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The cost of racing...

Started by Jeff, August 25, 2010, 04:05:41 PM

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Since I have 30 minutes to spare I'll see if I can make some sense out of a few thoughts I have.

Mostly this is in response to people doing track days because they're cheaper, how to get people racing, etc.  But what I want to do is share my story to see if anyone has a similar experience, or may be able to use it in conversation with people sitting on the fence.  As usual, I will be writing way too much here.  Deal with it...

How I got to the track...

My first run on the track EVER was at a track day sponsored by Loudon Motorsports I think.  It was in 99 and at Summit.  I had a shiny new 99 CBR600F4. 

The day was freaking fantastic.  I had more fun than I could have imagined.  It was there, that I met a racer who was spending the day practicing.  I talked to him about what racing cost, etc.  He had a small setup.  Older bike, etc.  It still seemed to be a huge expense.

Shortly thereafter, I moved to from WV (I lived like 3 miles from Summit Pt) to IA.  I went from Shenandoah mountains to flat-straight-corn.  It sucked.  I wanted to find a track that I could run a few track days at, and in the process, ran into Bill Hitchcock and Brian Weber who ran CCS.  I started running scenarios around racing and figured that if I bought an older bike for $2k, I could run a few races each year pretty cheap.  Heck, with practice time, and running GT races I could get a LOT of track time for not much more than a track day cost.  Plus, I was doing it on a dedicated race bike and not my street bike.

In all this, I the midst of this all, I ended up wadding up my F4 and that became my racebike.

When I first started racing, the BIG people actually had covered trailers, a generator and TIRE WARMERS!!!  Imagine that, you were BIG TIME if you had warmers.  Not 3-4 sets with digital controls, we're talking 1 set of half melted Tyr Sox. 

People came in vans, in open trucks, packed lunches, drank beer.  Nobody had "team shirts", nobody owned decking to make the paddock pavement pretty.  But we raced...  We had fun...

Somewhere along the line, we all seemed to get sucked in to the bigger/better/faster/more.  And I'm not necessarily talking about bikes.  While the $20k bike was a part of it (I've had a few of them), it also came in the form of suit dryers, custom canopies, team-wear, spare bikes, tire machines, 38' trailers, 40' RV's. 

In my last few years, I traveled to the track with nearly a $200k setup.  TWO-HUNDRED-THOUSAND DOLLARS...  Many people don't have houses that cost that!  I slept in the air conditioned comfort of an RV that cost me $9,000 more than the previous house I owned.  I had new bikes.  They were built professionally.  I had the decking, I had the canopy, I had everything...  I did greatly improve over the years, and I can justify every dime I spent (not that I need to), but in the end, how much of it was for the show?

As I look back on totals approaching half a million dollars spent over my racing career between myself, my sponsors and everyone else helping, I reflect on a fantastic journey and one which I will never forget.  It was an incredible journey, complete with pictures, scars and friends all over the world; and a journey I will never regret one second of.

Yet I still go back to those simple and humble beginnings...  Sleeping in a tent.  Sleeping in a van.  Sleeping in a GMC Jimmy.  With a wife, 2 kids, 2 dogs all piled on top of each other.  Freezing our ASSES off at Gateway when it was 15 degrees at night.  Sweating to death at MAM when it was 8 million degrees with no shade.  Running used tires.  Running pump gas.  Rubbing paint with guys like Bill Hitchcock, Brian Weber, Mike Chachare, Billy Casper, David Vaughn, K3, Rob Borowicz, on and on and on...  Most all of us on bikes that we hoped would hold together, tires which had far too much wear and were only as warm as the ambient temperature of the day, pump gas, and leathers held together with duct tape. 

We were cheap.  We helped each other.  None of us were setting the world on fire, but all of us had fun...  And we did it on shoestring budgets.

The bullshit of not enough money is ridiculous.  The sport costs as much as you put into it. 
The bullshit of it's too dangerous is stupid.  Life is calculated risk.  Understand what you're dealing with before you make arbitrary decisions.
The bullshit of "I'm not fast enough" is just plain bullshit.  I don't care how many track days you go through.  Nothing can prepare you for a race except for a race.  And your trackday laps won't mean crap when that green flag drops.

I got my race license because I wanted track time.  I kept it because I became a racer...

Bucket List:
[X] Get banned from Wera forum
[  ] Walk the Great Wall of China
[X] Visit Mt. Everest


Great post Jeff.  It is a shame these days that people choose not to race or even track days because they don't have most of the things that you couldn't even get back when you started!  I think I did my first track day in 2000 or 2001.  I even rode my bike to the track!  Now I am that guy with the enclosed trailer, generator, tire warmers, etc.  There is something to be said for keeping it it tends to keep it simple too!!
Moto Union - Ducati & MV Agusta of Milwaukee

Who wants a pasta ride?


I"m still cheap.. after 5 yrs of racing I still do not own a generator, use a converted sailboat trailer, run tires a long time and spend money on the longer races.  I only share hotel rooms when the overnight temp is below freezing or above 80F.  Both my bikes run pump gas with SS motors because I'm not good enought to be able to justify built motors.  I do spent money on good suspension and brakes.  This is why I've been able to continue racing while being unemployed.  Better to race a stock bike than have an expensive built one that has sucked up all your money....
Fastsv650/SVR6/Steve sv23
09R6rdrace,13KTM250xc enduro,03SV1000N, 99-02 sv650 project
ret. CCS MW/FL/SE 88  Moto A SSP 881


Jeff, I have been thinking a lot about this as well after reading the threads about the HPT race cancellation, and the GP/MW regions future.  I am passionate about the sport, and one of the highlights of my life was getting to race for quite a few years.  I still love it and watch all the races(headed to Indy on Friday!), and do trackdays occassionally, but I don't ride hard.  I decided I was done racing after the 2008 season.  '07 and '08 both ended with injuries that put me out of commission for about 10 months combined.  I had multiple surgeries that took over 3 months of this time, and some very painful rehabilitation.  Physically, I'll never be 100%, but I'm close enough now that I'm ok with it.  The biggest problem I had was with 2 pretty heavy concussions, and significant memory loss.  To this day, I still struggle a bit with this and it is not cool.  I was lucky that I was properly covered, so my family did not take a financial hit, but my family definitely sacrificied in other ways.  When I talk to racers that have dependents, and find out they either have no coverage or minimal coverage because the tire budget is more important, it really makes me sick to my stomach.  Life insurance and Medical insurance are just a start.  You should also have disability insurance and long term care insurance.  This all costs a lot, but if you need it and don't have it, you are in a world of trouble.  Just my .02.  Having said all this, racing kicks ass, just be sure you do it with both eyes wide open.
GP Expert #914

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy


+1 for keeping it on the cheap!

I raced an 11 year old bike for the past 2 seasons. It broke alot and I worked on it alot. I was lucky enought to have great sponsorship this year though, which made maintaining the aging beast alot easier! I rant this season on two sets of tires. Yup, two. I rolled to the track in a beat up old cherokee, towing a Harbor Freight 4x8 foldable trailer. I slept in my jeep or in a tent. I brought MRE's to eat. I did splurge on a few beers though!

Sure, I wish I could have had the enclosed trailer, or an rv....or a bike that wasn't eligible for Vintage status, but I had FUN.

I think one thing to think about, in terms of TD vs. racing, is the competition mindset. Many people ride TD's because it isn't a race. Racing requires a winning attitude, and let's be honest- who here is racing to be last place??? None of us are. We are ALL out there to win. With this said- I think Jeff is right on the money with his post....the giant RV's, pit crews and endless $$$ some folks throw at club racing DOES INDEED keep certain people from the track. I know that it definitely keeps alot of AM's from bumping to EX. MAybe I'm way off base here, but I think its true. Now, I know someone will undoubtedly reply with, "There will always be one or two guys with more money than talent out there..." blah blah blah. Yes, that USED to be true. It used to be one or two guys.  Now, with the economy in the shitter, the majority of regulars joes are getting out, and the guys with the high dollar programs are still out there gridding up. And I think there are WAY more of these high dollar programs nowadays.

I ran my first laps out at Firebird in AZ around 1994. I showed up to the track on a bone stock FZR 600 with a D&D slip on and some cheap ass race plastics. I RODE to the track with my rear stand slung over my back. No canopy, no warmers, no spares. Two piece leathersThere were no trackdays then. On Saturday, you learned the rules and got your license. On Sunday, they threw you to the wolves....and it rocked.

Trackdays do have a place in our world, but for most people, those laps at a track day satiates their need for speed, and they look at a race paddock and see all the $$$ tied up, and think, "I'll stick to the cheap TD, thank you very much."

Anywho, great post, Jeff. Hopefully we can weather this low grid storm. I'll see you guys and gals next year on my NEW 11 year old bike which I will still tow with my 14 year old jeep.

