Ask Jack: Putting together a garage banned?

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Jack Baruth

Today’s “Ask Jack” comes from a reader who took my advice in the past—and, somewhat astoundingly, is willing to do it again!

Troy writes,

I’m glad I bought my 2014 Boxster S with six-speed manual based on something you wrote a while back about how most people have too much car for what they need or that they have a crossover for the one day a year they need one. Right now in my life I’m single with no kids (I hope to change that) so the Boxster is really all the car I need. You can fit a lot using both trunks and I don’t miss the extra doors on my previous car which was a BMW 335i. I would have bought an ND Miata but you can’t fit golf clubs in the trunk whereas you can in the Boxster. That was my one requirement as I like to play golf with my parents.

Anyways the reason I’m writing to you is that I’ve always wanted to get into racing and I know you’ve touched on the subject many times. I can afford to go to a race school and I was actually checking out Level Up Race school based on your recommendation. I know I could even afford a race car in the $10–$20K range but after that I just don’t think I could make it work. I live in an apartment so I don’t have a garage to store anything and I don’t have a truck or trailer either. I’m not sure what to do. I make decent money (around $80K) but it seems like I need to double that to be able to go racing … Autocross and that kind of stuff doesn’t do it for me, I’m only really interested in circuit racing.

In Guitar: An American Life, the author says something along the lines of “you learn acoustic guitar to meet girls, and end up talking to other middle-aged men about your fingernails.” Similarly, one becomes a race driver in order to emulate the heroics of Senna et al. only to spend a disturbing amount of time thinking about diesel pickup trucks, UPS shipping schedules … and garages. Your humble author owns three race cars; his wife has one, plus a prepped-up MX-5 Club with a rollbar. So we spend a lot of time moving vehicles from one place to another, using up the goodwill of friends, and generally playing a high-stakes game of musical chairs in which the penalty for losing is explaining to everyone you know

a) how it’s possible to spend $85,000 on a Honda Accord;
b) how it’s possible to leave that car outside in the rain for a week.

Sentenced as we are to a particular school district, suburb, and homeowners association, we experience tremendous envy of our racing friends who live in the country and who have steel buildings for their race cars. The steel building is the most wonderful, desirable thing of which I can readily conceive. As Archimedes once said, “Give me a steel building large enough and I will win the Runoffs!” So I can easily sympathize with Troy here. He is young and brave enough to start racing, and possessed of enough money to do it at a reasonable level—but where does the car go, to say nothing of the attendant truck/trailer?

For that reason, I’m going to recommend that Troy spend a year or two of self-reflection, both as a driver and as a potential racer. Luckily for him, he already has the perfect tool: that 981-generation Boxster, which is roll-hoop legal at most tracks and with most organizations. The thing to do here is to start by becoming the fastest driver possible, using that car, at which point he’ll be able to determine how much he wants to change his life in the cause of competition.

First step is to find an organization with which he can grow and get faster. I like the people at TrackDAZE for this. The owners are first-rate people and they have experienced hands overseeing driver safety. By pairing the instruction they’ll give him with a proper driver development tool like the ApexPRO or perhaps the hot new Garmin tablet, Troy can get to the point where the LevelUp school will make sense for him. Chances are that won’t happen until the end of next year or the beginning of 2022.

At LevelUp, they’ll teach Troy how to make passes, how to defend against overtaking, and how to think like a road racer. At that point he will truly be Thoreau’s “new wine in the old bottle,” which is to say he will still be a young dude with a Boxster but now he’ll be a very fast, and very thoughtful, young dude in a Boxster.

Then it’s time to make a decision: do you reshape your life around the Holy Trinity of Race Car, Race Rig, and Race Garage—or do you handle it on an ad-hoc basis? There are a fair number of very good outfits out there who will put you in a Spec Racer Ford or a Spec Miata for two or three grand a weekend. That sounds like a hell of a lot of money, but trust me: by the time you do all the numbers, you’ll see how cheap it really is in contrast to owning your own setup.

Alternately, Troy can go enduro racing with one of the ChampCar/WRL teams out there, at a slightly lower rate. That’s more seat time, but it’s less in the way of outright, no-kidding-around competition. Either way, he’s looking at five or six weekends a year, on his budget, which is more than many car-owning club racers can manage.

There’s one little fly in the ointment here: he might crash the Boxster before any of this can happen. While it’s true that your humble author put about 12,000 track miles on his Boxster without crashing it, some of that was due to just plain dumb luck. My co-workers across the state at Hagerty Insurance are now in the trackday insurance gig. It’s worth checking out if you’re worried. Feel free to file that part of the advice under “self-serving commercial message,” if you like. I don’t get paid any extra for mentioning it; I also don’t get my pay docked if you take the insurance and then crash, which is nice.

So, to reiterate:

0. Become race driver.
1. Get race license.
2. Choose race strategy.
3. Go racing.

If Troy does it in this order, he’s going to have a lot of success. And if he winds up realizing that what he really wants out of life is to move out to the sticks with a steel building, both Thoreau and I will understand.

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