Our 1995 Civic was old. It was beat up. It was slow. But it was also simple, resilient, and man was it fun.
If you haven’t seen our last article from Watkins Glen, or followed the Civic’s journey at all, I’ll provide a quick summary. We, really Hassan, got a 1995 Honda Civic DX for free from a fellow co-worker. It hadn’t run for over 5 years; the engine was apart, the alternator was seized to the block, and (this may be a hyperbole that built over time) but I’m pretty sure there was vegetation growing in the engine bay.
Our first goal was to see if we could salvage what was given to us to get it running. In a month’s time the Civic’s powerplant had a shiny new alternator, fresh gaskets, and was ready for its first start. Much to our surprise, it cranked and turned over easier than we expected, especially since the fuel in the tank sat since the last time it ran. Once we knew it ran, we did a little more safety maintenance, threw on a set of Hawk HP+ brake pads, and took it to a local track day at Waterford Hills. In addition, I brought along my 1997 Saab 900 SE coupe that I finished just in the knick of time the night before.
Fast forward past us raving about our first track day, and we started to really consider how we could race come spring 2017. We discussed a few possibilities, but ultimately decided to prep the Civic to race in the Chumpcar (now Champcar) Endurance Series. The work began that winter, with the race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course the end of April as the goal.
The race at Mid-Ohio went well aside from a couple of small reliability issues and uncomfortably loose handling. Our next planned race was Memorial Day weekend a, which was a month later, so we quickly got to work and went over every remaining aspect of the Civic.
A long 10-hour drive with a less-than-ideal tow rig and we were within a half hour from our destination. It was a weekend of racing in the Sahlen’s Chumpyard Dog event at Watkins Glen International raceway. The practice day along with the majority of the first day went incredibly smooth, that was, until there was a full course yellow and we hadn’t seen the Civic pass by in quite some time.
Now that you’ve been caught up, let’s talk about what our next plans were. We thought about buying another Honda so that we could reuse our new parts, but ultimately we went with what we had available: my 1997 Saab 900 SE coupe. Thankfully we were able to save all of the safety gear from the Civic, so the only costs were material for a new cage and whatever parts were required to get reliability up to par. Before long, the Civic became a dumpster (and occasional paintball target) that sat in the driveway outside of the garage.
We will cover the progress of the Saab 900 in future posts, but for now I want to reflect on the Civic for those who are interested in getting into cheap, amateur endurance racing.
The first thing I’ll cover is the big thing that’s on everyone’s mind: cost. We didn’t buy the cheapest of everything, but we didn’t go over the top either. In total, from free-non-running-Civic to race-ready-for-Mid-Ohio-Civic, we spent $3,644.95. The big ticket items included the racing seat, cage material, fire suppression system, and 6-point harness, while some smaller purchases included tie rods, ball joints, wheel bearings, brake lines, a quick-release steering-wheel and hub, and any other miscellaneous maintenance parts we needed along the way.
Now, in addition to getting the car prepped, the other major expense is personal safety equipment. This can vary greatly depending on how much you value your life. Sticking with reputable brands such as Sparco, OMP and Hanns, I spent about $800. One tip for getting much cheaper prices on anything made outside of the USA is to buy it outside of the USA. We personally used MurrayMotorSports.com based in Ireland to purchase all of our racing gear, including our OMP seat.
The other main resource you need to be prepared to give up is your time. We spent a good amount of time working on our Civic getting it race ready. We bent, notched, and welded the cage ourselves, which in itself is quite the project when you do it for the first time. If you live above the rust belt, or are unfortunate enough to even buy a car from that region, you will spend even more time fighting years of oxidized steel. So, find a group of friends you really like.
If you want to just get out there and race you can always buy a car. This option is far easier, and in most cases cheaper, than building your own car. Champcar has a classified section in the forum right on there website that has some impressive deals. The sacrifice here is that you aren’t 100% sure what you are getting, and everything may not be setup exactly how you imagine. Of course, you also sacrifice the pride that comes with building your own racecar.
The last bit of advice I’d bestow onto a new team is to just be prepared and don’t overthink things. The winner almost never comes down to those turning the fastest lap times, but those who can stay out on track the longest. You don’t need the fastest car, you don’t need to have the best drivers, and you don’t need to push the car to 110% for 8 hours straight. Relax, stay focused, inspect the car 3 times over, have your pits set up strategically, but most of all, just have fun.