When it comes to the world of amateur endurance racing, you can enter by a door at either end: extremely cheap, or extremely expensive. The former includes series like LeMons, in which you’re not allowed to spend more than $500 on your car. It’s an awesome idea, but you’ll probably spend most of your race time in the pits, welding subframes or replacing head gaskets.
The other end is a series like ALMS, which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars (at least) and puts you on track with some frighteningly fast professional racers. This is also extremely cool, but only if you can drop a tenner on the ground and count it a waste of time to pick it up.
But what if you could find a door somewhere near the middle? What if you could do some serious racing, with several hours of seat time, for cheap?
Enter the World Racing League: a simple, low-cost, nationwide endurance racing series designed to admit even the most amateur of aspiring drivers. It’s brand new for 2014, and they just ran their first race last weekend at Motorsports Ranch Houston. Here’s how it works.
First of all, you need to understand that the rule book is only sixteen pages long. The WRL stresses simplicity: The fewer regulations, the better. That rule book is easy to read and often hilarious, and says more about what is allowed than what isn’t.
That’s because the WRL knows that you might have built your car for a different series entirely, and they want to minimize the number of changes you have to make in order to bridge the gap. Cars from many series are welcome: SCCA, NASA, NARRA, Spec Miata, GT Lite, and several others. Even crapcan racing series like LeMons.
Nor is it just for pre-established race cars. You can race anything production-based from 1960-2004 (keeping the newest cars out likely keeps the cost down). Cars must be equipped with common safety gear such as racing seats and roll cages, and modifications are limited, but not restrictively so.
The secret to WRL’s racing on the nickel is their classification system, which is based entirely on power to weight ratios. You can spend a fortune on carbon fiber trying to make your car lighter, but it may bump you into a faster class. Conversely, you can tune your power to within an inch of its life, but you might get booted up to run with the big guys.
Other systems you can only tune so far. You can modify most of your suspension elements, but shocks and struts must be OEM or equivalent. You can spend all you want on brake pads and rotors, but the master cylinder must be stock or equivalent.
Classes range from GP1-GP3, though there is also an unlimited class for cars with a higher PWR than those allowed in GP1. But unlimited cars are ineligible for any winners’ purse, the highest of which can be $3,000. So yes, you can spend a fortune on your car, and you can certainly bring it to the race. You can even get a trophy if you win. But you can’t make any money. Leave that for the guys who aren’t so well off.
Last weekend’s race starred Mustangs, BMWs, Miatas, and one very interesting six-wheeled Datsun truck, among many others. There were 26 entrants in all, and most of them finished.
Because the WRL wants to be as accessible as possible, they welcome racing licenses from several different series and high performance driving events. Basically, if you’ve spent some time on the track with other cars in any official capacity, you’re probably in.
But what if you haven’t? What if you’re brand new? The WRL hosts the NOOB Program for you. NOOB stands for Novice Obviously On Board and includes a classroom session as well as a WRL HPDE where available. And the WRL is totally cool about it:
“A novice driver will identify his/her car with a strip of neon orange Racers Tape, at least 12” in length, securely fixed along the upper or lower right side of the windshield… The tape is not a Scarlet Letter of shame, it’s a badge of honor and everyone will show due respect (plus we want to be able to pick your car out of a crowd to see how you’re doing as you become one of the anointed.)”
Theoretically, you could show up on race weekend, never having raced before, and get yourself started with the WRL. Kids, you have to be 18 to compete, for legal reasons, but you can join the pit crew at 16, which will be good for you. Builds character and such.
The WRL stresses gentlemanly conduct, as well. No avoidable contact is allowed, and camaraderie, even between competing teams, is encouraged. And because there’s not much money involved, that’s not too difficult. On the WRL message board, one driver posted a video of another passing him rather violently. There was no contact, and no real danger, but he thought it was room for a little constructive criticism. Almost immediately, another driver recognized his team’s car, apologized, and asked when the incident occurred so he could correct the offending driver. See? Gentleman stuff. We’re all here to have fun, so laugh about it over a beer.
WRL races are also supposed to be family events, so though humorously-themed cars are welcome, you’re encouraged to keep things “PG-13ish.” Team names from last weekend included Viagra Racing, Shaking Dog Racing, Nismorons, and the Jersey Village Idiots. You can be serious about safety and racing, and not all that serious about yourself.
It’s structured in your basic endurance racing format: the car to complete the most laps in the allotted time wins. No fewer than two, and no more than five drivers are allowed per car, and your team can only be six strong, including drivers and crew.
Late registration is even allowed, though you’ll get in cheaper if you sign up early. Last weekend’s event, “Eights to Open, Trips to Win,” was an “8 and 8” race, meaning eight hours on Saturday and eight hours on Sunday. That’s sixteen hours of racing. The early entry fee was $850. That’s just over fifty bucks per hour of seat time. You can’t get much cheaper than that.
The 2014 schedule includes two twelve hour races and two more 8 and 8s. And they’re all in “flyover” states: Minnesota, Texas, Colorado, and Oklahoma. Two are within 8 hours of us here in Kansas City. The WRL is also planning to add some 24-hour events as the schedule grows.
These are our people. They’re not concerned with fame. They don’t want so see a bunch of cars wrecked or broken down in the grass. They just want to hang out and race. The rules are simple, the tone is irreverent. They’re safe, but they’re not afraid. The racing is inexpensive, but not cheap. The WRL hits right in the middle.
Over my bed I keep a poster commemorating last summer’s Greenwood Revival, also known as the New Greatest Day of My Life. I won’t go into slobbering detail, but one of the coolest parts of the day was hearing the stories of some of the guys who used to race there in the ‘60s. They got out of the service, started families, and bought simple, cheap race cars for touring around the Midwest from track to track. It was a simpler age, when you didn’t have to be a millionaire to have a ton of fun weekending at racetracks, but you could still take it seriously.
The WRL is bringing that age back, and I can’t wait to see where it goes.
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.