Want to go endurance racing? Here's what you need to know.

J.G.
By J.G. Pasterjak
Jan 11, 2023 | SCCA, Endurance Racing, 24 Hours of Lemons, ChampCar, World Racing League, American Endurance Racing, Lucky Dog Racing League, Master Class of Racing | Posted in Features | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: Dave Green

It’s a sentiment we repeat in this magazine over and over, and it always seems to be true: It’s simply never been easier to get on track and compete, wheel to wheel, with other enthusiasts.

This revolution in accessibility is largely thanks to the proliferation of endurance road racing. The SCCA and NASA have been sanctioning it at a national club level and IMSA at a pro level for decades, but the scene really caught traction in the early aughts with the coming of groups like 24 Hours of Lemons and ChampCar

These early sanctioning bodies were–and remain–hyperfocused on access above all else. Barriers to entry and costs are minimal, yet somehow they’ve also nurtured a culture where good racing and a safe approach also thrive.

In the wake of the success of the budget-focused bodies, it was inevitable that some competitors who enjoyed the format but didn’t desire the budget constraints would seek new venues. And with that demand, the supply side quickly reacted with groups like American Endurance Racing and World Racing League. Even today, in a seemingly crowded market, new groups like Lucky Dog Racing League and Master Class of Racing continue to enter the scene and thrive with full fields and close competition.

The message is clear: You, dear reader, seem to want to go endurance racing, and we’re happy to help. So here’s a little primer on just what you’ll face as you enter this world.

Prepare to Qualify | Meet the Main Players

The first thing we should talk about is driver qualifications, because if the enduro scene in general has contributed anything to the zeitgeist of motorsport, it’s breaking down the barriers to entry for wheel-to-wheel racing.

Where traditional road racing has taken an FAA-style approach to driver training, making applicants complete a certain number of hours behind the wheel under controlled conditions, enduro sanctioning bodies hew more toward the “Can you pay the entry fee and do you seem like a reasonable person?” model.

Okay, it’s not quite that simple, and even within the enduro community there’s some stratification, but overall the only thing separating you from a driver’s seat is a few bucks and a properly filled-out application.

Among the major enduro bodies, 24 Hours of Lemons probably has the lowest barrier to entry, its events being festivals as much as races. Lemons was one of the first on the scene, and its ethos revolving around $500 cars and a de-emphasis on winning have done much to solidify the culture of the series. 

Photography Credit: Courtesy 24 Hours of Lemons

As such, its low barrier to driver licensing doesn’t put less experienced folks into a pool full of bloodthirsty sharks, but rather a community swimming hole where everyone is there to have a good time–and having a good time means getting noobs up to speed quickly and safely.

The group leans into the fact that motorsport is a weird thing humans made up to pass the time, and the scene at your average Lemons race is more comic con than Monaco GP. Most of the cars have satiric themes baked into their liveries, penalties are frequent and designed to keep anyone from taking the competition too seriously, and safety and courtesy on track are the highest priorities. 

Lemons has a strict at-fault policy when it comes to on-track incidents. That means everyone involved in an incident shares the blame and will be disciplined, frequently in a comically humiliating manner.

ChampCar, born from much of the same DNA as Lemons, takes a similar approach to accessibility. It offers plenty of options for true budget competitors, along with a bit more of a focus on the competition itself.

Each group has its own vibe, from low-buck whimsy to IMSA-like seriousness. Photography Credit: Ken Neher

Higher-budget builds are allowed, and they run in separate classes where the bargain-basement efforts don’t need to worry about them. Still, ChampCar’s structure is based more on the rules of the track than the whims of the stewards, slipping a more competition-based veneer over the accessibility of groups like Lemons. The body also welcomes a variety of skill levels and budgets, but it also provides a venue for measuring success through on-track performance.

ChampCar also has no formal prior experience or training requirements. Like Lemons, though, it puts new racers through a ground school and makes extra efforts to monitor their on-track activities for courtesy and competence.

The higher-end groups, like World Racing League and American Endurance Racing–which still see a lot of low-buck efforts but more and more are counting former pro cars and purpose-built racing machinery among their fields–have slightly more stringent asks for licensing, but the hurdles are still clearable.

