Getting into short/dirt track racing

NC HillBilly

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Hey guys, my Dad is coming up for retirement next year and we're tossing around the idea of maybe building a car and going racing. It was something we always wanted to do when I was younger but we didn't have the money back then and he didn't have the time with the constantly working out of town and being on call thing going on.

I've been looking at different cars and I know any car we build/run is going to be a major time/money sink but I was hoping some of you guys might have opinions on what class is best for a newbie to break in to. We considered doing a U-Car as we have a lot of cars on the farm that would make for a decent U-Car. We enjoy watching them at the local track but after some discussion we decided that we didn't want to invest in something FWD that we'll probably want to move away from quickly.

Aside from U-Car what are the better low-tier classes? Our goal is to eventually run in something like Pro Mod 602. Should we just go for it and build a car like that starting out or is it worth it to run in one of the lower classes to get the experience?

I know these are newbie questions and I'll probably get laughed at. We've both run Karts a bit in the past and always had a passion for driving/racing. I mainly want to do this so my Dad and I have something to work on and do together. Our plans are to share driving duties although I'm pretty sure he's just going to have me driving most of the time. We're just looking for some insight from people that have run local dirt tracks for awhile. We know some locals that do it and we're going to talk to them over the off season. All we know at this point is we don't want to invest in a Kart or U-Car.

One of our friends mentioned running in a class called "Super 4" (I believe) which is pretty much a Late Model with a 4 cylinder engine as far as I know. He said it would cost about as much as a competitive Kart and was more fun to run them. However, when I go to my local track I never see many people bringing those cars. I'm happy to run in anything but I don't want to invest a ton of money in a car when I might be showing up to run against 1-3 other cars every weekend.

Any advice is much appreciated as always.
 

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Seems I didn't get any bites here. I've talked to some local guys since I've posted this and I'm going to be looking at some used/built cars in the coming months (no engine of course). The class I'm looking at is Stock 4. We're also going to look into a 602 car but I doubt we're going to get that far into things starting off.

Thankfully we have a lot of local friends involved in racing so advice and help shouldn't be in short supply. Thanks anyway for taking a look. I'm going to be helping out at my local track and with some local teams until we can build a car for ourselves to get as much experience as I can. Hopefully this time next year we'll be turning laps on Saturdays.
 

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Wish I had some advice, I've been looking to get into Microsprints myself, so my level of knowledge be totally different since I know they really arent big on sprint cars down south.
 

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My biggest concern about the low car count would be the
 

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^ Please disregard the previous incomplete post.
 

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My biggest concern about the low car count would be about the future of the class. I could see a promoter canceling the class and leaving you with unusable parts, maybe even an entire car that couldn't be reasonably modified to run in another class.
 

Greg

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Hey guys, my Dad is coming up for retirement next year and we're tossing around the idea of maybe building a car and going racing. It was something we always wanted to do when I was younger but we didn't have the money back then and he didn't have the time with the constantly working out of town and being on call thing going on.

I've been looking at different cars and I know any car we build/run is going to be a major time/money sink but I was hoping some of you guys might have opinions on what class is best for a newbie to break in to. We considered doing a U-Car as we have a lot of cars on the farm that would make for a decent U-Car. We enjoy watching them at the local track but after some discussion we decided that we didn't want to invest in something FWD that we'll probably want to move away from quickly.

Aside from U-Car what are the better low-tier classes? Our goal is to eventually run in something like Pro Mod 602. Should we just go for it and build a car like that starting out or is it worth it to run in one of the lower classes to get the experience?

I know these are newbie questions and I'll probably get laughed at. We've both run Karts a bit in the past and always had a passion for driving/racing. I mainly want to do this so my Dad and I have something to work on and do together. Our plans are to share driving duties although I'm pretty sure he's just going to have me driving most of the time. We're just looking for some insight from people that have run local dirt tracks for awhile. We know some locals that do it and we're going to talk to them over the off season. All we know at this point is we don't want to invest in a Kart or U-Car.

