There is that car down the street that has been sitting stagnant in that guy’s front yard for way too long. The left rear tire is flat, but other than that, the car appears to be in pretty good shape. Your buddy from high school, the one who got a C in metal shop, says if you buy the car he’ll weld a cage in it. You go down to talk to the guy to see what he wants for the car. His wife answers the door and says if you get “that piece of crap” out of their yard it’s yours to keep. You just scored a car for free, but because she couldn’t find the paperwork, you can’t register it for the street. Now what? Well, the ChumpCar World Series, the endurance racing series for $500 cars, is coming to a track near your town. Grab your Costco sockets and get to work. You’re about to become a racecar driver!
Even though the car was a freebie, you’re still going to spend a few bones earning your ChumpCar achievement patch. The car has to have all of the required safety equipment (read the rules here). And, of course, your ass has to be wrapped in the proper safety gear too. Keeping yourself alive while racing isn’t a cheap thing to do. For you folks who don’t already have all of this fancy gear and need the whole lot, I/O Port Racing Supplies has put together an unreal driver package deal using Bell racing products.
Once the car is outfitted with safety gear and you’ve got yourself looking like Michael Schumacher in your new red driving suit, you still need to fork over the ChumpCar entry fee of $500 for the car, plus $100 per driver (four drivers minimum, six drivers maximum). Each driver is required to have a ChumpCar license ($50 each, for the year) and rookies need to go to “Playschool My First Car Race” class ($25 each). That’s right, this stuff is sort of adding up. Don’t forget you’re going to need to put gas in that tank for 24 hours straight –advancing the timing for that 110 octane race gas at $7.50 a gallon is really starting to look like a dumbass idea now.
This is cheap racing, but racing ain’t cheap no matter how you slice it. My advice, get a student loan and go have some fun.
The ChumpCar World Series is run by John Condren, who owned Altamont Motorsports Park (where the first few 24 Hours of LeMons races were held). Altamont was a paved oval “circle track” with an option to run a road course through the infield (think Daytona, only smaller and without the Florida humidity). Circle track racers have been doing low buck “claimer” racing for years. For banger classes, “Hornets” classes, or street stock classes, were all the same thing: cheap cars, limited modifications, lots of racing. To keep competition equal if a car was suspected of being a little too fast, the competitors could buy it for $500, minus some safety gear. ChumpCar is the road racing version of this same concept.
Blasting down a straight away, rowing through the gears, side by side with another racecar, with the exhaust piercing your ears as you try to out brake the other guy as you both head into a tight corner is quintessentially epic. This is the ultimate high in motorsports, head to head, door to door action. And all of this can be yours for a fraction of the price it would cost to road race with the SCCA or NASA. If you try it, I guarantee you’ll love it.
The ChumpCar series doesn’t have the huge entry count that other similar series have which means the track is wide open, resulting in faster lap times and more aggressive racing. If you put two wheels off at ChumpCar you will not earn a black flag. You get to race hard. The $500 question is: Can your $500 car go the distance while being flogged around the track at Mach 2 for fourteen hours? Eh, probably not.
You won’t be borrowing your mom’s car and sneaking off to compete in ChumpCar. This series is for dedicated $500 racecars. As previously mentioned you’ll need a roll-cage, window net, 5-point harness, cut-off switch, the works. To keep things easy for guys building a car from the ground up I/O Port Racing Supplies has a car package deal, where you can get all the parts you need to convert your hooptie into a race prepared track machine while saving a few bucks.
When it comes to car wear, remember this is wheel to wheel racing, so on track damage is possible (some could argue, probable). Obviously after 14-24 hours of racing, you’ll need a new set of brake pads, rotors and tires (and maybe some new fenders, and worse case scenario a new car). One of the things to keep in mind when running ChumpCar is that this is claimer racing. If the ChumpCar staff things your $500 car is more like a $5,500 car, they may hand you $1,500 in cash and keep your ride ($500 car + $1,000 worth of safety gear). Don’t worry, they’ll let you take out your pricey racing seat, but you will be leaving the roll-cage. After the car is claimed by ChumpCar it will go on auction for all of the teams you just beat in the race to bid on. They would love to get their hands on your “stock,” “we found in the car in a field” 300 horsepower motor.
ChumpCar runs two separate race formats. One is a 24 race, the other is two separate 7 hour enduros. For the seven hour enduro weekend you will need to arrive Friday night and go through tech inspection, car value inspection and theme/engineering inspection. The first is just to make sure your car is safe. They want to make sure when they hit the kill switch on your car it actually turns off the motor, not just the cool light you put on the dashboard. The second inspection is to ensure your car is worth $500. A car valued at more than that will earn penalty laps. Cars that have a good theme or backwoods race engineering can earn bonus laps. ChumpCar donates a lot to different charities and if you bring $100 worth of canned food or make a cash donation to a particular charity you can buy up to a maximum of 5 bonus laps (which isn’t a bad idea if you brought a questionable $500 BMW and you are trying to offset some ugly penalty laps). There is no bribing at ChumpCar. They want the car value inspections to be cut and dry. Bring a $500 car and they will stay off your case, bring a $5,000 car and there are going to climb in your butt.
One of the things ChumpCar looks at specifically is the money spent on brake components. They have a 2X rule which means you can use any brake components you want as long as they are not worth more than two times the stock component (you may want to bring some documentation on this to plead your case, “I swear my Brembo’s only cost me $150 per caliper.”)
