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    Default Seeking track-car advice

    Hi all. I've been lurking here a while and feel like this is a good place to seek some advice on my approach to a car for HPDE. I know the most common advice is to go out in a generally unprepared car with a few things like upgraded brake fluid and pads. That is not going to be my approach going forward and I'd like to explain why. (I apologize for the length, but I suppose this is a combo intro and request for advice. If it's too long, skip down.)

    A few years ago, my mom gave me her NSX, which she had driven since it was new in '97. I tracked it in 2013 with the NSX Club, and had a great time. After that, I felt like I wanted to focus on safety more, so installed a harness bar and six-point belts, and bought a HANS device. I know that some people find harnesses abhorrent without a roll bar, but I made the choice after considering the relative risks. Thus I entered 2014 with gusto. After Summit Point Main with the Audi Club and VIR with the BMW Club, I went to Summit Point Shenandoah with TrackDaze. By this point I had done a couple of laps solo, but still appreciated having an instructor in the car. I was running in the intermediate group and getting good feedback on my driving, while knowing I had plenty to learn.

    At Shenandoah, with my instructor in the car, I dropped two wheels off the right on trackout of the fastest corner, known as Big Bend. It had rained heavily before this and the grass was wet. It was the last session of the day and I did not realize (nor apparently did my instructor) that I was out of track until it was too late. I remember thinking that I absolutely did not want to steer back onto the track but I don't think I ever even got the wheel straightened out. The back straight is bordered by concrete barriers, and I slid across the track after having rotated about 150-160 degrees, so traveling largely backwards, and hit the left-side barrier with the front-right corner. That impact was not hard, but pinwheeled the car into a large impact with the back-right corner. It tore the suspension apart, drove the axle into the suspension, separated the suspension from the engine, and tweaked the frame. The car was a total loss (it didn't seem worth the $4k buyback), though my street insurance covered it. I posted a picture in this thread on NSX Prime. I was completely unharmed; my instructor had a sore neck, but was fine after a few days. Emotionally, it has left a mark on me and I frequently relive those critical seconds. If only...

    I replaced it with another NSX, as I'm a bit of an NSX fanatic. This one is supercharged and is my autocross car; I'm not prepared to destroy it, and, given my real exposure to the risks, I want to focus on safety. In 2015, I tracked a friend's Lotus Exige 240S and had a great time. I was driving more conservatively, and it was on A048 tires so had a lot of grip. My point being that I am capable of driving within my own limits, but prior experience has shown that I do have the tendency to push those limits.

    * * *

    So now I'd like to choose my approach to a personal track car. I have a Tundra and an open trailer, so I have no need for my track car to be streetable.

    Race cars seem to have the appropriate focus on safety. I want to be in a full cage and halo seat. Miata seems like a good car on which to develop skills and obviously is also good on the cost perspective. I may only end up doing a handful of events a year for now, but it needs to be done right. I have no intention of W2W for now (time, money, spousal approval).

    In light of the above, I have considered buying a Spec Miata. I know that for HPDE I will ultimately want more power. I know that I have a lot to learn before that. I also know that SM has plenty of constraints that are not safety related, so may be pointless for an HPDE car. My budget is more like an NA Spec Miata rather than an NB (which seems like 10k vs 20k). I have a lift in my garage and plenty of room to keep things; I don't mind doing some work.

    ---

    1. Would I be better off putting a cage and other safety features into a street car?

    2. If I think I want a turbo Miata, is there any reason not to start with a Spec Miata? It seems like I would be using an NA SM and then putting in an NB engine later.

    3. Should I rent a Spec Miata for a day before buying one?

    4. Any thoughts on good places to find race cars besides Racing Junk and (infrequently) Craigslist? I'm in Northern Virginia.

    I appreciate any and all advice you can give me. Thanks.

    -Jason
    Last edited by jwmelvin; 02-21-2016 at 12:31 PM.

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    Senior Member KJSCV's Avatar
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    Renting a car or a couple different types of cars before jumping in with both feet is always a good idea.... Just make sure you do it through somebody reputable who's willing to provide solid trackside support

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    Folks are practically giving away NA spec miatas, they are a fast way into a complete car. You could change suspensions if you wanted.

    Don't do a turbo miata. Just don't.
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    Quote Originally Posted by robburgoon View Post
    Folks are practically giving away NA spec miatas, they are a fast way into a complete car. You could change suspensions if you wanted.

    Don't do a turbo miata. Just don't.