#730 CCS MW/GP
Pursuit Racing, The Backstopper's Org. - St. Louis, MO.
King Edward's Chicken and Fish- St. Louis, MO.


Thanks for the thoughts Jeff. It was a good read and I can identify, although I am still using that concept today. I keep my budget low compared to many others that race. I race a select few races but I do it with support from contingency from Michelin. I manage my tires and expenses but racing is a luxury for me. Lat year I spent $700 in tires for the season out of my pocket. Yes I wasn't on Dunlops but yet i was on fresh tires that yielded me some wins.

Racing on the cheap can be accomplished just mostly in the Ultralight or lightweight classes.

Bring it out, let's race.

Mark Tenn
CCS Ex #22
Mark Tenn Motorsports, Michelin tire guy in Florida.


sweet write up! I spend more than some, less than others.. Here's to racing as long as we can!
2012 FL region & 2014 South East overall champion
Pro Flow Tech Performance Fuel Injector Service
MICHELIN, EBC, Silkolene, JenningsGP, Engine Ice


After reading the replies, I'd like to follow up with the thought that if you're on the track without insurance (medical, life, disability), you really have no business doing such unless you have a few $M in the bank to cover yourself and your family when you get hurt.  And if you're talking to anyone trying to convert them, I'd press insurance being as important as a helmet and leathers.

I guess in the end, my whole point was that while it does take money to race, it doesn't have to be what some people make it out to be.  And if you're running multiple track days per year, the costs can be very comparable...  Just my $.02...

Bucket List:
[X] Get banned from Wera forum
[  ] Walk the Great Wall of China
[X] Visit Mt. Everest


well jeff it seems that actually my1st race weekend will end up being way more expensive than any other only because you have to factor in the cost of the school and then the cost of the license. my next race weekend is going to be way cheaper. i think the only thing i have on the upper hand is that i have full coverage insurance for me and my family through the army. if you try to jump right into it out of the blue and buy all the parts at once you end up looking like you forked out alot of money. it took me a year from the time i set my mind to do it to slowly piece things together using a few dollars out of each paycheck.  buy race take offs here (thanks jason) to a chain there...etc.
it was way worth it. my next race will be waaaaaaaay cheaper.
Former CCS MW Novice #81, WERA Novice #81
AHRMA Heavyweight SBK #81, DD's Racing Endurance Team #773
2020 Tuono Factory, 2000 RC51, 1980 CB750/823


I sold my camper, took the van to my first race this year.  Did about 10 laps.  Total cost $1000


Quote from: Jeff on August 26, 2010, 08:38:15 AM
After reading the replies, I'd like to follow up with the thought that if you're on the track without insurance (medical, life, disability), you really have no business doing such unless you have a few $M in the bank to cover yourself and your family when you get hurt.

That's the exact reason I'm not participating this season, no medical insurance once I left my job to start my own business. At this point with my business I could maybe come up with the money to make an event here or there, but I wouldn't have insurance so I don't even consider getting on the track.

In my opinion I think one of the greatest enemies to racers is CREDIT, I bet debt takes out more people than anything else. If everyone was paying for their racing expenses as they went along (which is what I've done since around 2000), and not using credit to do it, there would probably be more racers racing for longer because they would concentrate on paying for essentials to race - not the luxuries. I've personally been there, I fell very deeply into the depths of credit Hell from charging a combination of racing and other recreational sports expenses in the mid to late 90's. Trying to get out of that credit hole while continueing to race (and paying cash for it as I went along) was extremely challenging - but I did it by sacrificing tire costs which left me at the back of the pack the majority of the time, but I still had fun.
Smites are a cowards way of feeling brave!   :jerkoff:
Mike Williams - 2 GSXR 750's
Former MW Region Expert #58
Racing exclusively with CCS since '96


IMHO the expense just needs to be managed.  If you use credit, make sure you can pay it off.  I carried some debt into the off season for a few seasons but always managed to pay it off.  And most of the time I stayed current on the expenses.

Early on I think it was Rosno who I was talking to that said that it seemed like most racers had a 2 year lifespan.  Year 1 they get their feet wet in the amateur ranks.  Year 2 they rack up $50k in debt to win an amateur championship.  Then they fall off the face of the earth for 10 years trying to pay it off...

Me, I chose to run 3-5 races each weekend and run EVERY weekend vice running 14 races for 1-2 weekends per year.

Bucket List:
[X] Get banned from Wera forum
[  ] Walk the Great Wall of China
[X] Visit Mt. Everest