look up some videos of the fantastic driving seen all around the country. The class simply wouldn’t be this popular if we were doing tons of bodywork and writing off cars every weekend.

As for my friend mentioned earlier who nearly turned around?  At the end of that day, I got this message: “This is the most fun I’ve had in my life.” He’s hooked.

Below you will find some general SM information, but the primary purpose of this page is to link to various helpful Spec Miata posts across the site: Covering things like what to spend on a Spec Miata and what kind of fluids work for me. This will remain a living document, I will continue to update and add info as I can. 

Let’s say you ARE someone who wants to run a championship winning caliber team- There are 6 major factors for a winning spec miata program: 

1) Car Prep: Car prep is what you do with the gear you have. In a class where the rules prohibit much adjustability, your alignment is the largest factor. Something like running too much toe can hold your car up as if it is down several horsepower. Are your brakes dragging just a bit? Is your timing set? Where are your tire pressures? Small things add up and the longer you’ve been doing this, the more tricks you know.

2) Car Potential: This is about the quality of parts in your car. Does your car have a pro-built engine? Is the car maximized to the edge (and into the gray) of the rulebook from bumper to bumper? Does it have the latest Penske Shocks? Blueprinted Transmission/Axles/Diff? Despite the reputation and jokes, there isn’t really much cheating in Spec Miata, but there are quite a few allowed “tricks”.

3) Tires: Tires are important enough to earn their own category: They are (hopefully) the only component of your racecar to touch the track. Not only do fresh tires afford faster lap times, they can be easier and more forgiving to drive than old rubber. 

4) Driver Skill: This is simple, but also the single biggest factor. Miatas are “easy to drive” well. but to squeeze the last second takes skill. The last tenth takes bravery. The Last hundredth takes a bit of insanity. Build the best SM in the world and put a mediocre driver in it? They won’t even be in the top half of the field, any field.  

5) Showing up: This is the only pass-fail factor. You can’t win a thing if you don’t enter. If you blow your budget on a fresh engine to win Watkins Glen, but can’t afford the entry fee… you lose. If you’re building and upgrading and building, and never finish your car: You lose. The primary goal of this whole website is to convince you to show up to the track, the second is to show you how. 

At the front of a Championship Spec Miata racing field, every team will maximize ALL of these factors. For the rest of us, we are making decisions on what to focus on based on our time, budget, and goals. While having a fantastic driver in a well prepped car, with a fresh engine and sticker tires may be a shoe-in for the front row: If you’re compromising in a few aspects, you can still be up front at regional events. 

Imagine the first 3 categories are scored on a 1-10 scale, with the 4th; Driver skill 1-20. Maybe you can’t afford to always bring fresh tires, and you don’t have a pro-built engine. If you put in the work on prepping the car well and driving like hell, you’ll get enough from them to still do fine against someone in a great car with a bad setup, or a perfectly prepped, but poorly driven car. You don’t need the nicest car, best engine, or best setup. Do what you can with what you have. Find out how much energy you want to invest, and where you want to focus it.

Wherever in the pack you end up racing, large fields of Spec Miatas at the track mean you should always have someone to race. I’ve had more fun battling for 9th place than I have 3rd. 

Here we get into the meat of the resources: Follow these links to the various Spec Miata guides on this site.

The first step: Can you afford to go racing Spec Miata?

How Much does a Spec Miata Cost? -A simplified buyer’s guide for Club Racing’s most popular class.

Is Spec Miata (and spec racing in general) Affordable? How do costs compare to open classes?

The 15 MOST effective tips to SPEND LESS on Track Days and Racing. Maximize your Track Time.

(Coming Soon: The True costs of Racing a full season in Spec Miata – on a shoestring Budget)

Are you SURE Spec Miata is the right class for you?

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

Spec Miata vs Spec E30 – Which is the BEST spec racing class? 13 factors to see what is best.

How to get your competition License and GO RACING:

How to go RACING – 4 Popular paths to earning a competition racing license.

Which Miata should you be looking for and where can you race it?

Which year Spec Miata is the BEST? NA6, NA8, NB1, NB2?

(Coming Soon: What are the differences between NASA and SCCA Spec Miata, SSM, SMT, etc.)

What to do once you have the car: 

Basic Spec Miata prep and maintenance guide

How to build your own alignment rig to avoid constant trips to the shop:

11 Essential parts for doing Race Car ALIGNMENTS in YOUR Garage, for just a few bucks: Without any expensive, specialty tools

What to include in your spares pile:

The Ultimate Must-Have Spares List for Spec Miata – 33 things I make sure to pack (and a few that I don’t)

Tires are one of the biggest expenses in racing – Guide to buying used scrubs:

5 most important things to check when Buying used Race Tires – Your guide to buying Scrubs.

Is buying a Tire Machine worth it? (Yes, it can be!)

Swapping tires on a budget? A tire machine can Quickly pay for itself : Important tips and info when shopping for your own

Picking Safety Gear: Step 1 – picking the right fire system:
A Budget Racer’s Fire System Shopping Guide – How to minimize expensive maintenance and avoid being surprised at Tech Inspection this year
Outfit yourself:

The Budget Safety Gear YOU need for Track Days and Racing: Post 31

Building realistic Expectations for “Sponsors”:

Racing Sponsors. How it REALLY works, what it really is, and how to get it.

Racing Prize Money: How to win Real Money (or at least parts) with Contingency prizes

Recording and sharing video is important, here’s some resources for that:

4 Reasons to use your cell phone to record track video, and how to overcome any minor issues.

(Coming soon: WE’LL DO IT LIVE! – Live video is easier than you think, and a great way to share what we do )

Getting Mic’d up – Racing is more fun when you can smacktalk friends (Among other benefits)

6 Reasons why race radios are worth the money

How to build a Budget friendly race radio setup – 3 Essential pieces to get going for WAY less than you think

Want to look the part? Need gifts for a racer?

Spec Miata and other Track Day shirts – For Enthusiasts, by Enthusiasts – The NMM Store

Want to get some practice in the off-season without blowing the race budget?

The CHEAPEST Racing Simulator (Gaming) setup: What you need and how much you need to spend

Missing Something? Have another question not answered here? Drop it in the form below: