Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday to me!
While going to track days in your street car is generally quite fun (until something breaks, at which point it becomes not fun and stressful [how am I going to get home?!]), it's nothing compared to piloting an actual race car. Purpose-built machinery does away with the compromises and leaves the raw experience laid bare to enjoy unfiltered. Race cars are louder and faster. Win and win.
I've been taking my 2003 Corvette Z06 to the track off and on and racing a 125-cc TAG kart (maybe a little too unfiltered?) for a few years now. Both activities are quite fun, but I'd really like to buy a real race car and line up at some SCCA events. But that's a big commitment; it would be nice to try the race car I'm thinking about before making the $30,000 investment that would include the car, trailer, spares and licensing fees.
Enter Spec Racer Sports, a race shop located at the MSR Houston race track near Houston, TX. They specialize in Spec Racer Ford (SRF) race cars, the second largest racing class in the SCCA (behind Spec Miatas). I wanted to try SRF's because they are purpose built cars, relatively cheap, and have a lot of entries each race, and Spec Racer Sports rents them out for test days. I decided (well, was allowed by my wife) to rent one to try out for the day as my birthday and Christmas present for the year! This is an account of what went down.
I made it to the track around 8am and pulled up out front to see the bevy of SRF's parked parked in Spec Racer Sport's garage. I met David, the owner, and he showed me around the place, including the blue and black number 9 car, which I would be driving for the day.
I took a minute to walked around and check the car out. It's a relatively simple car weighing 1,670lbs, with driver, and a 105hp 1.9L 4-cylinder Ford engine from the Ford Escort.
No brake assist and inboard coilover suspension.
Once I was done taking pictures, David showed me upstairs to the clubhouse, located right above the garage on turn 16 of the racetrack- nice place. Spec Racer Sports also offers arrive-and-drive services, so you don't actually have to own a car. You can pay them to maintain, transport, and support a car for you at as many races as you care to fund. All you need to do is bring your checkbook, hop in, and drive. Now that's the way to race!
David briefed me on how the day would go (pretty much unlimited driving in the morning, stop for lunch, then unlimited driving in the afternoon) with the strong reminder that if I break it, I buy it. The cars are pretty tough, but it was crucial to not over-rev the motor; they had a memory tachometer installed on the car, and for each time I let the revs go above 6,000 rpm, I would be fined $100. Duly noted! I went to the locker room and suited up.
When I came back down, the car was fueled and ready for me to take out.
David told me to do a few laps easy to get used to the car and make sure it was running alright, then let 'er rip for 10-20 laps.
The car was a blast, although I was surprised at how loose (prone to oversteer, where the back of the car slides away in the turns) the setup was. When I mentioned it to David, they tweaked some settings to tighten it up a bit, but he said SRF's are fast when loose, and are generally driven with a lot of sliding. I'm dubious that this is actually true, but it didn't spoil the fun any- after all, it was just a test day, not a race.
I'd come in every now and then to refuel and take a break. While not as taxing to drive as a race kart, the SRF did take some physical effort, and I didn't want to get tired in the car and make an (expensive) mistake by crashing or over-revving.
During my last session of the day, one of the employees at Spec Racer Sports hopped in another SRF car to show me how it's done. It was extra enjoyable to have someone to race, although he was definitely faster than me, so I never really threatened to pass :)
Thanks, Spec Racer Sports, and to my wife! What a great day! I'll leave you with a video I shot with my Contour Roam action camera, mounted to my helmet: