You already have a car with a rollcage and you finally got your competition license. The only problem now is you’re totally broke from installing the rollcage and paying to go to driving school. With limited funds, how are you going to race? Simple, split the operating costs with a few friends and go endurance racing. With endurance racing, you and your friends will each get more than enough seat time and you can all share the
burden fun of working on the car and paying for tires.
I’m not going to blow smoke up your anus here. Racing is expensive, and endurance racing is hours and hours of expensive racing which means fuel, brake pads, rotors and tires will be destroyed in abundance. But I’ve found that the best way to keep the costs reasonable is to spread it out amongst a team effort. In a previous Racer Boy we covered how much it costs to set up a car for racing in NASA’s Performance Touring Series, in this article we will concentrate on the endurance racing side. Performance Touring cars (PTA, PTB, PTC, PTD, PTE, PTF) fall right into NASA’s endurance classing (ESR, ES, EO, E1, E2, E3).
The major cost of racing is the ante (the initial investment of the car, safety equipment, etc.). But once all of that is sitting in your garage (keeping your wife’s car outside in the driveway) the race-to-race operating costs aren’t that bad. As long as you don’t stuff the front of your car into the back of another (resulting in some major repair costs), all you have to do to keep the car on the track is replace renewable items (tires and brakes). A harder compound tire (Toyo versus a Hoosier) won’t be as fast but it will last longer and Carbotech makes an endurance racing brake pad that lasts three times as long as their other pads. Using equipment that has longer life span and splitting those costs up between two or three drivers really makes things manageable.
The National Auto Sport Association (NASA) runs the longest closed course endurance road race in the world, The 25 Hours of Thunderhill, which makes them the endurance experts. ChumpCar and The 24 Hours of LeMons are other sanctioning bodies that provide inexpensive forms of endurance racing (and have been covered in previous Racer Boy columns). For this column we will focus on “the show” and that is racing alongside the pros with NASA, who orchestrate the Western Endurance Racing Championship (WERC).
Racing with NASA is fast paced. The multi-class racing makes every lap exciting because you have faster cars always passing slower cars. There is no breathing room, there is no cruising for a few laps and getting your focus back, your focus has to be 100% for the entire race. Inevitably someone is always in your mirror or you are overtaking another car. One small mistake and you are sitting in the paddock wondering why your radiator and windshield are in the same place. And if that kind of non-stop action doesn’t do it for you, eventually the sun sets and you have to race at night. Night racing can be summed up with one word: scary.
At night you can’t see the track for squat. And everyone’s headlights and auxiliary lights are so bright that you can’t tell if the car behind you is right on your bumper (about to pass you) or if it is seven car lengths back (so you should run your line through the next corner). Simply put, it’s harrowing.
Cars occasionally die in road racing. Cars certainly up their risk level in endurance racing. The amount of traffic, rain, night racing, multiple drivers (multiple skill levels) all increase the chance that your racecar may come back from a race as scrap metal. The trick to keeping your car alive is to understand that endurance racing is all about enduring. Let the other guys run way too hard and stuff their car into a tire wall. You play it safe, save the equipment and at the end of the race you may still have a car to run, and hopefully a new trophy to sit on a shelf and collect dust.
Call all of your friends. I mean all of them. Even that guy Bruce that you had nap time with in kindergarten. Endurance racing is a team effort and it takes an entire team to be successful. You need friends to fuel the car, to spot on the radio, to keep track of mileage, to change tires, and to make sandwiches. It’s always smart to have a girl in the pits who is good at massages to loosen you up when you climb out of the car after a triple stint behind the wheel (Well, I say it’s smart if you’re single, if you’re married and you found your ex-girlfriend on Facebook and had her come out to the track to give you a massage, you can kiss the race team goodbye when your wife makes you sell the car in the divorce).
The biggest difference between sprint racing and endurance racing is pit stops. There are tons of rules when it comes to fueling cars and changing tires (you can’t do them at the same time in most classes). If you want to be successful you need to become an expert on all of the rules (NASA Endurance Racing Rules are here). While learning those rules you’ll realize that you have to outfit your crew (you know, Bruce, from nap time) with the proper equipment. NASA won’t let Bruce stand in a pair of flip flops and shorts with a cigarette in his mouth while he fuels your racecar. He has to be completely covered in Nomex with a helmet (equal safety equipment as the driver). You can get all the crew gear you need pretty cheap at I/O Port Racing Supplies.