One of our friends mentioned running in a class called "Super 4" (I believe) which is pretty much a Late Model with a 4 cylinder engine as far as I know. He said it would cost about as much as a competitive Kart and was more fun to run them. However, when I go to my local track I never see many people bringing those cars. I'm happy to run in anything but I don't want to invest a ton of money in a car when I might be showing up to run against 1-3 other cars every weekend.

Any advice is much appreciated as always.
If l thought l could survive with a Pro Mod 602 startup l would start there.
I am basing that on your concerns about the "Super 4".
The risk of being overwhelmed or running out of money with the Pro Mod is greater, but at least you wouldnt be investing in a class with reservations or less of an interest.

Disclaimer: I haven't been to a dirt track in years. The only thing and last time l raced on Dirt was a Go Cart in the mid 1980s, and it was always a used go cart. Just want to clarify the limitations of my experience and thoughts.
 

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You should probably visit your local dirt tracks to see what people are racing other than top flight late models. Here in East Tennessee, we have guys spending 7 or 8 grand on four cylinder engines for $250 to $300 to win races. That's why some people are chosing just to go to the lower end (crate) late models.
 

NC HillBilly

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You should probably visit your local dirt tracks to see what people are racing other than top flight late models. Here in East Tennessee, we have guys spending 7 or 8 grand on four cylinder engines for $250 to $300 to win races. That's why some people are chosing just to go to the lower end (crate) late models.
It's pretty much the same situation here with my local track. Even Pro 602 is only winning $500 for first place with a $100 entry fee plus requirements to buy gas from the track at $10 a gallon. I know I'm going to be coming out of my pocket to sustain this but I understand what you mean. It's hard to justify doing all that work and not being able to rely on prize money to keep it going week to week (and that's assuming you don't tear up the car).


If l thought l could survive with a Pro Mod 602 startup l would start there.
I am basing that on your concerns about the "Super 4".
The risk of being overwhelmed or running out of money with the Pro Mod is greater, but at least you wouldnt be investing in a class with reservations or less of an interest.

Disclaimer: I haven't been to a dirt track in years. The only thing and last time l raced on Dirt was a Go Cart in the mid 1980s, and it was always a used go cart. Just want to clarify the limitations of my experience and thoughts.
Hey man thanks for taking the time to reply. I am worried about the car count in that class for sure. It seems like you either need to run U-Car or Pro 602/604 to see a decent car count. The Stock 4 class is a 4-5 car field at the moment at my local track and they've actually pushed that race to the end of the night (1am or so) because of it. No one really stays to watch it other than the driver's families. I might need to reconsider.

I'm going to spend some time working for the track and a local team that runs a Pro 602 car in the coming months. Perhaps if I'm very lucky I can convince a family friend to let me turn some laps in the car to see how I do in it. I'm sure I can hang with them given good equipment and enough practice. It's going to be a big investment either way and I don't want to be stuck with a car that no local tracks are making good counts for.

We're going to take our time with this for sure. Don't want to rush into this just to find out we won't be able to afford it in the future. I think right now the best thing to do is to focus on getting involved with helping out at the track and soaking up as much as I can from friends that are already doing it. If we have to put this off another couple of years that's fine.

In the mean time I'm going to build a set-up at home so I can turn laps on the simulator. I just need to get a good seat and the wheel. I already have a decent computer with multiple monitors. Might get a VR headset as well. I've been wanting to try out iRacing for some time anyway.
 

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I think it is terrific that you want to do this to spend time with your father. If the racing doesn't pan out, I hope you find something else. You seem really grounded and your approach of working with a team and not rushing into this is solid. Since you have run karts you know how how quickly the dollars add up to make speed.

I have never owned or raced just been a fan since the 60's. I don't know where you are at, but I would think you would be limited by the classes that are run at a local track(s). How stable is that local track? Over the past few years I have seen a number of local tracks shut down due to lack of support from racing teams and fans. If your local track runs 5 - 6 divisions a week and has small car counts in each division, I would guess the fan count is also small. Is that track going to be operating next year? If not, are you willing to travel to another track that runs the class you decided on and is the specs this same, require minor mods or a total new build?

My favorite area as a fan for racing is in NW Ohio and eastern PA. They have great car counts and great attendance. But the classes are limited and looks to me to be quite an investment to get started. A couple tracks I recently attended lowest racing level was dirt trucks and those running well looked like they had a lot of money invested.

I am not trying to be a Debbie Downer, just mentioning things I would think about and what I have seen before deciding to move forward.
 

kkfan91

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I think it is terrific that you want to do this to spend time with your father. If the racing doesn't pan out, I hope you find something else. You seem really grounded and your approach of working with a team and not rushing into this is solid. Since you have run karts you know how how quickly the dollars add up to make speed.

I have never owned or raced just been a fan since the 60's. I don't know where you are at, but I would think you would be limited by the classes that are run at a local track(s). How stable is that local track? Over the past few years I have seen a number of local tracks shut down due to lack of support from racing teams and fans. If your local track runs 5 - 6 divisions a week and has small car counts in each division, I would guess the fan count is also small. Is that track going to be operating next year? If not, are you willing to travel to another track that runs the class you decided on and is the specs this same, require minor mods or a total new build?

My favorite area as a fan for racing is in NW Ohio and eastern PA. They have great car counts and great attendance. But the classes are limited and looks to me to be quite an investment to get started. A couple tracks I recently attended lowest racing level was dirt trucks and those running well looked like they had a lot of money invested.

I am not trying to be a Debbie Downer, just mentioning things I would think about and what I have seen before deciding to move forward.
Yeah the Pa tracks for sure focus on a smaller number of classes, Grandview for example only runs 358 mods and Sportsman regularly. Others will run sprint cars and late models the most like Port Royal.
 

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I've been in and out of dirt track racing in NC for years, so here are my opinions (for what they're worth).

A good entry level class depends strongly on the strength of the track that you're going to race at. Many tracks in NC are struggling, and don't often agree with rules (especially for lower class cars), so the first thing I'd do is find and attend several shows at tracks that are within the area you're willing to tow to. Pay attention to how many cars are in the class(es) you're considering, and also if those classes run every regular race night. From the track's web site and social media try to find their rules for these classes, and try to get a feel if they are going to continue to run them. Watch out for impending rules changes. You can sink a lot of time and money into a race car, and it hurts if the track cancels your class and on top of that you have to make expensive changes to your car to make it legal someplace else.

If they allow spectators into the pits (often after the races are over) go in and talk to owners and drivers of cars that appeal to you. Find out how happy they are racing at that track, and see if they'll give you a ballpark number of what it costs them to build a car - as well as weekly costs to support it. Unless you have a well equipped shop and previous car building experience, though, I suggest buying a used car rather than trying to build one. Buy a car that you've seen race, and doesn't seem to be on its last legs... even better if you can befriend an honest experienced racer who has nothing to gain by your choice, who is willing to help you look over candidates.

Since you have some racing experience you don't really have to start at the very bottom. I normally would say start in U-Cars if you were novices, but since you already aren't keen on them then I wouldn't pursue them. Very little of a U-Car's mechanical and driving lessons apply to any other class, so its value is more in learning about how to race or for people who prefer the least cost class. Unfortunately, hardly any two tracks agree upon what a Street Stock is, and there are many variations of 4 cylinder cars, so those classes are a risk. Modifieds seem somewhat more rules stable, but also only a few tracks run them. After my team got stung and bankrupted by continual rules changes in the Street Stock / Renegade / Limited Sportsman class I hesitate to go back to them. If I were to go back, it would be in the 602 motor Crate Model class since those are run with pretty consistent rules at many tracks, and offer a good basis to move up to 604 motor Crate Models or higher tubed chassis cars later. However, this is a tough place to start if you only have a little kart experience. This is why it's so tough to offer advice to strangers about what kind of car they should run.

So in summary, first find out what classes seen stable at the track(s) you'd like to race. If you think your previous racing experience means you don't have to start at the very bottom, and if you think you may move up in class as the years go by, pick a rear wheel drive class that fits your budget. By the way, if it's a choice between two classes, choose the lower (hopefully less expensive) class. Racing always eats more money than you expect, so in a less expensive class you're less likely to quit due to budget.

Hope this helps a little. Let us know what track(s) you're contemplating and maybe we can give you more specific advice for it.
 

NC HillBilly

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@gone Thank you for a very detailed post this is exactly what I was hoping for when I posted this. 311 speedway would be my home track/track I would attend most often if and when we start running. I've looked over the rules and you're right on the money when you say it's a crap shoot if you want to run in a 4 cylinder class. I would very much love to run a U-Car as I'm willing to race anything just to get out there but like you said I was worried the skills wouldn't transfer over to anything else that I might want to run in the future. 602 seems to be the most stable class at all the local tracks if you aren't running 604. I would love to eventually move up to 604 and my ultimate goal is to eventually be competitive in a class like that.

Have you tried out a simulator before? I'm curious what someone that has driven thinks about the simulators (specifically iRacing). I know it's not the same as being in the actual car but from what I'm hearing a lot of skills can be learned and transfer over well. There seems to be a lot of young guys moving up to stock cars directly from the simulator. I don't know how well the simulator is for dirt/late model cars but it seems to be pretty spot on for the major series.

I'm worried my karting experience isn't going to transfer well or carry me very far. I won't really know until I drive one of these things for myself I suppose. Did you guys ever rent a track for a day to turn laps or did you just get experience with that as you went?

We have someone very close to our family that builds engines for most of the top cars running at 311 and other local tracks here. I'm going to see if I can spend more time with him to see what I can learn from him. If we go forward with this he'll probably be building for us. Would you still suggest buying something used and put together since I know someone like that that'll most likely cut me a deal or even do the work for free as long as I'm willing to learn? My father would most likely maintain the car/engine itself since he's the mechanic. I've not turned wrenches nearly enough to be ready for an undertaking like this and was hoping I could learn more about it as I went from him and our very close family friend.

If you don't mind me asking: How much were you spending to keep your car going week to week after you initially built it?
 

NC HillBilly

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I think it is terrific that you want to do this to spend time with your father. If the racing doesn't pan out, I hope you find something else. You seem really grounded and your approach of working with a team and not rushing into this is solid. Since you have run karts you know how how quickly the dollars add up to make speed.
Costs and time were the main reason we didn't run karts for very long. We always wanted to field something competitive but he worked out of town far too often to maintain it. Dad and I do many things together but now that he's retiring I'm hoping we can commit to our shared dream of racing. If it doesn't work out it'll be fine as we're content with just watching but he and I both dream about getting behind the wheel every time we go. I've been very happy that we started going again regularly these last couple of years to tracks as we hadn't done it together in over 15 years. :)

How stable is that local track? Over the past few years I have seen a number of local tracks shut down due to lack of support from racing teams and fans. If your local track runs 5 - 6 divisions a week and has small car counts in each division, I would guess the fan count is also small. Is that track going to be operating next year? If not, are you willing to travel to another track that runs the class you decided on and is the specs this same, require minor mods or a total new build?
We're willing to travel and would probably travel a lot after cutting our teeth with the locals at our local track. Our local track went through a bad spell for many years but it seems to be coming back and I have no doubt it'll remain stable for many years to come. It isn't anything like it was in the 80s/90s though and pay outs aren't very good. If we can't commit to building a car I'm going to see if I can help out the track itself. I have lots of ideas I want to float by the owner like filming and streaming the Saturday night races live. I think with some work there is an opportunity to build interest in the racing there and bring back more fans. I don't understand why more local tracks aren't streaming races to facebook/youtube/internet these days when the costs of doing so are far below what they used to be.

My Dad knows some of the staff at the track and I'm going to see about getting a job there helping to prep the track and help out in whatever areas that I can. When I get my foot in the door I'm going to mention some of the ideas I have for recording and streaming the races. All they need are a couple of cameras in turns 1/3, some gopros, a good internet connection, and some hardware which I would donate to do that. Oh and a couple of guys to call the race and manage the cameras/hardware. You'd be surprised how little money it takes to produce something good these days and stream it to a world wide audience.

My favorite area as a fan for racing is in NW Ohio and eastern PA. They have great car counts and great attendance. But the classes are limited and looks to me to be quite an investment to get started. A couple tracks I recently attended lowest racing level was dirt trucks and those running well looked like they had a lot of money invested.

I am not trying to be a Debbie Downer, just mentioning things I would think about and what I have seen before deciding to move forward.
No problem man I prefer people are honest when it comes to this stuff. I haven't had the pleasure of attending any races in PA but I do have family that lives up there and have been visiting them more often. I watch some stuff on MAVTV from that area. Any tracks you'd suggest I check out near the Pittsburgh area? I'd like to go to some next time I visit my family up there. They aren't into racing but I'm sure I could talk them into going with me when I go up to stay with them. I've been going more regularly these last two years because my Grandmother has been going back up there to visit her family more often as of late and I'm usually the one that drives her there and back.
 

kkfan91

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Costs and time were the main reason we didn't run karts for very long. We always wanted to field something competitive but he worked out of town far too often to maintain it. Dad and I do many things together but now that he's retiring I'm hoping we can commit to our shared dream of racing. If it doesn't work out it'll be fine as we're content with just watching but he and I both dream about getting behind the wheel every time we go. I've been very happy that we started going again regularly these last couple of years to tracks as we hadn't done it together in over 15 years. :)



We're willing to travel and would probably travel a lot after cutting our teeth with the locals at our local track. Our local track went through a bad spell for many years but it seems to be coming back and I have no doubt it'll remain stable for many years to come. It isn't anything like it was in the 80s/90s though and pay outs aren't very good. If we can't commit to building a car I'm going to see if I can help out the track itself. I have lots of ideas I want to float by the owner like filming and streaming the Saturday night races live. I think with some work there is an opportunity to build interest in the racing there and bring back more fans. I don't understand why more local tracks aren't streaming races to facebook/youtube/internet these days when the costs of doing so are far below what they used to be.

My Dad knows some of the staff at the track and I'm going to see about getting a job there helping to prep the track and help out in whatever areas that I can. When I get my foot in the door I'm going to mention some of the ideas I have for recording and streaming the races. All they need are a couple of cameras in turns 1/3, some gopros, a good internet connection, and some hardware which I would donate to do that. Oh and a couple of guys to call the race and manage the cameras/hardware. You'd be surprised how little money it takes to produce something good these days and stream it to a world wide audience.



No problem man I prefer people are honest when it comes to this stuff. I haven't had the pleasure of attending any races in PA but I do have family that lives up there and have been visiting them more often. I watch some stuff on MAVTV from that area. Any tracks you'd suggest I check out near the Pittsburgh area? I'd like to go to some next time I visit my family up there. They aren't into racing but I'm sure I could talk them into going with me when I go up to stay with them. I've been going more regularly these last two years because my Grandmother has been going back up there to visit her family more often as of late and I'm usually the one that drives her there and back.
I'm not as familiar with the western part of the state, but I do know that there is Pittsburghs Pennsylvania Motor Speedway, Lernerville is also further west. If you are looking for 410 sprint cars you want the south central part which is where you get Williams Grove, Lincoln, Port Royal amongst others. You'll have late models or modifieds and other types of sprints at the rest of the tracks regularly. If you want pavement that's a bit more difficult. By my count there are only 5 paved ovals in the state one of those being Pocono, Lake Erie doesn't run a regular racing program, Jennerstown is about the only other one out west, Mahoning Valley and Evergreen are in the Northeast. I use this site to find tracks, but be aware it is not fully up to date as some are closed or changed names.
http://www.racingin.com/track/pennsylvania.aspx
 

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I'm not as familiar with the western part of the state, but I do know that there is Pittsburghs Pennsylvania Motor Speedway, Lernerville is also further west. If you are looking for 410 sprint cars you want the south central part which is where you get Williams Grove, Lincoln, Port Royal amongst others. You'll have late models or modifieds and other types of sprints at the rest of the tracks regularly. If you want pavement that's a bit more difficult. By my count there are only 5 paved ovals in the state one of those being Pocono, Lake Erie doesn't run a regular racing program, Jennerstown is about the only other one out west, Mahoning Valley and Evergreen are in the Northeast. I use this site to find tracks, but be aware it is not fully up to date as some are closed or changed names.
http://www.racingin.com/track/pennsylvania.aspx
Agree, right on about the PA tracks. Lernerville has some great dirt track racing.
 