World Racing League, for example, will happily hand you a license if you have a wheel-to-wheel card from a number of other sanctioning bodies and marque clubs, even if that license is expired. If you didn’t come out of that conventional end of motorsports licensing, WRL will also accept your experience from another endurance series like Lemons or ChampCar, although it, like most sanctioning bodies, will put extra eyes on newly licensed drivers in its series. Even drivers with only solo experience, such as in HPDE or TT, can be granted a probationary license in WRL with some references, a thorough resumé, and proof you know how to conduct yourself on track.

The vibe at those events is that they appeal to club drivers looking for a taste of professional-style enduro racing, or to pro teams and drivers looking for something a bit less intense than IMSA and SRO. Here you’re far more likely to see elevated fuel rigs, 18-wheeled transporters, and pit boxes staffed with crewmembers wearing headsets and watching monitors. But you’re also guaranteed to see a few locals in a rough but quick E30-chassis BMW that got towed there on an open trailer. 

These semi-pro groups, WRL in particular, also tend to focus on top-tier tracks, so think Daytona, Sebring and VIR over the smaller club facilities. So what’s your desired experience: the next-closest thing to the Rolex 24 At Daytona or a weekend at a local track with some friends? 

The newer groups, like Lucky Dog Racing League and Master Class of Racing, seem to still be finding their identities, but they should fill in their gaps on that broad spectrum nicely. The Lucky Dog race that we competed in with our V6 Miata had a very ChampCar vibe to it: mostly club teams of amateurs, but there to compete and focused on running a strong race.

Clockwise, from top left: Lucky Dog Racing, SCCA, American Endurance Racing, World Racing League. Photography Credits: J.A. Ackley (Lucky Dog), Dave Green (SCCA), Courtesy Team Sahlen's (AER), Dave Green (WRL)

Master Class of Racing, due to launch its first event in February 2023 at Road Atlanta, seems to be aiming at the AER/WRL end of the spectrum, offering pro teams another venue to play but structuring the rules so amateur teams can compete on more equal footing.

Ultimately, enduro entry hinges more on being able to prove your abilities to event stewards–and they’re looking at safety and protocol way harder than at lap times–than it does on completing an arbitrary training regimen. 

The takeaway message here: Don’t let lack of wheel-to-wheel experience keep you out of an enduro ride. The calendar is full of events, with several groups offering their own vibe and rule set.

Gear Up | Gotta Get The Right Protection

Photography Credit: Courtesy 24 Hours of Lemons

Personal safety across the spectrum of enduro series is fairly universal, which is great if you plan to run with multiple sanctioning bodies. Here you’ll need all the usual suspects, like an SFI-rated suit, flame-proof underwear, gloves, shoes, an SA-rated helmet of the current or previous date code, and a personal head-and-neck support system that works with your chosen in-car restraints. 

It should also be noted that some bodies are picky about specific safety items. ChampCar, for example, requires everyone over the wall during pit stops where fuel is involved to have the shields down on their full-face helmets. This includes drivers who are entering or exiting the car. So, basically, this is a rules-based way to say it requires full-faced helmets with functioning shields. 

But when it comes to personal safety, there are no surprises here and not many ways to mess it up. The stuff you need is the stuff you need, and it will generally work across the breadth of sanctioning bodies.

What to Drive | Rent, Buy or Build?

Okay, so here’s the part of the discussion that could produce a book. Build? Buy? Rent? Collaborate? 

There are many options for placing yourself behind the wheel, and all of them have their ups and downs. Ultimately, remember that endurance racing is a team sport. Most sanctioning bodies base their entries around there being four drivers for most events, and four is probably the bare minimum required to keep a team functioning for multiple hours if those team members are both driving and crewing.

The good news here: Most enduro groups have moved away from around-the-clock contests for the bulk of their schedules. A typical enduro weekend typically consists of separate 6-to-10-hour sessions run on consecutive days, with either a parc fermé overnight in the case of a single split race or the races run as two separate events on two different days. Longer single races still appear on the schedules, but these tend to be limited to a few special events per year.

Still, you need a team to make this work, so your choices at this point are either to make one or to find one.

What’s your budget? Are we talking a crew in matching gear running dialed-in Porsches or some buddies fielding an old taxi? Both have a place in the scene. Photography Credit: Courtesy Team Sahlen's

For the purposes of this discussion, we’re going to focus mostly on a new driver joining an existing team–and for a couple of reasons. First, it’s probably the easiest and most low-commitment way to get involved in endurance racing. And second, while the one-time expenditures of an arrive-and-drive weekend may seem steep on the front end, they’re pocket change compared to the death by a thousand cuts that building your own race car can turn into. 

