How Much Should You Spend On Your Crapcan Race Car?

There are some things you just don't talk about in polite company: politics, religion and finances, for example. Since that's the case, I'm going to let loose this monster fart and talk about how much money it costs to run a crapcan team — and how much you should charge teammates to run your car.

Different teams have different means of splitting the costs, but the overall costs stay roughly the same. Let's look at what those costs are.

How Much Should You Spend On Your Crapcan Race Car?

Preparing a Car

Let's assume you're not going to be egregiously cheaty and budget in $500 for buying and fixing up the car.

The 24 Hours of LeMons allows you to sell items off the car to get it under $500, but their review of your car's worth is more subjective. If you're bringing a car that looks too nice to possibly be worth that little, the burden of proof is on you to show copies of checks or receipts for the car itself, things you've sold off of the car to bring the price under $500, and the like.

The ChumpCar "Market Performance Value" rules for cars leaves room for a bit more leniency when it comes to what you paid since it assigns a value for you, but bringing a 951S ($625 per the rulebook) still means that it better be ruined, mostly stock and/or probably missing something—or you'll get bumped to the here-for-the-track-time-only Exception Class. Modifications have assigned values as well, but if a part is clearly a brand new premium performance part, the stewards have the right to increase its assigned value per the rules.

While Chump and several of the regional crapcan series won't recognize selling off the parts you don't need as a means to get the cost under $500, your personal wallet will, so I still recommend this. If you can find a person with a broken HVAC system or cruise control module, go for it. Certain other weirdo parts command a premium, too. Porsche crests in any form, be it badges or wheel caps, seem to get an unusual amount of money when sold intact on their own.

Running total: $500, ya cheaters. Leave the Spec Miata you've dumped $15K into at home.

How Much Should You Spend On Your Crapcan Race Car?

Entry Fees

Once you have a car, you've got to pay to enter it.

Generally, any costs that could (in theory) be reused by a driver for another team or event get left up to that driver to pay. This includes drivers' safety gear (the wearable stuff) and any series licenses that may apply. Sure, anyone who can fog a mirror can come race a crapcan — but there's still a "license" to compete that's usually from $10-$50, depending on the event.

So, let's focus on the costs of entering the car itself.

Every event has fees, although the two main crapcan series add them up a little differently.

ChumpCar's standard formula with the two main series is to include a certain number of drivers in the base price and charge extra for every driver beyond the minimum. For a race longer than fourteen hours, ChumpCar lists $1,200 for the car's entry plus four included drivers with a $50 per person fee for any additional drivers added to a team. Notably, shorter races are less expensive and Chump is toying with different race weekend formats quite often this year. There's a $5 log book fee to keep track of every time your team races. If you buy someone else's ChumpCar to run, ask for their log book, too.

LeMons, however, does a per-car, per-person approach: $500 per heap, and $150 per peep. The same five-person team that would be $1,250 for a fifteen-hour ChumpCar event would be $1,250 over here, too.

Additionally, crew members (people who don't drive, but can help with wrenching and fueling) are $75 a head in LeMons and $25 a head in Chump. Since crew guys help save the drivers' butts at key moments, I usually put crew fees back onto the drivers to pay.

Transponder rental is almost universally $50. Don't have a transponder? Budget in to rent one.

Running total (assuming five members plus one crew): $1,875 (includes LeMons' higher crew fee and a rental transponder)

How Much Should You Spend On Your Crapcan Race Car?

Safety Equipment

Just because you've made it run for $500 doesn't mean you're done with the car. Racing is dangerous and organizations require that you add a bunch of stuff to the car to hedge your bets against bodily harm. Even if you've bought an already prepared car, you'll probably need to replace certain items like seats and harnesses every few years to stay within the series' mandated specs. Since safety gear isn't included in the $500 budget for the car itself, this is where crapcans can get rather pricey.

Unless you're an extremely proficient welder, you're going to want to hire a professional to install the roll cage. Because this is the device that keeps you from getting a surprise!car in your lap, this isn't the project to learn how to weld with. Depending on your area and vehicle, these can go from anywhere from $1,500-$3,000. Smaller vehicles such as 914s may be harder to work on because there is less area to work in, so sometimes prices can fluctuate based on something as simple as vehicle size.

If you have any other issues with the chassis itself, a decent cage shop is a great place to have those fixed. For example, Porschelump's floor pan was cracked in a way that would have made mounting a driver's seat securely a bit iffy, so that was another fix I had the cage shop repair. With the floorpan repair and several extra bars added in above and beyond the base requirements (crapcans can get crashy; passenger-side NASCAR-style door bars that extend into the door skin, dash bars and additional bars extending the cage into the footwell are also a good idea even if they're not required), the 944's cage ended up being $2,388.31.