    Yes it seems like Spec Miata NA are somewhere around 7-10k. If not turbo, is there a better path to higher power? Switch to a C5 down the road ...?

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    Why are you so adamant about more power ? If you like driving fast in the straight, then drag racing is a better fit.

    Btw. If you are not w2w. Buy a NB SM, swap out ecu, add intake and exhaust. You will be 150whp range. Also look up track record for SM. You will be surprised how fast thy are.

    Another point not often talked about: in a Miata, you are as fast than any other cars. So if a faster car come by, you don't need to let them by in corners. You don't even have to lift (u have so little power anyway). So in HPDE, you will less likely to have your lap ruined by a faster car in a Miata.
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    Quote Originally Posted by bellwilliam View Post
    Why are you so adamant about more power ? If you like driving fast in the straight, then drag racing is a better fit.
    I appreciate your sentiment, and didn't intend to give that impression. During the track days I've done, I found little excitement in straightaways. I am certainly not adamant about more power. It seems to me, however, that higher-power cars require an additional aspect of driver training in careful throttle application. I found that rarely was power oversteer an issue in the NSX and imagined that SM would be even more so, with better tires, a better differential, and less power. Perhaps that's just a shortsighted view based on not carrying sufficient speed through midcorner? (I do understand that even without a substantial possibility of power oversteer, throttle application is important to controlling balance.) And I would like to develop my skills to include higher-power cars.


    Quote Originally Posted by bellwilliam View Post
    Buy a NB SM, swap out ecu, add intake and exhaust. You will be 150whp range. Also look up track record for SM. You will be surprised how fast thy are.
    I guess this is at the heart of my question. If I can't afford an NB SM, then am I better off starting with an NA SM and improving its power later through an engine swap or turbo later, or am I better off starting with an NB street car, gutting it, and adding safety features?

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    Senior Member Gian's Avatar
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    Not as popular, but a fun car and great for teaching you how to drive. Spec or pro 7 Rx7's. You can find a good one in the 3-7k. still lots of parts. Easy you work on. Low maintenance. Easy to boost power for little $$. Minor suspension changes makes a big difference.

    In Spec7, Pro7 form the car can be a hand full when driving full out. But, not only is manageable, it's fun as hell. If you can drive a 1st gen with stock style rear suspension, you can drive anything.

    Stock 12a's are getting harder to find parts for. Just swap to the plentiful 13b and gain 30hp (minimum). As long as to don't go for max HP NA or Boosted, Rotary's very are robust.

    The bad>
    They can be LOUD. But don't have to be.
    Resale has not reached vintage status and 1st gen owners, for the most part, want everything (parts) for free. (there are a few that understand their worth). So A/M part's are limited.
    Most people don't understand them, and as some humans do, ridicule them.
    You won't be invited to play in any Miata games or hair styling sleep over party's.
    That's not a Typo, I just can't spell no so well.

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    Miatas are great cars but there are better (roomier) choices if you require a passenger seat for an instructor. They can be pretty cramped with roll cage and two proper racing seats.

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    I definitely want room for two seats. I thought that would be fine in a Miata. I'm only 5'9". I'm open to other suggestions though.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jwmelvin View Post
    I definitely want room for two seats. I thought that would be fine in a Miata. I'm only 5'9". I'm open to other suggestions though.
    I'd consider the following cars, in no particular order:

    E46 BMW (330 or M3), S197 Mustang GT, AP2 S2000, and C5 Corvette Z06.

    There's a reason you see tons of these cars at track events. They're reliable, affordable, fast, fun to drive, and have plenty of room for two people.

    Not to ding the Miata again as they're fun to drive, but installing TWO race seats inside a roll caged Miata will involve a certain amount of transmission tunnel surgery and you'll end up with a cramped car for two averaged-sized people.

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    The Miata is a fantastic car -- and ditto on the "no turbo" thing.

    SM doubly so. I'm close to retiring my 911 as a track car and going SM.

    Also, don't be in a hurry for more power. I always say: "I'll look for more power when the car slows ME down, not the other way around."
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    Quote Originally Posted by jwmelvin View Post
    I definitely want room for two seats. I thought that would be fine in a Miata. I'm only 5'9". I'm open to other suggestions though.
    Don't know what the other folks are smoking. Miatas can fit two seats for almost everyone. Custom seat mounts may be necessary depending on seat type.

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    Yeah, with racing buckets there is plenty of room.

    I'm 6'3" and I sat in a buddy's SM and had a couple of inches to spare above my helmet.

