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The Costs of Racing

Ah, yes, the costs. Just how much does it cost to get out on a track and play? Hobby level racing can cost as little or as much as you want it to, but be warned--in the end you'll spend far more than you initially planned to.

You'll attend more events, you'll make more modifications to your car, you'll buy more specialty tools. You'll also spend a lot more time on it than you ever expected. Once you're hooked, it's awefully hard to stay disciplined about controlling your expenses. With that warning covered, let's look at some typical expenses.

  • Event fees -- most locally organized events include enough entrants to make the cost between $150 to $200 per day per person to cover the track rental, flag teams, safety crews, etc. Cost can vary a lot by the facility and the expected turnout.
  • Track entrance -- the track itself will still charge you $10-$20 to get in for the weekend.
  • Hotel & Food -- its up to you here. Many tracks allow camping at the track, and most have low cost motels close by too.
  • Wear on the vehicle -- we'll cover this below.
  • Gas -- on the track, your car will probably get half the mileage it does on the street. In a two-day weekend, you'll probably get 200 miles of track time. These days, standard pump gas is costly enough, but if you're going to buy high octane racing fuel at a few dollars per gallon more per gallon than pump gas, this can really add up.

What about wear on the car? Once you start racing your car, there will be some extra maintenance, but today's cars hold up very well. They aren't designed to extract the limit of their materials and components like a race car is, so even with some road course duty, the car is not going to start falling apart. Most cars see several years of hobbist racing without serious mechanical failures. However some parts do wear much faster due to racing. Typical parts that will likely need frequent replacement once you start racing your car are listed below.

  • Brake pads -- $100 to $300 depending on your car. Three or four hours of racing on a weekend can do to your brake pads what would take a year on the street. For many cars that is not an exaggeration. You'll need to have spare pads handy (or more likely, you should install new ones before the event. Always keep the old ones as emergency spares).
  • Brake rotors -- $200 to $400 depending on your car. Depending on the tracks you drive at, but especially if they're high speed and have several hard braking zones, after 2-4 events, you may need new front rotors. The front brakes take the brunt of the workload and can wear quickly in many street stock cars, but the rear brakes will last a long time, even with the racing.
  • Tires -- $500 to $800. Even "soft" street tires are pretty tough, and racing is not going to destroy them, but after several hard events you'll likely round off the outer edges. If your tire pressure experiments went awry, they may be even more worn. You can expect street tires to be worn out in 8-12 months if you're racing every month or two. Any of the soft, R-compound, DOT-approved "race" tires will only last a few events at best. Some of the harder "R-compound race/street tires will last a little longer.
  • Oil -- with extra duty on the engine, you should change your oil more frequently. A fresh oil and filter change before each event is a very good idea. Don't race on 3,000 mile old oil. You should also seriously consider using a high-grade synthetic. It'll take the abuse better and help your engine last longer.

Longer term wear items will need servicing sooner too. If you go out as often as 6 or more times a year, you can expect certain regular maintenance items to need to be serviced sooner. For example,with higher frequency of shifting at higher loads, you can expect your clucth to wear out faster, and the assist hydraulics to need rebuilding more often too. So pay attention to those things earlier in the car's life than your factory guidelines indicate.

Adding these factors up shows that a budget-minded racer can attend a one-day event with a total cost of $200-$300 if the track is within a couple hours drive, and is easy on your brakes.

The more liberal spender can attend a full two-day hot lapping or time trial event at a big track that wears out brakes and race tires, and spend from $600 to $1200 (ammortizing the cost of the brakes the tires over a few events). The higher performance the car the more it is likely to cost as you'll be pushing your components closer to their limits.

Most car clubs will organize about 6 events a year. This is often enough to keep active, yet fit into members' busy schedules. It also helps keep the total annual costs down. Amateur racing, such as with the SCCA, will have as many as 12-15 events a year for a given event class. This is for a more serious group of racers (and more financially capable) who will typically be competing for points.

Even as a hobby, racing isn't cheap, but it can be affordable for many people. Attending a few one-day events can provide some great fun throughout the year for about a thousand dollars. The more serious hobbyist is going to spend at least a few thousand dollars a year. It's not for the tightly budgeted, but it beats the multi-millions needed to run professional series cars.

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Budget Racer's Typical Costs for a Single Day Event

Club event fees $160.00
Track fees $ 20.00
Oil change (synthetic) $ 50.00
Street Brake Pads $ 75.00
Gas $ 80.00
TOTAL: $ 385.00

Moderate Racer's Typical Costs for a 2-Day Weekend

Club event fees $300.00
Track fees $ 20.00
Oil change (synthetic) $ 50.00
Racing Brake Pads $ 200.00
Hotel/Food 2 nights $ 200.00
Gas $ 120.00
Rotors* $ 60.00
Race Tires* $ 200.00
TOTAL: $ 1150.00

* Assumes spliiting the costs across 4 events.

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