You'll need a seat, too, which can range from the low $300s for an aluminum seat with a removable padded cover all the way up to a couple thousand dollars for seats with head restraints, lightweight materials like fiberglass or carbon fiber, and even forced air ducts for butt cooling.

Five- or six-point harnesses are another requirement that can range anywhere from approximately $50 for a basic five-point all the way up to $600 for HANS-compatible, FIA-rated lightweight models.

Some upgrades can be worth it on the harness. Camlocks are much quicker to get in and out of than the latch-and-lock style since they just twist and pop everything off at once. Six-point belts are also nice if you have anyone on your team who may be persnickety about their man-sausage. Five-point belts have one belt down there and six-points have two, which supposedly does a much better job of cradling the plums instead of smashing them. (Disclaimer: my balls of steel are more of a omnipresent force in the universe that compel me to do dumb things, so I'm relying on hearsay here.)

Other random safety items you'll need to pick up and rough costs for them:

  • Rollbar padding: roughly $60 to cover everything your body could smack into on the cage in SFI-rated smackproofing.
  • Kill switch: $20ish.
  • Fire extinguishers: Small 2.5-lb ones for onboard the car start at around $30 and larger 10-lb ones for refueling start at around $50.
  • Floor jack: $50ish for a cheap one.
  • Jack stands: $20ish per stand; most series require at least two.
  • Tow hooks or straps for front and rear: Stock tow points can be fine if marked and if the opening is large enough for a large hook. If not, budget in about $50 a side for a shiny new tow hook.

Other items may be mandated by your car or series. Convertibles usually need to install additional arm restraints. Seats that travel on sliders more than 3"-6" away from the harness bar behind it often need a seat back brace. Some series require window nets, which you may or may not want to run anyway. Cars without a solid battery bracket need to install a more solid tie-down, too.

If you're planning on fueling in the pits, be sure to get enough fuel jugs to fill up the tank of your car and a drip pan, too.

ChumpCar now mandates an onboard fire suppression system, which can take the place of the smaller onboard fire extinguisher, but parts for it start at around $400.

If a lot of these prices make you squirm a bit, try to look for used or spare parts on forums that are still in spec. For the 944, I picked up a nice fiberglass seat for $350 from a team who had an extra seat and a new six-point harness for $100 from a driver who simply never got around to installing it. Another team sold us their extra set of tow hooks for $20. A Chump team gave us their old onboard fire extinguisher to run LeMons since they no longer needed it, and our hauler had the floor jack and jack stands needed to pass tech.

Running total: approximately $5,075; $5,500 if building to ChumpCar spec (allowing $2,500 for a rollcage and the cheapest options for most of the other stuff)

How Much Should You Spend On Your Crapcan Race Car?

Consumables and Other Exempt Parts

Many consumables fall under the category of "safety items" and fall outside the $500 budgetary limit as well. For example, here's the 24 Hours of LeMons' list:

  • 4.2: Safety Equipment DOES NOT Count Toward $500 Total: Safety equipment described in Section 3 DOES NOT count toward the $500 total. "Safety" refers to things that can save the driver—not things that can save the car.
    • 4.2.1: Beside the items and processes listed in Section 3, the following are considered safety-related and therefore exempt:
      • Wheels, tires, wheel bearings, balljoints, and brake components
      • Exhaust systems downstream of the header/exhaust manifold (NOTE: Turbos and related components are NOT exempt from the $500 limit. Nice try.)
      • Windshields and wipers.
      • Driver comfort & information (steering wheel, shifter, gauges, pedals, cool suits, vents, heaters, radio)
      • All fuel hoses, fuel fittings, fuel filters, and related mounts
      • All fuel-system components upstream of the fuel pump, including tanks/cells, mounts, fillers, vents, etc. (NOTE: Fuel pumps, carburetors, injection pumps, computers, and individual injectors are NOT exempt from the $500 limit.)

If any of these items wear out or go wrong, you need to replace them. Furthermore, you also need to budget for basic maintenance on the car: swapping fluids, replacing tires and replacing belts, for example. Here are some sample amounts from the Porschelump:

  • New windshield: $254.38 (installed by mobile installer since the car was not road legal)
  • New tires: $606.94 (205/50R15 Dunlop Direzza Z2s from Tire Rack + local installation fees)
  • New brake pads for all four corners of the car: $279 (Hawk HT10s, also from Tire Rack)
  • New brake rotors for all four corners of the car: $241 (stock early 944 blanks from Pelican Parts)
  • Fuel for a 14-hour race: approximately $392 (estimated at $4/gallon using 7 gallons an hour)
  • Oil change: roughly $55 (6 quarts of Mobil1 10w40)

If it's all starting to sound really, really labor intensive to throw a car together for this, well, it is. Joe Galletti estimates that his Mid-Drive Crisis build took approximately 550 man hours to get ready for the first race. 100 to 250 hours would be a good estimate of hours for subsequent races.