For the seven hour enduro race weekend, Saturday will have a race completely separate from Sunday’s event. The cool part about this format is if you lunch a motor early on Saturday, your weekend isn’t completely shot, and you still have a chance for glory. You’ll have all day (and night) to fix the car and have an equal shot at Sunday’s race. The awards ceremony for both events is held after Sunday’s checker.
For the true 24 hour format, inspection and registration is Saturday morning with an 11 o’clock green flag. Here is something important to remember, lights! As the sun sets you’ll realize pulling out the right front headlamp to get that extra rush of air to your Ebay, Chinese made, cold air intake was a bad idea.
With either format of race you attend at ChumpCar the racing is full bore. And the tracks they are scheduled to run are second to none, Willow Springs, Infineon, Sebring, VIR, Rockingham, you name it, their top notch and they are all over the ole U.S. of A.
With this type of racing on these types of courses, even if you aren’t leading the race or vying for the top spot, you are still having a blast. You are getting hours and hours of driving time which is tough to find in other sanctioning bodies. With the NHRA you might get about one single minute worth of track time (ironically the faster your car, the less track time you see). At ChumpCar you might see six hours of seat time, and that’s sharing the car with your friends.
ChumpCar competitors are predominantly racers. These are guys (and gals) who want to be racing every single minute of their lives. Remember Steve McQueen’s famous line from the movie LeMans, “Life is racing, everything else is just waiting”? Well, with ChumpCar, there is no waiting, just racing. This series gives people a place to race hard while not spending hard. ChumpCar events have brought in drivers from all different sorts of motorsport disciplines from road racers to circle track drivers (who know how to make a piece of crap fast) and obviously 24 Hours of LeMons racing teams looking for more events to race their already established $500 cars. You will also find people who have never been in a race (unless you count the occasional stop light to stop light blitz). These folks are easy to spot as they are the ones inevitably facing the wrong way on the track. The good news for these types is ChumpCar has their rookie school for newbies to attend and learn important things like what the blue flag with the yellow stripe means (in case, you’re not in the know, it means move over, I’m passing you!).
When it comes to glory, ChumpCar is good to its competitors. They hand out cool custom built welded trophies to the top three competitors, so a podium finish does actually mean something. Money is also handed out to the top three finishers. For a single 7 hour race, $1,000 to the winner, $350 to second place and $250 for third (most weekends hold two 7 hour events with separate winners and prizes –if you win both days, you get an additional $500 bonus totaling $2,500, not too shabby for a $500 car race). For a true 24 hour race the winner gets $2,000 large, $750 for second and $500 for third. Trust me, this is a lot more money than you will ever see autocrossing with the SCCA. There are also awards for best of show and best use of engineering which are worth $250 a piece. Are you going to be on the cover of AutoWeek after winning ChumpCar? No. But you might get your very own post on Jalopnik which some people would argue is actually cooler.
OH, YOU WANT TO WIN, DO YA?
To win this series you need to have a couple of things on your side, the first one being some racing luck. Anyone competing in an endurance race with a $500 car should consider themselves lucky if the car just finishes the race. The next thing your team needs is consistency. Can your team run hard and fast for 14 to 24 long hours? Maybe you can set the fastest lap time during hour one, then spend two hours in the pits replacing your front rotors. Believe me, this is not the way to win a long race. If you want to see that checkered fly over the top of your windshield (if your car even has one) you need to race cautiously. Fast, but not too fast. Careful, but not too careful. You need to find that sweet pace where you are making laps but keeping the car underneath you. Sounds easy? Not even. Once that green flag drops and the sound of that motor hitting 6,000 rpms blasts your ears, that last thing you’re thinking about is taking it easy.
RACER BOY GAUGE
Let’s review the Racer Boy gauge cluster here:
FUEL (Cost): The fuel gauge is below a quarter tank because after building the car, buying all the safety gear and paying all of the fees you said to yourself, “Autocrossing only costs me 25 bucks!”
RPMs (Adrenaline): The tachometer is at 6,700 RPMs because ChumpCar races are fast paced with lost of open track ahead of you. You will be screaming around the track and making insane passes while yelling in your helmet, “YEEEHAAAW!”
MPH (Danger): The speedometer is around 95 mph because you are racing wheel to wheel while operating a car worth less than the cost of a new bicycle, while surrounded by likewise crappy cars, each waiting do drop a wheel and pirouette over your roof at any given moment.
VOLTS (Time): The volts gauge is below a quarter because you spent more time than you thought you would adding two thousand dollars worth of safety equipment to a $500 car.
MILEAGE (Car Wear): The mileage is at 600,000 miles because racing any car for 24 hours is about the hardest thing you can do to a vehicle. Racing a $500 car for 24 hours is about the dumbest thing you can do with a vehicle (and consequently super fun).
ChumpCar is a series to check out if you want real endurance racing experience at a fraction of the price. For a thousand obvious reasons, there will always be the comparison to the 24 Hours of LeMons. After racing in both series, I would say that the focus of ChumpCar is “inexpensive competition” where as LeMons has a flavor more in tune with “glue a toilet seat to the roof of your car and endure multiple full course yellow parade laps.” If wearing women’s stockings and gluing foam decorations to your car is your party (and it’s a good party), then LeMons is your home. If you want to just race hard as long as possible for as cheap as possible (and not have Judges Jonny Lieberman or Phil “Murilee” Greden screaming in your face), then ChumpCar may be what you’re looking for. See you at the track.