We all wanted to be race car drivers when we were younger, but there’s a common misconception that you’ve either got to be born into it (like an Andretti), or have tons of money at your disposal. As the saying goes, “If you want to make a million dollars in racing, start with two million.”
However, you can get started in motorsports with cars that are significantly less expensive than some of the ones you'd find at a dealership. Yes, they’ll be slower, but when you’re just starting out, slower is a good thing. It forces you to squeeze every ounce of performance out of the car.
If you're looking to start racing on a budget, these are the 10 best cars for you.
Unless you've got the kind of money that results in strangers asking you to adopt them, don't buy a new one. Get an inexpensive one that's 20 to 30 years old, learn how to drive it, and go from there. Once you're ready, get some safety gear in it and go racing in any number of series.
2. BMW 3-Series
Fact: You can grab any 3-Series BMW from the early-1980s to the mid-2000s, take everything out of it except for the front seats, and have a blast. There are myriad racing series dedicated to just this car.
Like the Mustang, Camaros (and their Pontiac brethren Firebirds), are an inexpensive and powerful way to get started. They define "bang for your buck," and you can race 'em anywhere you'd take a Mustang...including an entire series dedicated exclusively to inexpensive Mustangs and Camaros.
4. Mazda MX-5 Miata
Every time someone tells me they're surprised that people race Miatas, I'm stunned. Without compiling official numbers, I'd wager the Miata is the single most raced vehicle in the U.S. Why? Because of action like this.
5. Porsche 944
For all the same reasons as the Bimmer and Miata above, the 944's a trackside staple. It won't break the bank, it's forgiving if you screw up, and you're legitimately racing a Porsche. What's not to love?
6. Honda CRX
Yes, this is a decades-old Honda. And, yes, in bone-stock form it will make you look like a pizza delivery boy. However, this is the lightest car on this list. Once you've seen one head into a corner seemingly without even touching the brakes, you'll understand why so many love this car.
7. Nissan 350 Z
The 350 Z is no stranger to performance, of course, and its racing heritage dates back decades, to the days when Paul Newman used to race his Z. Now, though, it's rapidly becoming a prominent choice for budget racers, and there's even a series dedicated entirely to Zs.
8. Porsche Boxster
Boxsters are getting so cheap these days that building one into a bona-fide race car is downright affordable compared to many options.
The Mini Cooper's racing heritage dates all the way back to its inception. John Cooper built some of the finest Formula One cars in his day, and the first Minis routinely beat up much larger and more powerful cars on racetracks around Europe. Today's MINIs (yes, it's all caps now for legal reasons) can still do that.
10. A Kart
No, not a go-kart. Those are for kids. If you really want to get into racing and learn from scratch, buying a real kart for a few grand and taking it to your local karting track is hands-down your most cost-effective option. You can always step up to cars later.
Bonus: Anything you can find for under $500
The ultimate truth is you can have fun racing almost any vehicle—provided it has safety equipment. Series like the 24 Hours of LeMons or ChumpCar both specialize in lighthearted so-called "crapcan racing"; there's also the cheap but slightly more serious American Endurance Racing.
The point is, just get out there and get started, already!
Aaron Miller is the Rides editor for Supercompressor, and can be found on Twitter. He bought his old Bimmer for $2,200...then almost immediately spent roughly double that on a roll cage and safety equipment.
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