Running total: approximately $6,650 ($7,075 if you include ChumpCar's window net and fire suppression system; total assumes no major items like windshields or timing belts need replacing yet)

How Much Should You Spend On Your Crapcan Race Car?

Transportation and Spares

There are two other loose ends you should look at before you call a crapcan build "done:" transportation and spares.

We hired a hauler (and thus, another crew guy) for the Porschelump. Prices for this vary wildly depending on location and event, so call around to a few places if you can. Haulers also have a per diem to pay if they're hanging out with the car all weekend. This is awesome because you have an extra crew person on hand, but it's also a bit pricier than hauling it yourself if you already have a truck and trailer.

Some teams who don't already own something to tow with end up renting a truck and trailer. U-Haul's cheapest tow dolly usually rents for about $50 for a weekend, plus you can rent a F150 or similar truck from many rental companies for about $20 plus a mileage fee that is usually around $0.59 a mile.

Expect gas mileage to be terrible since you're hauling a lot of weight, and even worse if you're hauling a less-than-aerodynamic enclosed box trailer. Anywhere from 7 to 12 MPG seems to be the norm. Include some money for moving the car in your budget.

Spares are another thing you'll want to bring with you and have on hand if possible. Start hoarding 'em. Buy parts cars. Dismantle parts cars. Lurk on forums until people post useful items for sale at a reasonable price. Look up common failures (particularly those from racing the car) and buy extras of the parts that often fail.

The worst feeling in the world is to have an item you need on hand and not have it with you at the race, so make sure you have lots of room for spare items in your towing situation.

Running total: $7,650 ($8,075 in Chump spec; allows for $500 for towing/related services and $500 for impulse buys of control arms, spare wheels and new DME relays; YMMV)

How Much Should You Spend On Your Crapcan Race Car?

Splitting the Costs

Different teams have different means of splitting up the costs. Some collectively own the car as a team and split everything related to car prep, event entry and transport evenly. That running total for building a car becomes $1,530 when split up evenly amongst five drivers (or $1,615 with the extra required safety gear for ChumpCar).

I own the car myself and have a semi-rotating bunch of friends who have been attempting to run it. Most of the costs related to getting the car ready fell on me since I'll be the one playing with it after the race. Teammates pay their share of consumables and entry fees, and I get to keep the car in the off-season to do whatever I dang well please with it.

Where this gets tricky is when something goes wrong: for example, flat-spotted tires, overrevs and crashes. Generally, the person responsible for the screw-up gets to pay for it somehow, often in a way that includes funding a replacement and/or donating man-hours to get the car back together. My threat of "break my car and you help me buy and prep a 914" was only half-kidding. You break it, you fix it.

Some more arrive-and-drive style teams (dealing primarily with strangers) assign monetary value to the man hours put into the car and can even go so far as to monitor driver behavior with data logging systems and GoPros. (You thought that was just there for bragging rights afterwards, eh? Heh.) A value is placed on the replacement of the car itself and other key components beforehand and agreed upon by the various drivers.

Mid-Drive Crisis was ran more like this, with drivers agreeing beforehand on costs to replace failed components (100% their cost to replace) and the fee assigned in the event of a catastrophic, race-ending crash. "Our team used to place 50% liability of the (pre-determined) value of the car directly on the driver at the controls." explained Galletti. "The car owner assumed the other 50% in all cases; in advance. All entry fees or costs paid by the other drivers were forfeit to the owner to help cover the loss of the car. If any funds were left over, they were distributed to the other drivers amicably."

All things considered, run your team in a way that makes you completely comfortable with the situation, financially and otherwise. I hate nagging people for fees and their share of the costs, but I also can't afford to completely fund their fun, either, and I absolutely cannot stand the taste of instant ramen. Picking teammates who you trust goes a long way when it comes to getting the car back in one piece and/or returning it to working order soon when it doesn't. Generally, most people will fess up to issues that may cause problems later because they don't want to be the person who ends everyone's weekend, but you still need to be clear about your expectations of teammates up-front just in case.

Photo credit: Sajeev Mehta (1,000,000 dollar bill)