Investing in Racing

January 18, 2011 at 11:00 AM

By Jason Gwin
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I began racing ten years ago, and there’s no question some things have changed in the sport to which we dedicate so much time and effort. Western New York has many racing opportunities to offer the driver and fan alike. Sometimes in order to keep your foot on the gas (keeping racing), it’s best to slow down and reassess things in order to make the most of the opportunities that come along.I raced a super stock for seven years. I loved the class but several issues developed which led me to look for alternatives. After careful record keeping, I found that I was spending a lot of money just to get to the track.

I had a modest engine program that cost $3,000 a year. I can’t comment on the average engine cost because I simply don’t know, but I’ve heard of people spending far more. Where I raced, drivers were forced to buy 3 gallons of race fuel whether or not the engines really needed race fuel. It always seemed like an additional expense.

Like most asphalt racing, tires contributed hugely to the cost factor. For years the super stocks ran the Hoosier Comanche, which was a good tire because it lasted for two or maybe three weeks. The last year the supers ran full time, I ran a Goodyear tire, similar to what LAMOT runs now. This tire was great and lasted MANY weeks with very little drop off in speed (like the LAMOT tire). The problem was that not every track ran the Goodyear, so it was hard to persuade teams from nearby tracks to come out.

The draw of the super stock class for me was that parts were cheap. In the mid 1990’s, you could drive anywhere and find a Monte Carlo or Cutlass for sale for $300. Now you’re lucky to find one for sale. Catalog aftermarket parts were slowly replacing the stock parts that were supposed to be readily available. Also, the rules at many nearby tracks were starting to get out of hand in terms of what they were allowing.

Lastly, was the dreaded topic of the payout. I hate using payout as an excuse or reason for leaving a class, but as a self-funded team the payout lower divisions received for taking the green just didn’t sit well. Racing is a hobby for me and this small return on my participation and investment was sometimes hard to stomach.

I am in no way trying to put down the super stock class. I love it, and I commend anyone taking the effort to keep a class alive. The reality for me was that I wanted to race every week, or at least on a consistent basis. I wanted to feel like the track cared that I showed up. Mostly, I wanted to have fun racing again.

I’ve always been a fan of full bodied racecars and the racing the late models put on, so when my track at the time dropped the super stocks, I saw it as a now or never opportunity to move to an upper level division. When I first started assembling this completely new type of racecar, I was on the fence as to where to run. My choices were Holland (in LAMOT) or Lancaster (currently DTRP). A number of factors led me to the LAMOT division at Holland. Cost and race schedule being the biggest.

I initially did a cost comparison between the super stock I was running and the LAMOT car. This was based solely on weekly expenses and the assumption that nothing had broken the previous week. I considered a 12-week schedule. The super stock would consume 12 tires a year at an average cost of $115 per tire. After adding up all the costs, the super stock was $190/week, and the LAMOT car (if the claims were true) would be $150/week. This also took into account the additional 30 miles it took me to get to Holland.

The breakdown below includes big-ticket items. Engine oil changes, plugs and things like that are going to be part of any race car, so I didn’t feel the need to nickel and dime the comparison.

Regular Fuel Cost (Hauler) $3.00
Miles Per Gallon (MPG) 8
Cost per Mile $0.38

 

  Super Stock LAMOT
Number of Races 12 12
Race Entry Fee $25.00 $25.00
Yearly Entry Fee $300.00 $300.00
     
Distance (Miles) 30 60
Cost $13.13 $26.25
     
Race Fuel Price $6.50 0*
Number of Gallons 3  
Regular Fuel Price $3.50 $3.50
Number of Gallons 5 8
Weekly Race Fuel Cost $37.00 $28.00
Total Fuel Cost $50.13 $54.25
Yearly Fuel Cost $601.50 $651.00
     
Number of Tires per Season 12 8
Price per Tire $115.00 $105.00
Yearly Tire Cost $1,380.00 $840.00
     
Total Yearly (Fuel + Tire) Cost $2,281.50 $1,791.00
     
Cost Per Race $190.13 $149.25

*LAMOT uses 93 Octane Pump Fuel

These are my (actual) costs and figures for the super stock, so everyone else’s numbers will be different.

This does not include the motor. As I stated earlier I was spending $3,000 per year on motors. After my third year in LAMOT I am still on the original motor which cost $3,400. The only maintenance item costs have been valve springs, therefore my yearly motor cost has been $1,147.

The final thing to note is my net cost. The minimum payout in LAMOT is $125 to take the green flag. So when I factor that in, my weekly cost is $25/week compared to a lower payout in a lower division which resulted in a cost of $150/week.

After my third year running late models, I can say that the above numbers are legitimate based on my experience. I found that I only needed 8 tires a year. The savings on running pump gas rather than race fuel was a big help, and the motor cost (or lack there of) was a welcome surprise as well.

The initial investment for a late model was much higher as I expected, but I was prepared for that when I decided to move up. The other obvious argument regarding the increase in cost is that all of the parts are catalog items, meaning cheap parts can’t be found in scrap yards. However, with a little bit of research, design, and fabrication, many of these parts can be made. I can buy a box of hem joints and tubing for a lot less than some tie-rods and bushings.

The LAMOT division fits my situation, and from a yearly cost standpoint it has allowed me to race on weekly basis, have fun, and most importantly not go broke. Much to my surprise, the cost savings that were advertised about this division are actually true.

Moving up to a late model has been a learning experience. The amount of adjustments on these cars is a lot to keep track of compared to the super stock. However, that’s also what makes it interesting. Small changes in front-end geometry have quite an impact on performance. Having someone with a solid understanding of how these things work is an important consideration if just starting out. The basics of what makes a car turn still apply. There’s a lot more knobs to adjust to make it do what you want. I started out with an unknown car, which made finding a starting point difficult. There are a lot of good cars and equipment for sale these days and for someone just starting out I’d recommend purchasing something that has data and “known to be good” setups. The back-end of these cars has been a bit of a struggle. Again everything is adjustable, and small changes yield big results (not necessarily GOOD results).

Prior to racing with LAMOT at Holland I’d only raced at one other race track in my career, so setting foot at a new facility was a bit of a learning curve as well. At first, I didn’t care for it. The track was shorter, thus making it seem like there wasn’t much room. But it has grown on me, and I’ve come to enjoy racing there every week. The facility as a whole is well kept. I think every track is going to have issues, but with tracks closing all over the U.S., I’m glad there’s still a place in WNY that runs late models weekly.

My last comment is to make is that money always plays a big role in the success of a race team, but it’s NOT the biggest factor in my opinion. Research, hard work, experience and learning how the car works, will make one faster than any amount of money ever will. The idea that just bolting cost saving parts on a car will make you competitive is a fallacy. It takes a great deal of understanding about these cars to make you fast. I’ve enjoyed what I have learned so far, and recognize I still have a long way to go. I’m having fun racing a late model and it is not a financial burden, as long as those hold true I'll continue to be happy with my investment.

Note: Jason Gwin has competed in all but one race since he and the LAMOT division came to Holland in 2008.