Why Budget Endurance Racing Might Be The Next Big Thing
By Ross Bentley
June 22, 2015
I enjoy endurance racing more than any other form of motorsport. The physical and mental challenge, the teamwork, the communication, the racecraft, the strategy, the mechanical empathy, and the "whatever it takes" attitude that long races require make them so much more rewarding than any other. Thanks to a variety of new race series, endurance racing is more accessible than ever. I came across Ian Korf's website, yousuckatracing.com a while back, learned about his participation in budget endurance racing, and asked him to write about his experiences. - Ross
This is a very interesting time in the history of automobiles. Hybrid vehicles are firmly entrenched in the market, fully electric cars are now produced in volume, and both economy and luxury appear to be in fashion. The car is becoming increasingly computerized and we are now seeing the dawn of self-driving vehicles. In about a decade, self-driving cars will become the norm and computers will be able to out-perform even the best Formula 1 and NASCAR drivers.
You might think this signals the end of road racing, but it's actually a new beginning. Computers surpassed humans in chess years ago, but this hasn't diminished the game. Computers are exploring new strategies faster than players ever could, and players are getting better because of it. Expect the same with drivers.
Despite the high tech developments that are removing the driver from the automobile, amateur road racing is going through a revival. People are discovering that auto racing is surprisingly accessible. Or in the words of Jay Lamm, founder of the 24 Hours of LeMons, "Racing shouldn't be for rich idiots, but for all idiots."
The 24 Hours of LeMons got its start almost ten years ago in California. Part of what has made it so popular is its zany counter-culture, but what makes it so accessible are two things: (1) no racing license; (2) cheap cars. Obtaining a racing license from a professional racing school will set you back thousands of dollars. LeMons only requires a driver's license. And the cars, which are supposed to cost under $500 before safety equipment is added, can be made safe to race for a few thousand dollars. Split that cost among a team of friends and you have a recipe for some unforgettable memories (most of them good).
When over 100 racecars show up for an endurance race, people start to notice, so it was only a matter of time before other organizations offered competing products. You can now go racing with American Endurance Racing, Lucky Dog Racing League, World Racing League, and the ChumpCar World Series (and there are probably a few others too). In addition, established organizations like the SCCA and NASA are starting their own budget offerings with relaxed licensing and car classes. Each series has its own variation on the rules, and preparing a car for one series does most of the work for the others. Ignore the chatter about one series being better than another. Under the hood, there are far more similarities than differences, and this carries over to the cars and drivers on track.
So exactly how cheap is cheap? The typical race is 12-16 hours and costs about $1000-$1200 per team. In addition to entry fees, there can be fees at the gate, for camping, for transponder rental, and annual dues. Each organization has its own pricing structure, but they all end up at about the same cost. AER is a little different from the others because they require drivers to have a minimum amount of racing experience (e.g. actual racing license or 5 LeMons races). They also have a full day of qualifying. This adds 50% to the cost and track time.
All of these racing organizations are serious about safety. In addition to an SA approved helmet and fire retardant clothing (right down to your socks) some organizations are moving towards requiring SFI 38.1 neck protection. Some of the safety rules are even more strict than what you would find in SCCA or NASA, especially when it comes to driving. Contact will automatically earn you a black flag which may include some penalty time and a driver swap. Generally, it doesn't matter who is the hitter and who is the hittee: everyone gets flagged. This is why the top teams are the safest teams. The fast lap of the day is rarely set by the winning team.
One of the charms of budget endurance racing is the wide range of cars, experience, and talent you find on track. When cool professionals, bewildered novices, and brazen amateurs share the same space... special things happen. Cars (and people) inevitably get bent out of shape, but more often than not, people leave smiling with memories they will treasure forever. If you're about to enter your first race, the best advice I can give you is to imagine you are racing *with* others not *against* them.
Budget endurance racing is so much fun that it could very well become a worldwide phenomenon. Canada and Mexico have already been invaded, and just recently the 24 Hours of LeMons announced the birth of an Australian series. The Guinness Book of World Records verified that the 2014 LeMons race at Thunderhill was the largest road race in history with 216 cars. Do you think the Europeans are going to take that lying down? Let's hope not. You see, I've got this fantasy where I'm driving the Nurburgring in an e30...
- Ian Korf