Racer's trilemma

I have a serious choice to make, and am not sure what to do. Each has its pluses and minuses, and I thought writing this up will help me make up my mind. So here's the deal.

I want to get into wheel-to-wheel racing and do track events and hill climbs. This requires a real race car, with six-point harnesses, a roll cage, and other things that my current car does not have.

Now to my choices.

Modify the s2000.
Plus sides: I know the car, it is reliable, and we have a good thing going. I trust it, and it should start behaving well again once the suspension is finally fixed. Modifying it would cost some money, but that would be it. Pay for the mods, and start racing.

Minus sides: I really like this car and would be hesitant to drive it at 10/10ths on track for fear of damaging it. Also, I really am not too happy about the idea of cutting up the interior of the car to install the safety upgrades. An additional problem is the fact that it is my only car, and race cars tend to spend more time in shops than your average street cars. Any time I would be getting something done to it, I would not have a car to drive. To help with that, I can buy a motorcycle. So the money quickly is adding up and the whole deal is not looking all this cheap anymore.

I estimate the cost of this option at about $8-10 thousand dollars. Plus the cost of wear items such as brake rotors and pads and tires would run me about 500 for every racing weekend.

My second option is to buy a race-ready Miata.
Pluses: Miatas are cheap to race and to maintain. Cheap to insure, and I am familiar with them, so doing my own work would be easy for the most part. If I bought a Spec Miata or an SSM one, with a supercharger, the car of my choice would come with a hitch and a trailer, some extra wheels and tires, as well as extra parts. It would not require any additional mods, and I could get to the fun (racing) part of the whole deal right away. Because it would be a cheap to fix track rat of a car, I will be more likely to drive it hard at the events and not worry about breaking something or damaging the finish. (Finish? What finish? You mean the peeling paint?)

Minuses are that I will need a place to store the car and its trailer and many extra parts. Then there's the familiarity breeding contempt factor involved. A Miata would be a bit of a step back for me, and less exciting than getting a car I have never driven before, or improving on the S2000.

I can probably get a race-ready car for 7-10 thousand, and the wear parts would cost me 150-250 for a racing weekend.

And finally, my third option is to get a Lotus Exige and slap a Katana supercharger on it (or find one that already has it). This option has the benefit of the Lotus being a definite step up from the S2k in all the ways that matter for racing: handling, weight, agility. These cars do not require much modification to be taken to track and are also a joy to look at.

The minuses of this option are the cost of an Exige ($25-30k used), and the cost of any repairs and/or body damage. Which would again result in hesitation on track and me not pushing the car hard enough.

On the plus side, it would be a Lotus! And I have wanted one for a while, with a brief intermission to lust after the R8, which I seem to have overcome.

The operating cost would be higher than that of the S2000 and the Miata combined, but I am not in the business of racing for saving money. If my objective was to save money, I would not race at all.

Every day I seem to lean one way, then the other, than the third way again, and I am tired of this indecision!

So there you go, here's my trilemma, and I want your opinions on which way to go.


  1. Have you considered a 996 ? I just saw one for 11K (minor damage front back but does not have clean paperwork)

  2. I definitely would like a car that would be cheap (and easy) to maintain. Miatas are unbeatable in that department. Maybe a Civic CRX would be cheaper and easier to deal with, but it's a FWD, so out of the question for me :)

  3. Alex -

    Boy does this post of yours ever hit home. Last year about this time I had been tracking my 2005 Evolution for several events and enjoying the heck out of it. My instructors would continually move me up in the groups of drivers and it would always be an enjoyable challenge. I found myself in the most advanced groups and really getting the most out of my car. Then it happened. I lost it in turn 17 at VIR and my beauty hit the tirewall. If you look through my blog you can find the pictures and video.

    I had to realise that as I move up in groups I would push myself more. Not that I didn't enjoy it, but always closer to the edge until I passed it.

    I was reminded by others that it is not going to be a matter of "if" but "when".

    So I too am trying to see what kind of track only car I should get. I am looking for many of the same qualities you have mentioned. Cheap to maintain and plenty of fun. It is hard to beat the Miata for that. It would also be a whole different driving style from the higher hp AWD Evo.

    I would also have to look for a trailer and then a tow vehicle.

    Working at Performance Chassis I see a lot of track cars and spend countless hours helping the owners prepare them. I am reminded how much it takes to keep a car track worthy.

    I guess I don't have any answers for you Alex. I am still working on finding my own answer, but I certainly understand what you are going through.


  4. When in doubt, in matters of the heart and pocketbook, choose the most expensive option ... your heart *knows* what you really want, if you'll only let your brain get out of the way! :)

  5. @Brock: Heh, in racing, there really is no such thing as a "cheap option"--there are only gradations of outrageously expensive... But I actually miss having a Miata, plus I really need a throwaway kinda car to learn to race on track, so Miata it is going to be.