How to win the $2000 Challenge? You have to be there to find out.

Tom
By Tom Suddard
Apr 3, 2024 | $2000 Challenge | Posted in Columns | Never miss an article

What’s the recipe for winning the Grassroots Motorsports $2000 Challenge Presented by Tire Rack?”

That question, or one just like it, is posted on the GRM Forum every week or two now. But while the question’s been the same for 25 years now, I’d argue that the answer has changed drastically.

As the legend goes, the $1500 Challenge was started by the staff of GRM in 1999, when Tim, David and JG got tired of people complaining about the high cost of racing and decided to prove you could race on a budget. The Challenge was born, and because they didn’t think anybody else would show up, they each built cars themselves. Their goal? Win an autocross, drag race and concours without spending more than $1500. At the time this was an inconceivable task.

Sounds quaint, right? The world of amateur motorsports was far different 25 years ago. There was no 24 Hours of Lemons, no ChampCar, no Lucky Dog, no SCCA Track Night in America, and barely any NASA HPDE. The internet barely existed, and Sloppy Mechanics was something you’d find written on a VCR tape behind the curtain. At the time, the perception was this: If you wanted to compete in motorsports, you had to be rich.

The staff assumed they’d be alone at that first Challenge. Instead, a crowd of readers joined them, building a few dozen cars and proving an appetite for low-buck racing. After a year off to regroup, the Challenge returned in 2001 with a $500 higher budget and the now-familiar name. It’s received national attention, too, with Tire Rack now presenting the event.

Early on, the recipe was simple: Find a screaming deal on a used car with some sporting aspirations, clean it up and add some bolt-on parts, then stand on the Challenge podium. Top entries included Mike Guido’s nitrous-fueled, impeccably detailed MG midget as well as my father’s own SVO Mustang (the turbocharged, four-cylinder Fox-body), which was a mostly stock car that had the boost turned up with an aquarium valve. A turbo Dodge minivan, fielded by the now-infamous Shelby Dodge Auto Club, was also on the podium.

And from an editorial perspective, this is exactly the story the event was intended to tell: “Anybody, with a little money and a little spare time, can go racing. Even you!” The fastest quarter-mile time at that first event was a 14.122.

But racers will be racers. With no rules beyond simple safety requirements and a budget cap, Challenge competitors soon realized that an incredibly limited event really wasn’t all that limited.

Can’t afford $100 worth of Delrin suspension bushings? No problem–just buy a mill and make your own bushings from discarded bathroom partitions.

No budget for a crate motor? No problem–just buy 20 disassembled V8s at a swap meet and use the prorated cost of each usable part to build your own.

No budget for big downforce? No problem–just grab an M1 Abrams tank turbine from the scrapyard, bolt it to a snowmobile engine, and attach the whole contraption to your Corvette to make an autocross-winning sucker car.

Each of these examples are real, and each of these examples arguably drug the event further from its original goal: Proving anybody could go racing without a huge investment. Challenge builds evolved into years-long projects requiring thousands of hours of labor.

They also evolved into ticking time bombs, with teams unwilling to waste precious budget on parts like upgraded radiators, oil coolers, axles, or even fresh gaskets, as a winning car theoretically only had to complete one autocross run and one drag pass before exploding. This meant that campaigning a winning Challenge car became more expensive than building it, as parts constantly failed when pushed beyond their limits. 

Today, the $2000 Challenge podium looks less and less like budget racing, and more and more like a meetup of the craziest fabricators in the country. The event’s current record quarter-mile time? 9.06 seconds, set by PACC Racing.


Photography Credit: Dave Green

So why do we still host the $2000 Challenge every year? Well, there are a few reasons. First, because we love those wild builds–so does the internet, and everybody is always in awe of what our community puts together. The top tier of $2000 Challenge builds isn’t what we built the event for, but it’s a fascinating outcome that we support and encourage.

But we also host the $2000 Challenge for the other 90% of the cars entered. Once you get past the top 10 or so entries, you reach the portion of the field that looks a lot like the $1500 Challenge cars the event was started with. These are normal cars, bought cheap, fixed up as best as possible, being raced alongside some of the fastest cars in the country. We’ve invited everybody else to come play, too, adding classes for any over-budget cars to see how fast the $2000 builds really are (spoiler alert: fast).

Mostly, though, we host the $2000 Challenge for our community. The number one thing I hear when I ask people why they came? “To see my friends.” We call the event “An automotive festival celebrating autocross, drag racing and ingenuity.” Honestly, it’s so much more.

So, here’s my answer to “How to Win the $2000 Challenge:” Show up. Learn a bunch of stuff from the insanely skilled, dedicated people building the top cars and all the rest. Have fun. And join the community. We’ll be at Gainesville Raceway in Florida April 6-7.

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Comments
J.A. Ackley
J.A. Ackley Senior Editor
4/4/24 9:02 a.m.

Everything evolves but not everything keeps the same initial spirit. I'm glad to see the $2000 Challenge has. Good luck to everyone this weekend!

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
4/4/24 9:04 a.m.

In reply to J.A. Ackley :

Agreed. I can't wait to see what sort of wild builds show up this year.

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