Top 5 Race Cars for Beginners
Breaking into racing for a beginner can be a daunting task. Whether you’re interested in AutoCross, where you race against the best lap time, or road racing, where you’re potentially banging door handles with dozens of other drivers, the choice of which car is best depends on many factors. You will usually find that there are multiple classes of vehicles you can compete with and it will also depend on your racing license — you can’t go straight into GT3 without some previous experience.
Generally, if you don’t already have some seat time in a race car, it’s recommended to try your hand at AutoCross first, maybe with a vehicle you already own. AutoCross is generally safe, as you’re putting around the course one car at a time, trying to best one another’s lap times. You’re less likely to have an incident or damage your vehicle, so the maintenance costs will likely be significantly less.
If overtaking is your thing and you can’t wait to draft down the backstretch, then be prepared to invest significantly more funds to get your vehicle in shape and to keep it in shape over the course of a racing season. Consider the cars below, taking into account your preferred style of racing.
Karting is an obvious choice if you’re under the age of 14, as you’ll typically be disallowed in most road racing leagues. However, there are karting series for every age, and it’s a good way to get started in racing. Don’t let the size of the karts fool you, as the cost can be comparable to running a full-size car — anywhere from $2,000 to $12,000 for a kart, plus operating costs.
Mazda MX-5 or Miata
Perhaps the most popular car in amateur racing today, the Mazda Miata is simply a great car that’s relatively cheap to buy and maintain. Older models can be had for less than $3k and due to their popularity, there are tons of used and aftermarket parts readily available and an immense amount of knowledge and help to be gleaned from your peers.
BMW 3 Series
BMW’s 3 series has been at the pinnacle of affordable sports cars since their inception in the mid-1970s. As a track car, they can perform well just by ripping out the non-essentials and hitting the tarmac and there are multiple series aimed just at these vehicles.
Yet another popular choice, Porsche 944s can be bought track-ready for $10,000 or less and some even consider them to be collectors cars.
If you’re interested in competing with a front-wheel drive car, the Honda CRX is an extremely light-weight vehicle with a great power-to-weight ratio. The National Auto Sport Association (NASA) even has a series dedicated solely to Hondas.
Some other cars to check out on the cheap: Ford Mustang, Nissan 200sx and 240sx, Mini Coopers, and any old beater you can find for under $500 that your local short track will let you race.
Got your checkbook out and ready to take the plunge? The best time to buy a car may be at the end of a racing season when folks are interested in changing rides. It’s a bit easier to jump in with a ready-to-go vehicle than to build one from a stock street car. Whichever path you choose, keep your nose clean and play it safe.