Written by: James Ray

“Road Racing is an inexpensive hobby,” said no one ever!  Even wealthy “gentlemen racers” complain about the cost of going fast with their exotic race cars, highly tuned motors, and huge sticky racing tires.  The concern about costs is no different for the junker/clunker enduro racing crowd. Only a naïve wannabe race car driver really believes a competitive Lemons or Chump series race car costs only $500!

It’s true, road racing with the SCCA can be expensive too.  The cash register adds up quickly with racing suit, helmet, head and neck restraint system, fireproof shoes, gloves and even driver’s underwear!  Then there is the race car itself, plus tires, fuel, and race event registration fees. Don’t forget the transportation to and from the track, often done with a special truck and trailer, and add in restaurant food and lodging while racing far from home.  One usually needs extra tools, jack stands or a lift, and a place to work on the car between racing events. Some drivers do all the work themselves, while others rely on a trusted mechanic’s shop. No matter how the work gets done, the parts and labor can add up!  

Club racers are always looking for opportunities to make racing more affordable without compromising on the safety, fun, excitement, and competition aspects of the sport.  The sports car drivers’ desire for more horsepower and their related concern about expenses has a parallel in the equestrian community.  Linda B. Allen has written in Practical Horseman Magazine about a concept called Horse Leasing.  She explains how with this idea a rider agrees to cover a portion of a horse’s expenses, usually half of board at the barn where the steed resides in exchange for a certain, usually proportional, amount of riding time. The horse’s primary owner pays the balance of the bills and maintains a role in providing horse care and partial use.   Often referred to as a half lease or share lease, this arrangement generally requires ongoing contact between owner and rider to avoid conflicts, especially with regard to scheduling time spent riding, training, and participating in competitions or clinics.

Consider Share Leasing

One of the more traditional share leasing situations most of us know about is the vacation timeshare.  Back in the 1960’s, real estate developers started selling timeshares as a way to give more people access to luxury resort condos.  Buying one fiftieth of a half million-dollar beach-front property (2% = $20K) was much more affordable than owning the whole thing yet only vacationing one week out of the year.  The most obvious benefit of sharing is reduced cost and access to expensive resources one might not otherwise be able to afford alone. Perhaps more of us should try sharing race cars because the sharing economy works for many other things!

Photo by: Geoffrey Bolte of Clarus Studios

Racecar Sharing

Pete Morrison and Don Barron are two New England Region members who have shared a Miata race car with good results.  Pete usually runs the Miata in STL and Don drives in ITA. They have avoided running the car Spec Miata because of the close racing and wanting to improve the odds that both drivers get to race without experiencing any damage.  Sharing a race car is perhaps easier because Pete and Don were previously involved in racing together years before when Pete was driver and Don the crew chief campaigning a Formula V racer. Both men say the key to success in sharing is communicating well and being honest about everything.

As many of the reader may already know, Pete is the chief instructor for the New England Region’s successful Club Racing Experience (CRE) program.  SCCA members wanting to try road racing have found the CRE program to be a low-pressure way for drivers, without previous racing experience or a competition license, to try road racing.  The CRE is a great way to fulfill the club’s in-classroom training, on-track racing, and elapsed driver seat time requirements for earning a regional competition license.

Robby Smolinski and his father Bob are two other members who have tried race car sharing.  Son Robby Jr. is a relatively new licensed competition driver and happy graduate of the CRE program.  Father Bob Sr. has been racing many years competing on road racing circuits, circle tracks, and hill climb time trials with several other clubs.  Bob Sr. has raced at places like Daytona and Pikes Peak. Predictably, his son Robby was also interested in racing and once he was old enough to drive, he started modifying and racing a VW Golf in GTI trim in hill climb time trial competitions.  

It was in the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire that Robby met fellow road racing club members like Dan Shepherd and others in the IT7 crowd. Robby was encouraging his Dad that they should share a sports car and go road racing with the SCCA. As luck would have it they found an old C4 Corvette that was already converted to be an SCCA race car.  Robby Jr. started running the Corvette in the CRE program to meet his on track requirements and earned his competition license early last year. Bob Sr. has also gone through the CRE and is expected to finish his on track experience and seat time requirements to earn his license this year!

All four of these drivers have enjoyed multiple years sharing the fun and cost savings in their racing activities.  In our interviews with son Robby and father Bob, we learned that car sharing can work easily between family members and in the case of Pete and Don it works well with trusted friends too.  

