updated: August 1997
How I got interested:
My interest in cars is not new. Ever since my Dad's service station sponsored a stock car back in the 1950's I have had a love affair with cars and speed. Back in the mid 1970's I had an SCCA B Production GT-350 with a Boss 302 engine that was ready to race, but the SCCA kept changing the rules faster than I could build the car, so I stuck to autocross events around San Diego.
From the late 70's until mid 1996 I went off in other directions and had no involvement whatsoever with motorsports. Then in June 1996, I went to watch the SCCA National sports car races at Mid-Ohio and I got a bad case of racing envy. It really looked like fun. My old college roommate and longtime friend Bob Chapman was racing his Spec Racer Ford and I got the racing bug again.
I rented a Spec Racer Ford from Ray LaRue for an all day practice session at the Pueblo sports car track. It was fun, but very humbling. I thought that I could drive fast, but as it turns out, it's just not that easy to keep a car at its limits.
I had great fun, chased a lot of other cars, but almost everyone was going a lot faster than I could get the car to go. And it was not the fault of the car. I had a good car, but I simply had no race driving skills.
Back to School:
So, to learn more about race car driving, I went to Russell Racing at Sears Point to take their Formula Ford Racing Course in July 1996. And then a few months later I went back to Russell Racing at Sears Point to take their Advanced Racing Course in their Formula Mazda cars.
When I returned from the Russell Racing School, I rented another Spec Racer Ford from Ray La Rue Motor Sports to prepare for a regional race at Denver's miserable little Second Creek racetrack. Only problem is.... after an hour or so of lapping practice, I slid off the track and crashed into a tire wall. Ooops. That nasty tire wall broke the front suspension of the car and knocked off a big fender-sized chunk of fiberglass from the car's nose. Oh well.
And then I bought one:
But, like they say, if you fall off of the horse ya just gotta get back on... So about a week later, on June 5, 1997, I bought a race car. Below is a picture of the freshly painted car with the fiberglass nose and tail taken off of the car for inspection. In a few days I'll put on the required decals and car numbers so I can go racing.
My car is chassis number 625. It was delivered as a Spec Racer Ford kit in March of 1994 and built by La Rue Motor Sports. It was owned by Larry Rodgers from then until now. The car ran in the '94, '95 and '96 Valvoline Runoffs at Mid-Ohio.
What is a Spec Racer Ford???
The Spec Racer Ford is a purpose built racecar, that is, it is not made from any sort of production automobile. It was designed using some standard automobile parts for suspension, engine and transmission, but the frame and body are entirely custom built. The car is powered a 108 hp, 1.9 L, fuel injected engine built by Roush. The car, with driver and fuel weighs 1670 pounds. The engine and transmission are sealed and no modifications are permitted.
Every Spec Racer Ford weighs the same, uses the same engine, the same transmission, the same fiberglass body, the same chassis, even the same tires. The idea is that all of the cars are meant to have identical performance, so the only way to go faster is to be a better driver. These cars are meant to eliminate the need for the latest trick of the week, and simply show the capabilities of the driver, not how much money they can spend to buy trick stuff.
Why does it cost???
The Spec Racer Ford is relatively inexpensive compared to other race cars. Racing is a very expensive hobby, but the Spec Racer is about the least expensive to own and operate. This used car cost me $16,000. A new set of tires, every few races costs about $500. Brake pads only last a few races and cost about $400 per set. Typical race entry fees are around $300 per weekend. Typical car setup charges are $200 per race. Transport charges are about $0.40/mile to get the car to the track. Trackside maintenance by Ray LaRue is $150 per day. Then there are the costs of repairing any damage that occurs to the car which can range from zero to $2500 per weekend. And then there are the costs of replacement parts as things simply wear out and die of old age. An average weekend of racing seems to cost me about $1800.
Is it safe???
The Spec Racer is very safe. The steel tube frame and roll bars are very heavy, but very strong. The car is rugged and reliable. There have never been any fatalities in a Spec Racer. Top speed is around 130 mph.
I thought about getting into S2000, Formula Continental or even Formula Mazda, but I decided that I just do not have any desire to pay the price for those cars in terms of dollars or in terms of keeping up with the latest tricks. The Spec Racer suits me just fine. It's not a very modern or pretty design, but it is simple, reliable and safe.
Ray LaRue Motor Sports prepared the car for my first race, at the new Pikes Peak International Raceway near Colorado Springs. I finished the race 17th out of 21 cars. Ok, that's not fantastic, but it will take me a while to learn to do this well.It looks much easier on TV! The concentration required in a race with 20 other closely matched cars is beyond anything I've ever done.
Racing is great fun, but very difficult. My dear friend Bob Chapman probably tried to tell me how difficult this really is, but until you actually get into a race in a car like this you just can't appreciate how mentally challenging or how much fun it really is.