By: Bruce Richardson and Bob Comis
I love my SpecRacer Ford. It is a great car for the amateur racer like me. It is a fun car to drive. It’s a real race car, not a grocery getter that has been converted to a race car. The SpecRacer was designed and built to race, and over the years the car has been upgraded to resolve any reliability issues. You aren’t allowed to rebuild the motor, and a good number of parts are not modifiable, or “Spec,” so you don’t have to spend gobs of money on the motor or the latest trick parts, which are expensive. The SpecRacer is robust and doesn’t require a crew and can take abuse and still finish. It doesn’t require a lot of maintenance, so you can spend your time driving and not wrenching. The car is also safe to drive; you can walk away from even a significant crash. Everything about the SpecRacer—including the other drivers, who are a great group of people to hang with at or off the racetrack—makes it a fun car to drive. Also, the cars don’t depreciate, so if you buy one, you can usually sell it for close to what you paid for it.
I really like the open cockpit of the SpecRacer. Feeling the air hitting your helmet at over 100 mph just makes it feel like a race car, like you are really racing. On hot days, with the open cockpit, you don’t feel like you are in an oven, and it is also cool to race in the rain. You do get wet on your shoulders but not a lot gets on the rest of your body. And, it’s the same experience that Formula One drivers have when they race in the rain.
The seating in the SpecRacer is very comfortable and accommodates almost any size driver. There are three seat options, the standard fiberglass seat, a bead seat insert, and a Butler seat. The fiberglass seat comes in one size but can be padded for the smaller driver or modified for the larger driver. This seat doesn’t support your ribs and is easy to get in and out of. The Butler seat comes in different sizes and is another option for someone that likes to be more constrained. It has rib supports. With either seat, you have great visibility. In addition to the seating options, the steering position and pedal positions are adjustable. The steering wheel can be moved fore or aft and raised or lowered. You can also get a removeable steering wheel if that is your preference. The pedals can be moved to accommodate a short or tall driver. Drivers above six feet easily fit in the car. I don’t think there is any other race car that can fit the range of size and preference of drivers like the SpecRacer.
The SpecRacer handles great. It is predictable and can corner well above one G. The suspension is adjustable to meet the style of the driver: the camber, caster, bump steer, sway bars, shock settings and toe can all be adjusted. The sway bars are a great way to adjust the handling characteristics of the car. If you don’t like the rear stepping out, you can add grip to the rear to reduce oversteer. Or you can add oversteer. The car can be setup to the driver’s preference, and the adjustments can be done quickly and easily compared to a modified street car. The adjustable shocks allow the diver to get the best handling on smooth or bumpy tracks. The car can be adjusted in ways that can make almost anyone happy. The SpecRacer was designed as a race car, and it corners with higher G forces than a street car adapted to race. The car doesn’t handle as well as cars with wings, but going around a corner above two Gs starts to stretch my concept of reality. The Hoosier tires that we run get great grip and last for eight to twelve sessions before they need to be replaced. Also, with the racing-designed suspension, the car doesn’t roll like your street car does. It feels more like a go-kart and not your grandmother’s Cadillac. The SpecRacer runs lap times about eight seconds faster than a Spec Miata, within a second of the Spec Mustang, and about four seconds slower than a GT3 car.
The number of cars that you typically race against is just right: not just one, not too many, and there is not a mix of cars. There are cars that are faster and handle better, but you might be the only one in your class. Now, if you are looking to win every race then the FA, FB, SP, or ASR might be for you—and only you. In my opinion, the Spec Miata class can have too many cars, and there is almost always some significant contact in a race. There are also other run groups that have many classes of cars on track at the same time. It can be frustrating and dangerous when you pass a car in the corner and then keep getting passed right back in the straights. The SpecRacers are evenly matched and have enough cars on grid to have fun.
Having fun on the track is only one part of driving a SpecRacer. It is a fun group of drivers that run this class. A lot of drivers like the SpecRacer because they are competitive and want to challenge themselves to be the best. You might not win in a SpecRacer, but you will always have someone to race against. The guys I race close to are the ones that I have the most fun with on and off the track. The personal relationships that develop between SpecRacer drivers is great. A lot of drivers meet at the end of the day to grab a beer, to have dinner, or just to hang out. It is cool to share videos and stories.
Drivers range in age from kids that can’t get a driver license to people well past retirement. No matter the age there is a lot to talk about before and after on-track sessions.
The people that drive SpecRacers range from doctors to just your average Joe’s. You don’t have to be super rich to run one of these cars. It isn’t how much money you have; it is how good you drive.
The cars are “Spec,” meaning that a lot of the parts on the car can’t be modified or only come from SCCA Enterprises. This creates a level playing field and keeps costs down. For some of the classes, to be competitive you need to spend over $10k just to have a competitive motor. And in other classes you won’t be competitive unless you have a lot of carbon graphite. The SpecRacer class has a minimum weight high enough that most people have to add ballast to their cars to meet the minimum weight. The motors come from the factory. They are put on a dyno and are all matched in horse power. If your motor or transaxle, which both last for years, requires a rebuild they either go back to the factory or the local CSR (Customer Service Representative) or racing prep-shop. A transaxle rebuild is not expensive. Parts like oil, filters, hardware, and a lot of generic parts can be bought from your local parts store. The key parts that impact performance are controlled and Spec. All of this is designed to keep cheaters out of the class.
The body is fiberglass. With a steel bodied car any contact results in body damage. Fiberglass, however, is forgiving. There is give, like a fishing pole, and in light contact the body just springs back and often needs no repairs. Also, fiberglass repairs can be done with limited tools and by almost anyone willing to learn. If there is a bigger impact, the cracks in the fiberglass can usually be repaired with a patch of sheet metal and some pop-rivets in less than an hour. If the damage is bad, divers can usually get a loaner front or rear from another driver or group.
The car is designed like most purpose-built race cars, which makes it relatively easy to repair after a crash. If a corner is hit, the control arms bend before the frame. The control arms can be replaced at the track and their cost is very reasonable. Unless is it a high impact crash, the car can be put back together in hours and raced the same day. In case of a front end crash, all the parts can be replaced in an hour or two and at a much lower cost than any other class of car. For most modified street cars, if you hit the front end you are done for the weekend, but not with a SpecRacer.
The cost of running a SpecRacer is one of the lowest of any class. Maintenance costs are low and the cars don’t require a lot of it, which makes it so the driver can have fun driving, instead of wrenching. Most of the maintenance is like a street car: changing oil in the engine and transaxle, and replacing filters. Brakes need to be maintained but are relatively easy and, typically, for a full race season the brake pads will have to be replaced twice and maybe a set of rotors. Brake pads are reasonable and cost $143 for a set, two sets per car. Wheel bearings are another part that requires seasonal maintenance, and it is a good idea to replace them every year. Replacing them requires a hydraulic press or the CSR can change them for at the track[BC1] . The main cost of running a SpecRacer is gas and tires. The car uses low octane full and gets relatively good fuel economy for a race car, and the tires are at the low end for racing tires, about $800 a set.
At the track, your CSR or prep-shops stock most of the parts you might need, so you don’t need to bring spare parts to the track. If you need a part when you are away from the track, they can be ordered online and you can have them the next day.
The last and probably most important reason to race a SpecRacer is safety. The SpecRacer is probably the safest race car of any class or series. The driver is in the center of the car and it has large crush zones in every direction. This contrasts with the Spec Miata, which has almost no impact protection on the driver’s side, and it contrasts with formula cars that have no side impact protection. The front of the car houses the radiator, and from the driver’s feet to the front of the car is about four feet, a lot of crash protection.
The car has a very low center of gravity, which reduces the chance of a roll over and contributes to the great handling characteristics. If for some reason the car does roll, the roll bar is well above the head of the driver, even tall drivers. The driver is also well protected by roll bar padding and head protection.
The SpecRacer almost never catches on fire. The fuel is stored and plumbed away from the hot headers and if there is a fuel leak, the fuel typically doesn’t ignite. In some cars when engines blow up oil sprays across the exhaust header and a fire starts but not the SpecRacer. The headers—the hot ignition source—are high above the part of the crankcase that would spew out oil.
If you want to drive a fun, competitive car and want to meet great people; if you want a real race car that doesn’t require you to spend all your time on engineering and maintenance; if you don’t want to spend your life savings racing; and you don’t want to get injured, then you should be running a SpecRacer.