If it's so easy to get on track, why is it so hard to get a car?

J.G.
By J.G. Pasterjak
May 5, 2024 | Track Car, Column, Blog | Posted in Columns | From the Feb. 2024 issue | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: Chris Tropea

Irony can be pretty ironic. At the moment, you don’t need to look any further than your local track, then glance to your local car dealership, to get an epic dose of bitter irony injected right into your heel and toe.

A statement I’ve been able to make truthfully every single one of the 33-plus years I’ve worked here is, “It’s never been easier to get on track.” It’s always been true, and the situation has always been improving.

Three decades ago, “track days” were a novelty. They were playgrounds for rich dudes who very definitely weren’t you, and getting on an honest-to-goodness race track usually meant getting a competition license and having a competition spec car.

Now, as we’re all gleefully aware, things are much easier. From programs like the SCCA’s Track Night in America to scores of independent clubs hosting affordable track days at circuits around the country to, as you’ll read later along in the book, even manufacturers as mainstream as Hyundai coaxing people into the sport, turning tires on a race track is now as easy as clicking a few internet buttons and laying down less than the cost of a pair of theme park tickets.

Oh, dear reader, I’m sure you sense the “but” just over the horizon, lurking in wait to bring a cold slap of reality to our track-ready faces. And I’m sure you’ve probably already guessed what that “but” is, because if you’re anything like me, you spend a lot of time thinking about “buts.”

Yeah, cars are more friggin’ expensive than ever.

Look, this is not a financial column. If I was better at reading stock charts than lap data charts, I’d be writing this from the hot tub on my helicopter, but I’m not, so you get me from an old office chair with a bird poo stain on it. 

But I’m smart enough to know what time it is on the street, and the clock says dig deep into those wallets. Average new car price has now topped $48,000, which is up over $10,000 from just three years ago, and the average monthly payment on a financed new car is nearing $750. 

Just buy a used car, dummy,” Is your snarky response. “Let someone else suck up that depreciation.”

First, why are you being so hostile? We’re on the same side. And second, used car prices aren’t much better. Yeah, I get that part of the rise in value of used cars is because cars are just plain better these days, but average used car prices are still close to $35,000, with the average used car financing note being close to $550 per month. No one in my immediate family has ever even bought a NEW car for those prices, so whenever our next new car purchase inevitably becomes a necessity, it’s going to have some real impact.

Even the traditional “good deal” cars are getting kind of nuts these days. A new Civic Si is now $30,000-plus MSRP, and that’s before predatory dealers bend you over the proverbial table for their “market adjustments.” One of the few cars in recent times that has tempted me back into a car payment–the Hyundai Elantra N–is a $34,000 investment for a 15,000-ish mile example from the major online used car retailers.

Add to this that the generation of “affordable” fun cars are now either priceless artifacts or useless, rotting garbage. Have you priced E30 BMWs or a pre-air bag Civic Si lately? It’s great if you own one–congrats on your wise investment–but the days of the $5000 track rat may be forever in the rearview.

So where am I going with this? Man, I don’t know. I really don’t want this to be my first column that’s just a whiny ramblefest, but just know that everyone in the community is feeling the pinch of the current market. I think the community has taken some wise, preemptive steps toward making these economic conditions more bearable–the SCCA Time Trials program’s heavy bias toward cars that can be realistically driven to the track, precluding the need for a truck and trailer, seems to be a wise move–but overall I think the time is coming for a large-scale reprioritization for a lot of folks in this scene.

Maybe it means the move to “dual-duty” cars for many of us, or the adoption of more durable tires to reduce the cost of consumables, or even the “spending money to save money” route of joining a track club or pre-paying for a year’s worth of track time for a heavy discount. 

The good news is we have more options than ever. Now we just have to figure out how to pay for them.

Does anyone want a good deal on a lightly used office chair? Only minor parrot poo stains. I’ll let it go for the cost of one track day entry.

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Comments
Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
2/7/24 12:49 p.m.

I'm definitely having to play a game of the car I need vs. the car I want with our next vehicle purchase. In a perfect world, I would just buy two different vehicles, but that's not something I can afford.

bobzilla
bobzilla MegaDork
2/7/24 12:51 p.m.

You can still get a brand new car with turbo, manual, good tires and brakes right off the lot for Well under $30k. $26,545 for a 2024 Forte GT Manual. Get 'em while they still make them!

Msterbee
Msterbee Reader
2/7/24 1:06 p.m.

Possibly the bigger problem beyond affordability is that the number of cars being made that might be appropriate for track use has dwindled rapidly in recent years.  SUV's and crossovers have almost completely taken over the car market. I, for one, am completely uninterested in these types of vehicles for either street or track duty.  

One possible solution is to daily a 1/2 ton pickup or larger SUV, then get a trailer.  If you remove the requirement for your track car to be street legal, a whole world of inexpensive possibilities opens up.  The only real flaw in this argument is that you need a place to store the trailer and the car, which can be quite expensive.

theruleslawyer
theruleslawyer New Reader
2/7/24 1:09 p.m.

I don't know about 30 years ago, but 20 years ago you didn't need a race car and competition license. What mostly changed was the internet and how easy it was to find a group of people renting a track. I ran with forum based groups back then. I imagine PCA and BMWCCA had enough people to be doing it as well (though I wasn't involved with them then). Its stupid easy today even compared to then. Track specific sites the list nearly every hpde and even allow you to register are amazing.

 

 

RyanGreener (Forum Supporter)
RyanGreener (Forum Supporter) HalfDork
2/7/24 1:21 p.m.

Between cars costing more, they're also a bit more complex/expensive to maintain and fix. Also, there's just less of a variety of cars to get and finally, most people don't have the discretionary income to have a "toy" car thanks to increased cost of living and wage stagnation.

Tom1200
Tom1200 PowerDork
2/7/24 1:28 p.m.

You can still find trackable cars for 6-10K.

No it won't be top dog.

Our Foxbody Mustang is costing me $7500. I will be adding $600 worth of brakes now and another $1500 later on. 

ND Miata will spank that car; they shall spank it on the ground, they shall spank it in the air, they shall spank it in the sea........yet I shall drive it with glee.

The problem (that's not really a problem) is every one thinks they need a 45-50k car. Lemons and Champcar proved otherwise.

All you need is a reliable decent handling car. My son is tracking his Lexus LS400. He paid 8K for it.

ClearWaterMS
ClearWaterMS Reader
2/7/24 1:42 p.m.

The average price of a new vehicle in 2023 is $48,759.  If you use that as the top of the bell curve you can find plenty of options of track oriented cars on either side of that bell curve while still staying towards the top.  

The problem is that how many of those cars are actually track capable?  I'm not talking about the ability to go out and turn a single hot lap, but instead go out and run a session without overheating something.  

 

Javelin
Javelin GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
2/7/24 1:43 p.m.

Easy. The Great Depression of 2008 trashed new car sales for years, and now those cars are the bottom of the depreciation curve. Now there's not enough available, so everything left went up in price. This hit enthusiast cars especially hard.

Woody (Forum Supportum)
Woody (Forum Supportum) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
2/7/24 2:29 p.m.

I have it on fairly good authority that the car in your photo is most certainly not easy to get.

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