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Speed costs money. How fast do you want to go?
Such is the central question and way of life and business in modern day auto racing, whether that’s at the professional level in NASCAR or IndyCar, or at the local level in Eastern Iowa racing IMCA — International Motor Contest Association — cars on dirt.
The costs attached with strapping oneself into a car and going as fast as possible around a dirt oval for afternoons and evenings throughout the summer can provide a measure of sticker shock for the uninitiated. Those involved know that — and have for a long time — but the value for them is the same as spending money on fishing, hunting, boating or any other hobby a person finds.
Nonetheless, auto racing is an expensive hobby. Getting it started and then sustaining it requires an investment.
“I could compare what I do to what a drug dealer does, to be honest with you,” said Kyle Brown, IMCA Modified racer and owner and operator of Harris Auto Racing in Boone. “We all love this sport so much and we’re so passionate about it, we’ll find a way. It doesn’t matter what it costs, we’ll find a way. Anybody that’s ever raced is that way — anyone that’s ever been passionate about racing.”
There are a few different routes to go when buying into motorsports and each depends primarily on experience level and funding. The two top levels of racing in Eastern Iowa — IMCA Late Models and Modifieds — run the gamut in terms of racers and race teams with all levels of experience and funding.
Racers can buy brand-new parts and pieces and assemble them themselves, they can pay to have the car assembled as a complete package, or they can do those things with used parts and pieces. There are dozens of parts, engine and chassis dealers across the state — and thousands across the country — and there’s always Craigslist and Facebook groups from which people can buy what they’re looking for — though the latter has price points that are inconsistent and no guarantee on quality.
Andy Eckrich, who owns and operates Precision Performance in Cosgrove, and Brown at Harris sell those parts and pieces while also competing in Late Model and Modified, respectively, and see every manner of racer agenda come through the shop door.
Late Model racing traditionally has been considered the premier form of racing for decades, though in recent years has seen participation numbers drop in Eastern Iowa and other local racetracks across the country — a significant reason being the cost to compete.
Starting from scratch to get into Late Model racing carries with it, on average, a six-figure price tag with every part, piece and tool included.
“It’s kind of taboo,” Eckrich said. “Nobody will ever tell you exactly what they spent.”
The price tag on what you need to compete can give a true sense of the seriousness of the sport’s participants.
A brand-new, complete Late Model racecar will cost a racer approximately $34,000 without an engine. An engine to run IMCA races, as is most common in Eastern Iowa, will cost on average $20,000, Eckrich said.
A set of shocks run $750 per shock, and racers usually need a spare or two, and Eckrich said Precision Performance has shock packages around $3,800. The miscellaneous stuff — fuel, oil, filters, bodywork, nuts and bolts, etc. — comes in around $7,500.
Hoosier tires for IMCA Late Models cost $135 per tire, and Eckrich said the average tire bill for racers going through 30 to 40 tires per year is $5,000. Wheels on which to mount those tires cost anywhere from $175 to $280 depending on quality, so there’s another $7,500.
If a potential racer doesn’t have something to haul it in or with, they’re looking at anywhere from $2,000 for an open flatbed trailer to $25,000 for a new enclosed trailer.
Throw in $500 to $700 for a racing helmet, $1,500 for a suit, $200 for shoes and $100 for gloves — all fireproof.
That’s approximately $90,000 for a racer in their first year just to have the equipment necessary to race a full season. Fuel, repairs and other costs depend on individuals and how they budget, Eckrich said.
Those numbers Eckrich offered reflect racers who want high-quality, new equipment. The resale websites are where racers sacrifice investment for potential speed.
That much is especially true when it comes to engines. Eckrich said a racer can get a “good, durable piece” for $12,000 to $15,000. It’s not going to have the lightest parts that make the most power.
The inverse is that the more expensive engines — the most Eckrich has seen an IMCA engine sold for was $32,000 — need to be rebuilt more often. An overhaul on an engine costs approximately $9,000, depending on the work needed and who does it.
Many racers don’t buy new every year — maybe they run a car for three years, for example — but $74,000 at 40 races per year is common.