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    The miata is the way to go for affordable tracking. If you use low grip tires, then you will have an element of throttle control. This is one of the reasons I *really* like the Miata.

    Maybe also consider an mr2 Spyder. Its more reliable than a Miata, very inexpensive to track, but with a higher initial cost. Aftermarket is limited and more expensive. Replacement parts will be more expensive than NA parts, but you won't be replacing things much. The cabin is very roomy. People do 2zz swaps for s2000 levels of power/weight, but the 1zz is practically indestructible.
    Last edited by SDSUsnowboards; 02-22-2016 at 01:46 PM.
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    Hey JWmelvin. I missed that thread on prime, sorry to hear about that. :[

    This is the same reason I stopped tracking my NSX so much. Ill take it out every now and then and do some 75% laps- but not 9/10's every weekend like I had been dong for a couple years. Another one of the reasons was simply I'm just a bit too tall for the car; even with the seat was touching the
    metal floor with no pads and i was still rubbing headliner with my helmet on. The faster I got the more I realized i should have a cage but I wasn't willing to do that to a car i was planing on driving till im 70 years old.

    Like others have said here Miatia would be a good candidate. Great learning cars, cheap etc and all the other reasons mentioned above.. I, personally, am not a big fan. Since you said that you are not that interested in W2W have you considered an s2000? I have owned a couple, and to me they are a better version of the miatia with only a bit higher price tag
    they don't need much at all to have fun with (read; almost nothing). Modest investments in safety and handling will have you a car that you wont 'grow out of' for a while.

    After my search for a new dedicated 'tow-only' race car I ended up with a 89 CRX almost by accident. After driving it a few times i was totally hooked. Its a feather weight car with endless parts swapping options. Once built its SUPER cheap to run and wrench on and is as fast if not faster than much much more expensive machinery at any given event. Its pretty astounding.

    If I had to do over again i would look at Civic EG hatchbacks (92-95) on sites like racingjunk.com. You wont have to deal with some quirky suspension bits like on a CRX and you can find H1 - H4 racing cars cheap that have all the 'hard stuff' already sorted. The whole MR vs FR vs RR vs FF being the 'real' drive train layout to me is overblown
    I have had, or currently track, one of each- and they all make me smile in different ways.
    Last edited by illwillem; 02-23-2016 at 02:32 PM.
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    1. Would I be better off putting a cage and other safety features into a street car?

    You could make an argument either way. I prefer to build my own car because I'm a control frea ... er, enthusiast. If you can find a built car that suits your needs and tastes, it will be cheaper overall, but more expensive up front. A car you build is a slower cash burn, but it ends up costing more.

    2. If I think I want a turbo Miata, is there any reason not to start with a Spec Miata? It seems like I would be using an NA SM and then putting in an NB engine later.

    From what I've seen, adding a turbo to a Miata takes one of the most reliable cars on track and makes it one of the most trouble-prone.

    3. Should I rent a Spec Miata for a day before buying one?

    Yes. If you can afford it, rent an NA and an NB. See which one you like better, then think about costs.

    4. Any thoughts on good places to find race cars besides Racing Junk and (infrequently) Craigslist? I'm in Northern Virginia.

    Finding a good used racecar is a task. There is no one way to do it, nor an easy way. You have to comb the sources you mentioned, and do it daily. Good cars don't last.

    General sites:
    The Race Car Sales Site
    Racecar Classifieds

    For Spec Miatas, use Mazdaracers.com's classified site. There is always a lot there.

    For the same reasons you don't track your NSX anymore, there are only a few cars I'd recommend besides a Miata. Your skills behind the wheel should improve enough that you are less at risk of wadding it up, but it's still a track car, so you never know. Punctured tires, failed bearings, et al can produce results you never intended and were not your fault, but the end result is the same.

    Miata -- NA, NB or NC. Roomy enough for two, but it gets pretty slow with two on board. The passenger side requires no modifications to fit a racing seat because that's the side that was initially designed for the driver. Japan is RHD. The left side does require modification.

    BMW -- Lots of good examples of these cars out there in street car and racecar form. Donor cars are affordable, but consumables and all other parts are twice that of a Miata. The E36 and E46 also require floor and suspension stiffening to prevent failures.
    E30
    E36
    E46

    Honda Challenge cars -- Reasonably priced, fun and fast if you don't mind FWD.

    GM F body cars -- stick axle and strut suspension, but V8 power and decent power/weight ratio. Affordable parts.