gone

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Going to race at 311? I have some history with that track - not all of it good - so take my comments about it with a grain of salt.
As you've noticed, 311 has been going through several years of problems and might be starting to come back a little. Much of that is them benefiting from their closest dirt track competitors also having several years of problems. It appears that Friendship Speedway in Elkin is 311's chief rival, and Friendship is just trying to reopen again after starting the season and then suddenly closing for a couple months. 311 and Friendship don't like to agree on class rules, and the result is several classes where you have to make some expensive changes to your car before you can switch from running one of those tracks to the other.

U-Cars seem to have pretty consistent rules track-to-track... although some tracks enforce those rules better than others. Since you already have kart racing experience I still think you can start higher than them, but if budget is a problem then you race what you can. 311 pretty much ran off its 4 cylinder cars last year, but I think it realizes its mistake and is trying to win them back again. 311 destroyed its Street Stock class several years ago (before the current promoter was there), and the current promoter is desperate for cars so he might be willing to rebuild that class again. But he's doing it in a backwards way - he's willing to run them if they come to him (instead of doing things to draw them). Don't believe me? Read his posts on his web site and Twitter and Facebook. If your Dad knows people working at the track you can get their sides of things going on there... from the grandstands and from the promoters' posts we see a lot of strife there, but if you can work at the track you'll learn a lot about how things are run and what to expect for treatment of your car and team. From experience I know this promoter doesn't like suggestions - especially from strangers - but maybe he'd be more receptive to you with your Dad's ties.

Unless you can afford to jump into the 602 Crate Model class, you're going to have to take a risk with a 4 cylinder or a Street Stock (Renegade) class. Since you might have an experienced engine builder to help you, that might make those classes more attractive than a heavily regulated class like the 602s.

I suggested buying a used car instead of building one from scratch because most people don't have the tools and fabricating skills they'd need. Definitely make sure that all of your welds are done by a certified welder. That's for safety, and also to avoid annoying black flags caused by non-critical parts falling off or flapping or dragging. Even in the lower classes there are several speed tricks that you won't know when building your first cars. Plus it is usually cheaper to buy a decent used car than to buy everything you need to build a car. But if you've got the skills and help and funds to build a legal and safe and competitive car, go for it!

I have not tried a true race track simulator. I've heard they're quite good now, although most of them are for big name tracks and not for 311 or tracks very similar to it. I'm sure they can't hurt, just keep in mind the differences between the simulator and its cars to the track and car you'd actually race. Don't get fooled by "simulation" offered by the racing games, though. I had a difficult time with a car owner/driver who thought his NASCAR 3 game was showing him how to drive and set-up his Legends car...

We never had the money to rent a track for practice. Sometimes a track will offer practice days - 311 used to have free practice days on Thursday evenings, although that was years ago. Maybe if enough teams asked and pooled together 311 would do that again.

We were spending about $300 to $700 per week on our Street Stock / Super Street / Limited Sportsman car in weekly maintenance and track costs (pit passes, entry fees, and fuel purchased at the track) and on repairs and tires, depending on how our luck went. Note those numbers were about fifteen years ago (expect them to be higher now) and note that we were a shoestring budget team. Costs incurred trying to keep up with rules changes as the class morphed from Street Stock to Super Street to Limited Sportsman all within five years finally bankrupted our team (the final straw was when full tube chassis cars were allowed, while our car was still largely a unibody Camaro). We ran karts for many years too, and yes the costs of those have gone crazy, but if you run a track where the rulebook is dictated by racer demands then costs there will also be crazy.

Hope I haven't dampened your enthusiasm for racing at 311 or any other track. Just hoping to help you go in with your eyes open. Despite my problems at that track I still hope to see it turn around and succeed. I still go there to watch once in a while... maybe will see you out there?
 
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