We’re certainly not advocating that you should never build your own race car, of course. But if these are to be your first experiences in the sport, the best way may be to sample some different flavors of ice cream before building your own dairy farm.

So what does it cost to rent a ride in an enduro series, and how do you go about doing it? Well, the answer to the second question is easier than the first, because luckily all the enduro series are very friendly to seat renters and have vibrant communities to help match them with teams looking for drivers. Most enduro groups have a dedicated forum on their websites for driver and team matching, and some even have comprehensive lists of teams specializing in renting seats. You can also find this conversation on our own forum. 

Answering the first question is trickier because the real answer is, “It varies.” But we can speak to a few broad generalizations here. First, Lemons is, in general, probably going to be the least expensive group for finding a seat. After all, the main mission of the sanctioning body is inclusion. Lemons seats can usually be found starting under $1000, which typically gets a driver a couple hours of track time in one or multiple stints–and maybe (but not definitely) some practice laps during the test periods. 

In the series focused less on comedy and more on competition, prices naturally increase. The floor for ChampCar rentals hovers near $1500 for a weekend, while AER or WRL seats seem to start around $2000.

And remember, we’re talking the lowest prices we could find on publicly accessible boards. Figure rack rates will be slightly higher–and also highly variable, as costs are typically based on actual run-time costs for the car you’re driving. Costs to run a $500 Miata are lower than they are to campaign an ex-IMSA BMW still worth $250,000.

There’s also variability in the deals based on who you’re renting the seat from, and who you rent from can also figure heavily into what you’re looking to get from the sport. Generally, you can divide the types of teams in the enduro scene into what we can call “club” teams–groups of friends with day jobs who pool resources to go racing–and “shop” teams that are managed by prep shops who specialize in arrive-and-drive service. 

We’re speaking in very broad generalities here, so know that your experience may vary, but here’s what you can expect from dipping your toe into each type of scene. Club teams will give you a better picture of the realities–both good and bad–of going racing. If you aspire to one day buy or build your own car, you’d be well served by renting a ride from someone whose shoes you intend to walk in. 

Shop teams usually have more resources, deeper infrastructure and a higher likelihood of finishing races in stronger positions, but those perks come with a price, usually financial. 

There’s no right or wrong answer here, because both will teach you a lot about the scene from varying perspectives. And again, we’re speaking very broadly here. There are private teams that run with clockwork precision, and there are shop crews who habitually lock their keys in their trailers. It’s usually no surprise when you hear that some guys who had tons of success racing as friends open a shop, or that a shop crew who got lost on their tow to a track goes out of business.

You’re also going to find more shops fielding teams in the higher end of the enduro series. In fact, many shops that operate IMSA, SRO or Creventic teams also field cars for WRL or AER. Conversely, most of the teams in Lemons tend to be club groupings with looser organizational structures.

Photography Credit: Courtesy 24 Hours of Lemons

And, of course, we can’t mention arrive-and-drive setups without mentioning damage. In general, the policy is “If you break it, you fix it,” and fixing it usually means putting Mr. Franklin on the job. 

Some teams will require a deposit before you get in the car, which prevents awkward conversations and quick exits followed by a cadre of goons later. But other teams–mostly shop-based squads–also offer insurance, limiting a driver’s maximum exposure by providing a guaranteed upfront payment. 

Of course, until now, we’ve simply been talking about arrive-and-drive arrangements in terms of cash changing hands. While shops typically want to deal in currency, club teams are usually far more willing to offset the cash costs through other means. Have a couple sets of tires that fit the car you’d like to rent? Got a motor home or RV that could house sleepy drivers during a race weekend? Own a body shop with a frame machine that can straighten the damage you do to someone else’s car? 

These are all bargaining chips in the world of club enduros. Our only recommendation about bartering is that sometimes it’s best to set the terms in writing beforehand. The great thing about cash is it’s finite and countable. Less concrete methods of payment need harder systems of quantification, or they can quickly turn into friction among teammates.

So, Are You In?

All of today’s endurance racing groups boast strong schedules with full fields at most of their events, and there’s also plenty of crossover with competitors running numerous series with a single car. If you live in the eastern half of the country, you could practically get to an enduro within a 6-hour drive nearly 40 weekends a year. 