    S197 Mustang -- stick axle and strut suspension, but V8 power and decent power/weight ratio. Affordable parts.
    SN95 Mustang -- stick axle and strut suspension, but V8 power and decent power/weight ratio. Affordable parts.

    Panoz GTRA -- purpose-built "school cars" that are available for $15,000 to $20,000 turn key. Mix of expensive and affordable parts.

    Bear in mind, of course, that when you go larger than 15-inch wheels, tire prices also rise commensurately. The best car out there on 15-inch wheels is a ... (wait for it) ... Miata!

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    All of these replies have been extremely helpful, thank you. My timeline is such that I'll be looking for a car in the fall/winter, to get ready for next season. This year, I will autocross the NSX and hopefully rent a Spec Miata for a track event. And the NSX club will be at Sebring in the fall, so I may go to that. It seems like a Spec Miata could be perfect for at least a few years, and then I can reevaluate.

    I've always liked E36 and that seems like a great option, albeit somewhat more expensive than a Miata.

    I will also consider front-wheel drive, something I had viewed as wholly different. While still undecided, hearing illwillem's comments certainly makes me question my prior thinking. No doubt having a car to drive will make more difference than the specific car I'm driving. Actually, that strikes me as missing something significant: spending time in a variety of cars would have its own benefits to my learning.

    And I think you have all sufficiently talked me out of a turbo Miata.

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    Quote Originally Posted by illwillem View Post
    If I had to do over again i would look at Civic EG hatchbacks (92-95)...
    What do you guys think about a 2000 Civic Si (coupe of the generation after the EG), an EM1 (B16A2 motor)? I know of one, built by someone local whom I trust, for $4000. It was built for showroom stock, so not developed much, but it should have the safety features I want. I just want to make sure it will be a decent platform on which to learn and maybe develop it a bit before moving on. Seems much less expensive than just about anything else. No doubt that's for a reason (about 5 sec slower than the SM lap record), but I don't feel the need to start with absolute speed. In it's prior use, it ran the same lap times at Summit Point that I was doing in my NSX on street tires, which I find moderately encouraging. Any thoughts are appreciated.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jwmelvin View Post
    What do you guys think about a 2000 Civic Si (coupe of the generation after the EG), an EM1 (B16A2 motor)? I know of one, built by someone local whom I trust, for $4000. It was built for showroom stock, so not developed much, but it should have the safety features I want. I just want to make sure it will be a decent platform on which to learn and maybe develop it a bit before moving on. Seems much less expensive than just about anything else. No doubt that's for a reason (about 5 sec slower than the SM lap record), but I don't feel the need to start with absolute speed. In it's prior use, it ran the same lap times at Summit Point that I was doing in my NSX on street tires, which I find moderately encouraging. Any thoughts are appreciated.
    That's a good choice. The B16 is a great motor. They are raced in the Honda Challenge so that generation of Civic Si does have a racing history.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jwmelvin View Post
    What do you guys think about a 2000 Civic Si (coupe of the generation after the EG), an EM1 (B16A2 motor)? I know of one, built by someone local whom I trust, for $4000. It was built for showroom stock, so not developed much, but it should have the safety features I want. I just want to make sure it will be a decent platform on which to learn and maybe develop it a bit before moving on. Seems much less expensive than just about anything else. No doubt that's for a reason (about 5 sec slower than the SM lap record), but I don't feel the need to start with absolute speed. In it's prior use, it ran the same lap times at Summit Point that I was doing in my NSX on street tires, which I find moderately encouraging. Any thoughts are appreciated.
    B16 is a GREAT motor indeed. They are bullet proof, revs to the moon and share many many parts off the widely available b18 brothers. The em1 SI always got a bad wrap as being a bit 'under powered' when honda elected to use the 1.6 and not the b18 or b20 in one of its 'heavier chassis'.
    Because of this it may not be the chassis/motor formula to smash records but i have seen a few examples really moving and the owners were really happy with them. Worse comes to worse you eventually swap out the bottom end with a $200 1.8l short block and bolt it on and go. literally everything else works the same. (ecu, head, header, belts etc...) I know those cars can shed weight pretty quickly with some minor gutting. Chassis wise its VERY capable, shares DNA with the civic type R and ITR as far as geometry and parts are mostly, if not wholly interchangeable. This year at Super Lab Battle an em1 chassis ran a 1:52:1 on street tires... which is just... Bannanas.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3F3_iPAhgs
    Last edited by illwillem; 02-29-2016 at 03:39 PM.

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