There’s an old saying regarding boats.
The two best days in a boat owner’s life are the day he buys it, and the day he sells it.
I’ve never personally owned a boat so I won’t comment on the veracity of that quote, but I will disagree with the sentiment when it comes to selling your first race car.
The red-white-and-blue number 66 1979 Mazda RX-7 was bought by my dad, in 2010.
My dad, brother, and I had completed the Bondurant 4-day Grand-Prix racing school in late 2009 following Monterey Car Week and were eager to get started in racing. It was set up for SCCA Improved Touring racing, in IT-7, a regional class particular to first generation 12A RX-7s. A great entry point to racing, inexpensive and slow, yet rewarding to drive, and at least looked the part of a proper sports car!
Racing is addictive. Soon my brother bought another IT-7 car,
and between the three of us we enjoyed several years of racing at Road Atlanta, Carolina Motorsports Park, Sebring, and Roebling Road.
These Mazdas were tough! Good thing for some novice racers. At Road Atlanta my brother’s first qualification lap of his first race ended in a spectacular fashion with him spinning out and getting hit by the fastest car on the track. The other car went home, the RX-7 received some sledgehammer body work, and went out to race… and finish.
I took a direct hit to the rear at Roebling Road in 2013. Again the other car went home, and the Mazda raced again the next day.
The IT-7 community was great. There weren’t many entries in the races we made, and the other drivers were quick to help, and offer advice. A true gearhead family!
The cars were slow, but the handling was predictable, and taught patience and creativity. When you’re on the track other worries melt away, you focus only on your next shift, braking point and entry into the next curve.
In a slow car you get passed more often than you pass, but eventually you find a target, someone with similar lap times to challenge you. Maybe a faster car that struggles in turns giving you a chance to reel them in, curve by curve, undaunted by the gap that grows at each straight. There’s a great satisfaction the first time you pass, and a similar sensation when the hot-shoe that just passed you overshoots the turn and slides into the infield, while you deftly navigate through unscathed.
In the end, we passed many cars, and even finished first in class a few times, not because of better lap times, but because we finished.
To finish first, you first must finish.
Racing gets in your blood; before you know it, you’re apexing on-ramps and timing your daily commute. You heel-and-toe every downshift… which causes problems when you try to drive a vehicle with an automatic transmission! Once a racer, always a racer.
Sometimes things don’t quite go as planned. That’s probably the unofficial motto of racing. My first son was born in late 2013, and naturally, that rearranged my priorities.
In January 2014 my dad brought the #66 race car to me, as I’d recently purchased a larger garage and he was looking to simplify a bit. In mid 2014 I raced my last race; Carolina Motorsports Park in Kershaw, SC, our “home track”. Here we confirmed that trusty #66 was losing some motivation. A year earlier at Roebling Road we suspected as much, but had no history at the track to compare to. At CMP we had history.
Our lap times had crept up, and cars we once competed with faded into the distance. After reviewing the number of races we had completed and talking with the experts, it seemed an engine refresh was needed.
Unfortunately, due to the aforementioned change in priorities, time and money to pursue an engine refresh were scarce. A car with a fresher engine came on the market at a price comparable to a full rebuild, and included a few other items we needed. That one came home with me in September of 2014, with high hopes of swapping the powertrain into 66 and being back on track for the 2015 season.
It didn’t happen. In late 2014 we busied ourselves moving to a new house across town, while my brother moved farther away, where there were no tracks to conveniently meet at.
2015 came and went without a single track outing. After some soul searching, dad and I determined that we really wanted to get into vintage racing, and rather than invest more in the RX-7s decided to sell them off to another new racer, freeing up time and space for another direction.
Almost two years later a deal was struck, a buyer came from Maine to pick the cars up from my shop in North Carolina. As if to remind me how dead reliable these cars were, even after almost three years of motionless storage, a fresh battery and fresh gas was all that was required to get them started.
They were packed on the new caretakers trailer and headed back to Maine. A week later, I’m still processing that I have no race car. Just a big empty hole in the shop where two race cars and countless spares once filled every square inch.
The Next Step
We’re not done racing!! I will be on the track again, hopefully sooner than later. We will find another car, but it was still heart-breaking to see the trailer door close on #66.