Aside from autocross, this is absolutely the most prolific amateur motorsport in the country right now. If you’ve been thinking about going wheel-to-wheel racing, this is your way in.

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Comments
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Toyman!
Toyman! GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/11/23 10:07 a.m.

That was very well done. Thanks. 

 

 

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
1/11/23 11:10 a.m.

Glad you enjoyed it. Seems like no matter what you are into or how much you have to spend, there's something out there for everyone.

DirtyBird222
DirtyBird222 PowerDork
1/12/23 1:47 p.m.

We ran our first 14 hour Chumpcar race at Daytona in 2015. We had $6k into the car, including purchase price just to get on track. Personal safety, radios, and refueling costs some more; but, we got on track and got W2W experience, and that's all that we ever wanted. 

Tyler H
Tyler H GRM+ Memberand UberDork
1/12/23 2:10 p.m.

I'd hate to think how inaccessible club racing would be these days if the Low Buck series hadn't proliferated to keep (three or four letter acronyms) in check.

Lemons, Champcar, Lucky Dog have done great things for the sport.

Toyman!
Toyman! GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/12/23 2:19 p.m.

In reply to DirtyBird222 :

Our first Lemons race was CMP in the middle of SC at the end of July in 2008. It was hotter than 7 hells and Jay said he would never come back to SC during the summer and started doing a spring and fall race. IIRC, the Thunderbird we ran cost 6 of us right at $600 each and all in including consumables and entry was right at $1100. The Civic didn't cost much more. We ran at least one race a year for the next 8-10 years. You won't find a cheaper way to W2W anywhere. 

 

 

DirtyBird222
DirtyBird222 PowerDork
1/12/23 3:09 p.m.
Toyman! said:

In reply to DirtyBird222 :

Our first Lemons race was CMP in the middle of SC at the end of July in 2008. It was hotter than 7 hells and Jay said he would never come back to SC during the summer and started doing a spring and fall race. IIRC, the Thunderbird we ran cost 6 of us right at $600 each and all in including consumables and entry was right at $1100. The Civic didn't cost much more. We ran at least one race a year for the next 8-10 years. You won't find a cheaper way to W2W anywhere. 

 

 

100%

My buddy that I co-own the car with, we were spending tons of money and beating up our street cars doing HPDEs/PDXs/etc. After a PDX at the Daytona short course one April, we decided to go Chumpcar racing. Lemons was the original plan; but, they had decided to pull out of running in Florida, so Chump was our next best option. We've run in Lemons, Chump, WRL, and a few SCCA bracket enduros so far. I've enjoyed running in all of them, as each has their own pros/cons. 

It's still the cheapest and most direct way to get on track. I've tried to give the SCCA my support in many different ways, but, it is such a process to get on track with them, and they totally are missing out on a whole new wave of members by not offering any kind of alternative to Chu/amp, Lemons, Luckydog, AER (RIP), or WRL. 

I do worry about speed creep ruining some of these series. WRL is essentially a baby IMSA series now. Chump going to Champ saw a pivot away from the $500 car platform and the Riley Corvette/Sahlen's Porsches are causing a stink. Lemons is holding true. 

racerfink
racerfink UberDork
1/12/23 3:41 p.m.

Sahlen's and GBU/Riley only cause a stink because their race strategy is so much better than everybody else.  Pinkies Out too, as their four wins in a row at the VIR 24 attest to.

DirtyBird222
DirtyBird222 PowerDork
1/12/23 4:10 p.m.
racerfink said:

Sahlen's and GBU/Riley only cause a stink because their race strategy is so much better than everybody else.  Pinkies Out too, as their four wins in a row at the VIR 24 attest to.

There's a whole champcar facebook page or forum to nitpick about those cars/teams. The point being is that the series made a pivot and the speed/$$ creep is real and those cars are prime examples. If raw speed is the strategy, then yea, they are at the top of the mountain there. 

racerfink
racerfink UberDork
1/12/23 6:38 p.m.

And yet GBU has very few wins.  Lots of fastest laps, but they're usually on the trailer because they have to run flat out on the two hour fuel stop races.  They can't go anywhere near two hours on fuel.

Pinkies Out won by 15 laps at the 24 last year.  In a E30.  

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