“Everybody wants that extra little bit of speed,” Eckrich said. “I learned a long time ago with my open motor program that that last 10 horsepower is the most expensive. It’s technology, and a lot of times do you need it?
“There’s probably people who spend more and are winning more, and vice versa. Then there’s the average guy who does it do-it-yourself where costs are cut down because you do it yourself.”
IMCA Modified racing is the most popular form of dirt racing in Iowa, often offering the biggest car counts and most consistent participation of any other classes that run at IMCA racetracks. While they run a little cheaper than Late Models, it isn’t by much.
When buying new, complete Modifieds end up in the $35,000 to $38,000 range without an engine. Unlike Late Models, though, Modified racing offers a Crate Engine package that costs between $5,000 and $7,000, depending one where it’s purchased.
The other engine option — an Open Engine — costs between $10,000 and $13,000, again depending on who it’s bought from.
Hoosier tires for Modifieds cost $105 per tire, and Brown said the average racer will spend between $1,200 and $2,500 a year on tires — up to as much as $15,000 on tires for the guys racing 70 to 80 nights per year.
High-quality shocks cost approximately $400 per shock, and Brown said most racers have just a few spares in the trailer, bringing that to around $1,200 to $1,600 for a shock package.
As with Late Models, there’s the miscellaneous — fuel, oil and other items — that Brown said usually comes in around $3,500 for those racing 30 to 40 nights per year.
With a new racecar, Brown said a yearly cost of $60,000 to $70,000 is common for racers who race a lot. Without a new car, it’s around $30,000 per year to race competitively, he said.
“Competitively,” is the key word. As with anything, it all can be done for cheaper with used chassis, parts and a Crate Engine. Regardless, Brown said, the costs add up — whether it’s all in one shot or parceled out.
“People have this weird way of buying a car. People will buy a car and put all these parts in it and say they only have $20,000 in it. And then if you actually add it up, they’re double,” Brown said. “I sent a guy a quote on a complete roller. The number scared him because he said he wanted a nice one, and it was like $28,000 with everything — the nicest stuff.
“When you hear that number, it scares you. He got a little worried and said, ‘I’ll just get the frame and get the parts from you later.’ He came and bought all the parts and paid for his bill, and it was damn near the same number.
“Whether you buy it all at once or buy it in 10 stops, it’s still the same number.
“When you start adding up the dumb little stuff you don’t think about to put a car together — and if you really want to do a cost analysis, you add in fuel and time going and getting all this stuff — they’re going to have way more in it than they think.”
The numbers Eckrich and Brown offered were for those racers who are fully committed to racing and go at it almost as if it’s an occupation. There are scores of others who have far lower budgets and race on a fraction of what Eckrich and Brown provided.
The fact remains, though, those racers who spend far less also don’t win very often — or at all. Both Eckrich and Brown gave a knowing laugh when saying, in some form, racers have priced themselves out for decades.
“I used to race on a couple thousand dollars a year. I’d buy junk stuff and scavenge to get to the track and fix a lot of it myself. Anymore, that era is gone,” Brown said.
“People want to do their own thing. They want to buy speed. They want to buy new product — they don’t want to fix used stuff. That’s no one’s fault but us racers, really.
“But that’s why guys like me have a job because people want to buy the stuff instead of do it themselves.”
Late Model racers, Eckrich said, lose up to $50,000 per year to race. Brown said Modified racers lose between $30,000 and $35,000 per year — all to have fun. As Brown put it, though, racers have found a way for years and will continue to — at least, racing business owners such as Brown and Eckrich hope so.
Speed costs money. How fast do you want to go?
“To be honest, I don’t know how a lot of guys do it,” Brown said. “There’s really no way to quit doing it if you want to be competitive. If you want to be competitive, you’ve got to put forth the capital to get it done.
“I run into it every day. Guys are fed up with costs, but they’re not fed up with spending the money. They’re fed up with spending the money and not doing good. I’m scared for the future of the sport because
“I’m worried someday these guys are going to be like, ‘We can’t do this anymore.’ It’s just the nature of the beast.”
Editor’s note: Prices quoted by shop owners and operators in this story are approximate. For specific pricing, contact a dealer or retailer.
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