Benefits of Sharing

Here are the benefits of sharing most often identified by the drivers:

  • Transportation and lodging costs associated with weekend racing can be a significant expense.  Everyone mentioned the tow vehicle’s fuel purchases while trailering the race car to and from race tracks, especially when the track isn’t close by.  Splitting the fuel costs, in addition to sharing campground fees or motel lodging while out of town can provide a significant cost savings. Sharing drivers need to be open, honest, and direct when talking about the schedule of race operations and expected costs of sharing their race car.
  • The race car’s initial purchase cost and necessary tools, spare parts, and other equipment needed to maintain the race car costs less per person when sharing. The same race car driven by two drivers just needs only one garage, tow vehicle, trailer, and often there is more than enough special equipment pre-owned by the sharing partners, whether it be air tanks and pressure gauges, brake pad spreaders and fluid bleeders, wheel hub and ball joint repair tools, etc. to meet the needs of a club racer.  Chances are you won’t have to buy as many new tools and special equipment when sharing a race car. You don’t really save money on race fuel, tires, brake pads, or paint and body repairs, because those costs are more related to the amount of wheel-to-wheel racing total use.
  • Both routine and emergency maintenance and repair labor can often be divided, and usually it’s divided based on the skills of each sharing partner and the kind of work they enjoy doing.  Pete and Don’s Miata stayed in Pete’s garage and Pete handled paint and body work. Don lived a distance away so he would make day visits when they had engine work to do or some shared project.  Both men said it is more fun to work on a race car with someone else instead of doing all maintenance and repairs solo. It’s definitely easier to load and unload a trailer when someone is helping!  
  • A special advantage of sharing exists when two drivers think about how to fix a particular problem or contemplate how to make the car go faster.  The drivers we interviewed affirmed two heads are better than one, and sometimes there is a multiplier effect, meaning sometimes one plus one can equal something greater than two!
  • Not many club racers buy insurance for wheel to wheel racing, but for those who do also HPDE track days there is are shared savings with track day insurance.  For example, Lockton Insurance’s normal HPDE policy covers two drivers, no extra cost. If a shared car is driven at the same track on the same day, their insurance costs per driver are effectively cut in half.
  • Another huge benefit mentioned is the sense of comradery, strengthening of good feelings about the racing community, and increased overall satisfaction felt from the racing experience.  There can also be rapid learning opportunities when one driver’s lap times are noticeably different than the other’s driving the same car and same track. Sometimes it’s the smallest of driving technique changes than can make seconds of improvement in lap times.

Photo by: James Ray

Challenges of Sharing

There are some challenges associated with sharing a race car, but less than you might expect.  Here are some of the things to consider.

  • Car choice is very important because the shared race car needs to fit in at least two different classes so both drivers can race the same car in different run groups.  The Mazda Miata is one of the best answers to almost any question in racing, but with regard to race car sharing it’s especially true. One can find the Miata fitting into more than a dozen classes, for example:  EP, FP, GT2, GT3, GTL, ITA, ITS, SM, STL, STU, T1, T3, and T4. There are plenty of other cars that fit in multiple classes too, for example depending on its configuration the Mazda RX-8 runs in EP, GT2, GT3, ITR, ITS, T1, T3, and T4.  This car classing challenge can be easy to address if one of the drivers is willing to run their car in the ITE class, also known as Improved Touring Everything! The New England Region Chairperson JB Swan takes extra effort in planning run groups so that many drivers can double dip and in particular so car sharing drivers can run their one car in two classes.  It’s a big exercise in the artful arranging of which classes run in which mixed run groups, but kudos to the road racing organizers for making it possible.
  • Drivers being of similar size and stature will help.  As many people already know, rapidly adjustable seat sliders aren’t considered safe for race car seats.  In the C4 Corvette shared by taller Robby and shorter Bob, the taller driver sits a little bit close and the shorter driver uses foam seat cushions to make the seat fit better. In the Miata driven by Pete and Don, all they needed to do was have a seat suitable for the heavier driver and then harness belts could adjust when changing driver.
  • Sharing a race car involves all the risks associated with racing.  Engines grenade, fenders get crunched, brakes and tires wear out, and even the safety gear ages out and must be replaced. One driver might over rev the engine and then it blows up while the next driver is on track.  One driver might race in a tight competitive class where too much “rubbing is racing” happens, while the other driver enjoys less contact running in a different mixed-class run group. Keep in mind that unexpected stuff can happen, like when the C4 Corvette piloted by father Bob caught fire, quite literally in flames between turns 4 and 5 at Thompson.  Fortunately Bob wasn’t injured, but son Robby didn’t get to race their shared Corvette that weekend! Robby explained during our interview how gut wrenching an experience like this can be, but if the sharing drivers have the right attitude, the misfortune can be made to feel less disastrous because there’s a good friend or family member helping commiserate!  

Hopefully this article explains that sharing a race car can be a path to reducing the cost of road racing with the SCCA.  So how to get started and what to do is the obvious question? First find someone else you know and like who is interested in road racing, but maybe they haven’t made the leap on their own.  Maybe he or she wants to go in halves on a race car? Talk thru the various details of what kind of car, where to keep it, how to maintain it, how to transport it to and from racing venues, etc. and see if there is a shared interest and easy agreement about the serious matters.  In the car sharing examples discussed in this article, no one used a written contract or legal agreement. All four drivers relied on an unwritten gentlemen’s agreement and just a handshake. Yet if you ask an attorney for advice, most are going to suggest a written contract. The equestrian world has many examples of horse leases to which you can refer, if you want to explore that route.

One other alternative to consider is talking with friends or family who are already racing part time.  Maybe they would be interested in sharing their car and dividing the expenses? You never know until you ask.