I have two essentially unrelated questions but both seemingly require something that I greatly lack: money. I’m a 22 year old engineering student in New Hampshire and have been around cars my whole life. Over the past few years, I’ve purchased several older motorcycles on craigslist very inexpensively, sorted the mechanical issues, cleaned them up and sold each on for a solid profit ($500 to $1000 profit per bike). While this has been fun, cars have always been my real passion. Working on motorcycles has given me the confidence to tackle a project of a larger scale, so I am seeking advice to realize two long awaited desires. I am currently working and making around $1000 per month and can play with about $200-$300 every month. Furthermore, I have access to my grandfather’s a large garage with pretty much every tool needed to do any automotive work.
Since I got my license several years ago, I have wanted to purchase a winter beater. As I mentioned, I can’t spend more than a few hundred dollars and am therefore not picky about the make, model, year, color, etc (however I will note that I am a Honda fanboy). All that I want is a vehicle that will be capable even during the worst northeast blizzards to save my daily driver from the obscene amounts of salt and sand that the DOT uses to cover our roads. I don’t mind something requiring some relatively basic maintenance but nothing major. I would prefer a car that is either very economical OR able to carry a vast amount of large cargo (ie: mopeds and small motorcycles). I think we’ve all seen the Top Gear Challenge where the blokes buy cars for less than £100 but I can’t seem to find anything in the Boston/Seacoast of NH that is remotely close to this kind of money in fully usable condition. I’m constantly trolling craigslist, local newspapers and side roads. Where is the best place to look for solid and very inexpensive beaters and what should I expect in terms of price and condition? I am fully aware that rust will be an issue where I live.
My second question is perhaps more difficult to answer. I’ve read most of Mr. Baruth’s Trackday Diaries pieces and would like to get into competitive racing/track time in the near future. I am a great proponent of training and licensing but don’t currently have the funds to drop g’s on Skip Barber track days. I am not a “fan” of racing so I don’t know what types of events clubs like SCCA offer or the cost of entrance. My daily driver is an 2008 Civic Si Sedan with 46k and stock Michelin Pilot HX MXM4 all-season rubber. I am open to using this car for some track time but I want to do all that I can to prevent catastrophic failures from occurring and minimize my risk. I know that this car may not be the best for such duties but I can’t see how it could be the worst. I want to properly learn track etiquette and safety procedures but am not sure what modifications, training and equipment I would need to be successful. Are the barriers of entry simply too high for a broke college kid or is participation in the racing scene actually possible? Thanks for any help you may provide.
Very well written letter! Sometimes I feel like an English teacher, so giddy when someone writes such a well thought out query! So let’s do this thing.
Your first question is easy to answer: you covered almost all of the bases. The only thing left is to go on the offensive, via posting want ads. Start on Craigslist with a want ad for a cheap car. Find any corkboard for community postings in college, grocery stores, churches, community centers, etc and post a similar message. Beggars can’t be choosers, but they also can’t wait around for the right whip to show up. Make it happen, and write it just as well as this letter to me.
Question two: there are weekend driving courses around the country, but I couldn’t google something relevant for you. Fear not, I’m just an ignorant Texan, I am sure you can find a place where nearby tracks are rented for weekend driving schools, SCCA club events, Import tuner clubs, etc. The easiest way to get in the action is to join something like the aforementioned SCCA. You know, to get in the network and start autocrossing.
And this is where Jay Lamm, Nick Pon, Judge Phil, Judge Jonny and countless friends I’ve made in the 24 Hours of LeMons proceed to burn me at the stake! Or put a stupid hat on me and strap me to a Fairmont station wagon. Which is kinda the same thing.
It’s true!!! My favorite way to go amateur racing is with LeMons. Eventually. You start by joining a team, and cutting the requisite check for the (laughing) honor. (/laughing) Then you get access to the car during test and tune track days, general wrenching, and so forth. While I do not recommend door-to-door racing for a complete greenhorn, you’ll get there soon enough. Your team will help you make that decision. Most importantly, this form of racing is so much cheaper than anything else out there.
And you’ll make many friends along the way to help you. Too bad most of ‘em are completely nuts. But it’s all good so do yourself a solid, join the LeMons Forum and get rolling. Enjoy the insanity.