The length of the race will orchestrate how many driver swaps and fuel stops you need to make. Any time wasted in the pits trying to get your seatbelts on is time lost out on the track where you could be making a pass for position. We lost a three hour race this year by 15 seconds (I still lie in bed at night thinking about that damn 15 seconds).
We raced the entire season of the Western Endurance Racing Championship this year with NASA. Teams in the first race, who were complete strangers to us, we are now on a first name basis with and consider to be close friends (Team Jagermeister, did you get my Christmas card?). The endurance racing community is a close knit group who have battled and shared a lot. I remember climbing out of the racecar after an epic night battle with a guy in a Miata. The best part of the event was having a beer with the dude after the race and talking about our sparring, turn-by-turn, all of the crap we pulled on each other (he tried a late inside move on me and we touched, I got him back on the straight and then put two wheels off on purpose to kick dirt up in front of him on the track, which will blind a driver at night –its all in fun). The endurance racing folks go above and beyond to help one another out in the pits with tools, parts or advice. Once the green flag drops, those friendships are over. When the checker falls, we are all friends again. It’s a great time.
Winning an endurance race is awesome because you get to share it with your friends. Trust me, you didn’t with the race. Your team won the race by everyone working together. The races are so long and hard, and there are so many competitors going for it, that there is an incredible amount of satisfaction that comes from actually winning an event. And racing hard all year long and actually managing to win a championship; that is awesome.
OH, YOU WANT TO WIN, DO YA?
The first thing to know about endurance racing is you need to be able to see to go fast. We made the mistake of going cheap on lights one time and it cost us a win. We will never make that mistake again. The bigger and brighter the lights, the better. However, big lights cause big strain on an electrical system and you may find yourself in the pits changing an alternator in the middle of the race if you’ve not invested in the best car alternators. You have to find the right balance of lights and longevity in order to be successful.
If you just want to win one race then I’ll tell you to go for broke and go like hell. If you want to win a championship then you need to think about the big picture all year long and grab every point that you can earn. You may find yourself taking a conservative strategy that only results in a second place finish for one race, but if you can do that over and over again all year long, odds are you will be the one with the championship trophy. Running an entire season is a real commitment, not only for you and your car partners but your friend Bruce too. Travel, fuel, food, all of those costs have to be considered when going after a championship. You have to make every event. In the 2010 NASA Western Endurance Racing Championship there were no drops. Every race counted, and the finale at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill was a double points race.
So with all of that on the line, you need to keep your friends happy. Standing at the pit wall and screaming at them because they forgot to check the torque on the lugs will probably guarantee that they won’t come back to the next event. That means you will be torquing your own lug nuts. Be a nice guy, and you will have a nice crew. Be an asshat and you will be jumping out of the car and fueling it yourself –that’s no way to have a fast pit stop! And it is definitely not the road toward a championship.
RACER BOY GAUGE
Let’s review the Racer Boy gauge cluster here:
FUEL (Cost): The fuel gauge is less than a quarter tank because lets face it you are going to burn a lot of fuel in a 3, 6 or 25 hour race. This is expensive racing but sharing the costs as you share the driving duties will help keep things so you will at least have enough cash after the race to hit the dollar menu at Taco Bell.
RPMs (Adrenaline): The tachometer is at 6,800 RPMs because this is awesome door-to-door racing. Mix in a little darkness for night racing and it can give you a heart attack.
MPH (Danger): The speedometer is at 123 miles per hour because you will probably be going that fast. And if you aren’t, someone in a faster class will be, and they will be passing you while you’re only going 112. That makes things still 123 miles per hour dangerous for both of you.
VOLTS (Time): The volts gauge is less than a quarter full because this sort of racing takes an enormous amount of time. A lot of that time is spent tracking down your friends on Facebook to see if they want to drive six hours to put gas in your car. Bruce? Where are you? Napping again?
MILEAGE (Car Wear): The mileage is at 150,000 miles because this racing is very hard on cars. Endurance racing breaks stuff on cars you didn’t even know existed. Welds will break, bolts you never saw before will loosen over time. We should all feel very sorry for any car that lives its life at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill.
Road racing with NASA has been some of the best racing action I have ever experienced. Adding the endurance aspect to it and doing it side-by-side with my friends made it even better. During the 25 Hours of Thunderhill we ran alongside World Challenge Champions Peter Cunningham and Lawson Aschenbach, driving a Honda factory effort. It was awesome to get the chance to rub fenders with these accomplished drivers. If you have the chance, grab your buds and find the longest race you can. Find out if you can endure. See you at Thunderhill!