So, this is it! You’ve got you license, bought your racewear and probably have an idea of the racing series you’d like to join. Motorsport comes in all shapes and sizes and the costs of competing vary greatly between different disciplines. But no matter what your preference, the categories of cost will generally be the same – it’s only the price that will vary.
So, whilst an in-depth look at all of the costs associated with racing is near impossible in one article, this will hopefully act as a cost checklist to make sure you’ve accounted for everything in your budget. Some things are easy to overlook and you don’t want any surprises. I’ve been there – I actually ended up spending a lot more than I thought I would because I’d missed some of the less obvious costs. I’ve made that mistake and decided to blog about it so that you won’t do the same! So without further ado, let’s dive in.
Without question, if you choose to buy your own car to run in a race series, this will be the biggest outlay. Bear in mind that you don’t necessarily need to own a car to compete, as several teams run arrive & drive packages, particularly at grass roots and club level. The do’s and don’ts of buying a race car deserve an article all of its own, so I won’t go into detail here. Used cars are available to buy in the classifieds section of many club websites, and there’s always Race Cars Direct – the biggest website dedicated to second-hand race cars.
You may even find suitable cars on eBay, but always exercise extreme caution when buying from eBay and do your research thoroughly, as this is not a specialised race car outlet and sellers may not have the expertise to give you a true assessment of the car’s suitability for racing. If it’s one that has previously raced in the series you’re planning to join, it should have most of the bits you need.
If you’ve got your own car, consider how you are going to get it to race events. If you’re running with a team, they may provide a storage and transportation service for a cost. If you’re transporting it yourself, you’ll need a trailer and suitable towing vehicle, which can be a significant cost if you don’t already own the requisite kit.
There are a number of admin fees associated with racing before you’ve even turned a wheel. Don’t overlook these, as they are mandatory. Firstly, in order to compete in a series you’ll have to be a member of the club that organises the series. So you’ll need to play a club membership fee. Then you’ll need to register for the Championship itself. This fee is generally the same whether you’re registering for a single race or the full season so you get better value for money from doing more races. This is known as the registration fee. On top of this, there is a race entry fee for each round of the Championship that you take part in.
Admin fees can account for around 30% – 40% of your yearly budget, so they are quite significant. Research them carefully and include them in your budget.
This is the easiest category to forget, so pay close attention! Even a car that is fully “race-ready” won’t necessarily have all the bits and pieces it needs to compete in a Championship. For example, most championships now require all cars to carry on-board cameras to assist with judicial processes. These cameras are not provided and so you must source them yourself. If you’ve already got a GoPro, that’s great, but otherwise it will incur a cost that you may not have anticipated.
Transponders, or race timekeeping devices, are another commonly-overlooked bit of kit. You’ll need one fitted to your car so that race officials can keep track of your car in a race, and these again are not provided. Transponders can be hired from race circuits on a first-come-first-served basis, but aside from being risky it is also quite expensive compared to providing your own. Many transponders are now available on a subscription agreement, meaning you essentially hire them for a period of time (minimum 1 year). This makes them particularly cost-effective if you’re doing lots of racing, but it’s another cost that you need to budget for.
Finally, there’s the mandatory safety and compliance testing costs. Your chosen race series may require you to submit your car for power testing in the pre-season, or for an initial scrutineering check to establish your car’s baseline eligibility. Getting a slot on this testing schedule incurs a booking fee.
Consumables such as tyres, brake pads and fluids will all need replacing at various points in the season. The frequency will depend on the car you are racing, which will affect the cost. For example, in some series you can easily run a set of dry-weather tyres for the entire season, whereas in others the tyres will be replaced after every event. Always ask an experienced competitor in the series you’re targeting about how often different parts will need replacing, and use this information to calculate an approximate total.
Motorsport is a non-contact sport but occasionally bumps and scrapes cause damage to our precious cars. Even the most careful of rookie drivers is likely to sustain a bit of damage at some point so it’s essential to budget for repairs, otherwise you will end up overspending.
Another hidden cost that’s easy to overlook. It’s not always practical to drive from home to a race in the morning, particularly if you’re towing a trailer. For some of the long-distance races, you’ll probably want to stay overnight Friday and Saturday. This is an expense that needs to be in your budget. Spend wisely by seeking out cheap hotels, B&Bs or hostels that are cheaper than staying in some of the big chains.
Oh, and you will need to eat during the weekend as well! This is a less critical expense because you’d be buying food to eat at home anyway if you weren’t racing, but it’s something to monitor nevertheless as you’re more likely to be eating out for breakfast and dinner, which can be pricey.
Of course, there are many budget options available if you’re suitably equipped, such as camping (summer months only!) or even sleeping in the van. Just remember that you need to be well-rested to perform to your best in a motor race, so don’t sacrifice a good night’s sleep just to save a few pennies.
Finally, the optional category of testing. I say “optional” with my tongue in my cheek, however, because it’s essential in your first year of racing to have some experience of the track you’re about to race on before you head out for the first qualifying session. Track days are a great way to learn a track and are generally cheaper than test days, particularly over the winter months where they can be excellent value. Friday testing before a race event is more expensive and gives you less track time, but may still be worth considering because if you’re travelling for the race anyway, it doesn’t incur any extra expense for transportation.
Either way, testing might not be a Championship cost but it is very definitely something that will deplete your funds if you’re not keeping careful track of what you’re spending. And if you’re staying overnight before a test day or track day, remember to factor another night’s food and accommodation into your budget.
So, there you have it. Hopefully this list will be helpful for first-time racing drivers to keep a close eye on forecasting costs in your first year. From experience, I would say don’t underestimate how much testing you will do, and there is always work that needs be done on even the most pristine of race cars. Financial support and continuity is one of the biggest obstacles for racing drivers, so whilst calculating a budget isn’t the most exciting thing you will do this year, it may well be one of the most important, so make sure you take it seriously!