RX-7 photographed at WEK Fest Seattle 2019
I've been a self proclaimed car nut for as long as I can remember. And I've had more cars than I care to admit. I've dabbled in autocross, high speed track days, car shows, a day at rally racing school and ultimately photography and design. There are two common themes that all of these car culture staples have in common. They're expensive. So you'll do well to have a realistic conversation with yourself before heading hardcore down any given path. In order to do this, I suggest asking yourself a few simple, yet very telling questions. Here's one question.
1) What is my budget?
Low budget thrills:
There are incredible things you can do in car culture on the cheap. For some, you don't even have to have a car. Many American cities have race tracks outside of the main city and you can get there in your daily driver, or catch a lift from a friend. In order to keep money coming in, tracks tend to schedule races and events with local participants and clubs in between their more expensive high visibility events. Autoshops and some dealers may also know where to find meet ups and sometimes host social events of their own. Many auto manufactures, especially ones known for performance cars like Porsche, BMW and Audi have regional clubs and are happy to have enthusiasts come and see their events like autocross even if you don't intend to drive. There may be some limitations around that now due to COVID-19, so alway call or email ahead to see what the rules are. You can also google car shows and the name of your city to find out where some cool events are that you may have otherwise missed. Remember, different key words in car culture will yield different things. Play around with terms like tuner, import, drift, classic, muscle and exotic cars to help you find your own personal style. Some global shows like Hot Import Nights and Import Face Off will be more expensive, but they're guaranteed to have music, vibe and scenery that will leave you feeling fast and furious.
These are the kind of events that you may have a certain chunk of money for, or you may want to plan ahead, but they'll get you into the driver's seat and can be well worth the effort. Many race tracks in America offer driving experiences and they tend to charge based on seat time and the type of car you'll be driving. Some companies will be a traveling exotic car company that lets you pay for supercar time by the lap. Unfortunately, it won't be many laps. Some will have exhibition autocross days and you'll be able to sign up to drive your daily as long as it passes a tech inspection and you have the proper safety gear like a helmet that meets regulative standards. Most of the time, you can get yourself set up and ready to go for these types of events for under $500.
There are other offers like Washington State's Dirtfish Rally School where you can get varied amounts of training and seat time in a real rally car for various amounts of your hard earned cash. Typically, you can get more time than you'd imagined for under $1,000. It's a chunk of change, but it's a very real and unrestrained performance driving experience.
There's not enough room on this blog to cover everything you can do with a hefty budget, So I'll cover some items for right around $5k. Assuming you already have car that runs and drives, you can likely squeeze wheels, tires , suspension, maybe axle back exhaust and a couple of light power adding modifications into that budget. ThisIf you're driving Japanese, your dollars will likely go much further than European. This will give you a fun, sustainable car for autocross and maybe a couple of track days (though I now prefer a caged car. I'll write about that some time). You'll also want a medium aged high production number car. New tech in cars is expensive to work on and complicated to mod. Too old or too rare, you'll end up spending your entire summer waiting for parts. Trust me, I used to own a BMW Z4M. I was proud of the sub 4,000 cars made for the US, but hated being sidelined for months just from needing a rear bumper replaced.
For this budget, you could even take your racing license class. 3 days of class and seat time will get you accredited if that's what you're after, but they also have cheaper shorter classes for those who just want the experience. There are single seat race cars, sports cars and even your car to choose from as long as your car meets the strict safety guidelines.
Photography and artwork are another fun yet slippery slope as you can spend a lot getting the right equipment and getting yourself to the right locations for the shots you want. Nail your technique using your camera phone before jumping into expensive camera equipment. You don't want your hardware to be obsolete by the time you get the hang of using it.
I'll be back with more conversations from time to time. In the meantime, enjoy, cars, coffee and CAFFEINE GT.