How I raced in SCCA Runoffs on a college budget

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Courtesy Austin Bradshaw/SCCA/Rick Corwine

In today’s era of motorsports, the consensus is that youngsters can’t go racing unless they have tremendous financial support from their families (even at the amateur club racing level). I’ve never been intimidated by that reality. Instead, I’ve embraced the challenge of being able to fund my racing efforts personally, while also paying my way through Portland State, where I’m currently a senior studying business management and leadership. To accrue the necessary funds, I have multiple part-time jobs and I’m also operating a motorsports-focused media company, which provides services to drivers, teams, and businesses nationwide.

I have been a lifelong motorsports fanatic, especially when it comes to IndyCar. When the SCCA announced the National Championship Runoffs were returning to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2021, I knew I wanted to find a way to be there. I grew up within the SCCA paddock, working on my father’s local race team in the Pacific Northwest. As a young boy, I watched many of my idols and friends compete at the SCCA Runoffs on television, which shaped my love and passion for the legacy club racing event.

I already had a few years of racing experience under my belt, so I focused on acquiring a car that had a more legitimate chance of being competitive at the Brickyard. I began saving.

Courtesy Austin Bradshaw

The car

That spring, I picked up a 1982 E-Production class Mazda RX-7. I spent a couple years racing my 1971 E-Production RX-2 in the SCCA Majors Tour so the RX-7 was a logical next step. The Mazda had sat for nearly eight years in the previous owner’s old garage. It was a car that I had watched race locally as a child. The challenge, then, became prepping the old car in less than a month for an intense summer slate ahead of Runoffs.

Making monthly college payments, while also budgeting my racing efforts, wasn’t easy and required a lot of diligence. Purchasing the car, then servicing and replacing many of the aging—or expired—components ate up much of my nest egg. I felt that the bigger 13B rotary motor that came in the car was tired, so I opted to take my recently rebuilt smaller 1.1-liter 12A, from my RX-2 and drop it in the newer RX-7.

Courtesy Austin Bradshaw/SCCA

With a car that needed so much, it was essential to start with the basics by replacing safety gear and components that were in immediate need of repair. Additional improvements had to be spread out month-by-month, to chip away at making the car faster and more reliable.

In less than one month’s time, I had the car race ready and staged at the Portland Super Tour. I had to adapt quickly to the new chassis that I had never driven before, while also sorting through mechanical kinks. After dealing with a fuel pump failure Saturday, I was able to win on Sunday (over three other class competitors).

Courtesy Austin Bradshaw/SCCA

The prep

As the season went on the car got progressively quicker, I methodically replaced older parts on the car. I swapped the blown-out shocks for Koni single-adjustable dampers, installed Techno Toy Tuning lower control arms, equipped fresh Cobalt Racing Brake pads, and replaced other smaller components that showed signs of age.

Ultimately, sacrifices for certain upgrades had to be made if I wanted to make it to the Runoffs in October. I was, after all, working with a shoestring budget. I didn’t touch the Miata five-speed transmission that came in the car. I also retained the stock brake calipers, hubs, and rotors.

As the season progressed, I had to plan out all my qualification requirements and logistical challenges. Living in Dundee, Oregon, I had to find a way to get my car out to Indiana. The entry fee alone was $1100. Add in transportation, consumables, prep, and personal travel costs; suddenly my budget was thinning quickly.

Courtesy Austin Bradshaw/SCCA

Rather than purchasing new parts, I chose to buy some used parts from generous racers. I was also practical with my tire usage. Many Runoffs competitors show up with four new sets of sticker tires for all three qualifying sessions and the race. I arrived at Indy with one set of new tires and one set of scrubbed-in tires. (Prior to Runoffs, I spent the entirety of 2021 running on take-offs from other generous competitors and friends.) Of the four sticker tires, I redeemed two through Goodyear’s contingency program and purchased the other two myself. It was the first time I ever had new slicks on the car. Many racers will tell you, to be fast, you must have fresh tires each weekend. I learned how to drive cars on old rubber and still achieved multiple victories and podiums on tires that other competitors may have otherwise thrown away.

Approximately 850 cars were present at the Runoffs this year. With limited track time available throughout the week-long event, I focused on doing my homework ahead of time. Although just making it to the Runoffs was an achievement, I wanted to make my investment worthwhile and compete as best I could, despite a limited budget and a less-than-ideal car for the class. With 31 competitors entered in E-Production, I wanted to achieve at least a top 15. I studied onboard videos—from 2017, when the Runoffs first visited Indy—for months, focusing on visual cues to memorize. I also spent time driving on my sim, in hopes of accelerating the learning curve.

Courtesy Austin Bradshaw/SCCA

SCCA Runoffs

After the first two qualifying sessions on used tires, I found myself ninth and tenth, respectively. I was pleasantly surprised. For the final qualifying session, I put my new Goodyear slicks on for the first time and gained another 1.5 seconds, which put me sixth on the grid. Although it was just qualifying, I was beyond thrilled with that starting spot. Considering my RX-7’s trap speed was 6-15 mph slower than everyone who qualified in front of me, I was ecstatic to have the car working so well through the corners.

Unfortunately, the race did not go as well as qualifying.

On the first lap, I was collected in an accident. (Later reviewed and deemed a racing incident by the officials.) My car was junked, unable to continue. The scuffle wasn’t any specific driver’s fault, but that didn’t ease the pain of my race day being cut short. I was devastated.

It took me a while to change my perspective, and see the forest through the trees, but eventually I did. Even though my Runoffs ended on a sour note, the week-long event was the best experience my family and I have ever had in motorsports. For me, racing—in Indy nonetheless—is much less about winning or losing and more about the memories made with my family and the camaraderie with friends at the track. For years, I dreamt about racing against the best club racers at the SCCA Runoffs. To do it at my age, at a track as treasured as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, gave me a sense of accomplishment. And I did it all from my own pocket.

Epilogue

There are many people I could thank for their wisdom shared, generosity, and support over the years. Although my family may not be able to financially support my racing efforts, I have appreciated every opportunity to learn the value of a dollar while aiming to do the best I can with what I can afford. I wouldn’t have ever achieved making it to my first SCCA Runoffs without the tremendous help and encouragement from my family, crew and the club racing community. The SCCA paddock embraces anyone that has a passion and dedication to motorsports. Many are always willing to lend a hand, share some knowledge, and support an up & coming racer. I am beyond appreciative of that.

My schedule never lets up much while working two part-time jobs in the racing industry, running a freelance motorsports web design and photography business, and doing contract marketing work for organizations like my local Northwest Region SCCA. Doing so while also studying as a full-time student and paying my way through college. To me, though, all of the long workdays, the late nights in the shop with my dad wrenching on the car, and the money spent were all sacrifices that were beyond worth it when I got to cross the yard of bricks at my first ever SCCA Runoffs.

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    Austin is a remarkable young man. He will be able to accomplish anything in life that he puts in front of him. Family is always number one with racing a close second and that is how it should be.

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