How to Win the Challenge

By J.G. Pasterjak
Feb 7, 2017 | Posted in Columns | From the Oct. 2016 issue | Never miss an article

As I write this, I have just returned from the Grassroots Motorsports $2016 Challenge presented by General Tire and powered by Miller and CRC. Also known as the Challenge to the cool kids, our three-ring circus of budget builds invades Gainesville each fall.

Every year, the buzz that follows the Challenge seems to get buzzier and buzzier. That’s partly thanks to the event itself, which continues to grow and evolve nearly two decades after its inception. It’s also due to the proliferation of social media as a way for us to share thoughts, ideas and unauthorized naked photos of ourselves.

Invariably, the posts on social media take one of two forms: 1) “OMG you guys you have to come to the Challenge it was my first time it was awesome everyone should build a car GAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!” or 2) “This event is bullcrap everyone is cheating no one can build a car that cheap except if I built a car I would dominate but it’s all bullcrap GAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!”

Yeah, they all seem to end that way.

Anyway, I thought I’d address these issues from a slightly different angle. Having attended every single Challenge, I think I’m qualified to comment on what it takes to succeed. Here’s my surefire recipe for Challenge success:

1. Cast a Wide Net: Don’t get locked in the mindset of “I want to build X car for this event”–at least, not if you’re coming to win. Instead, focus on the bargains and the magical parts. Turbo Hondas are a known effective weapon at this event, but setting out to build one can be an exercise in frustration. Part of making a Honda go fast is an exceptionally good diff, but a good FWD diff for a Challenge-friendly price is a rare beast indeed.

Your best-laid plans may not be attainable if you start down that road but can’t acquire the unobtanium pieces. Instead, focus on collecting the unobtanium pieces, then figure out what car they can best help.

2. Be Patient: Most of the cars that inspire the “no way can that be built for Challenge money” comments have one thing in common: time. If you want to win, you have to be willing to put in the time scouring the earth for bargains.

Remember that amazing deal you got on those cams at that garage sale that one time? Yeah, you’ll need 20 of those “once in a lifetime” bargains, and the only way to do that is to put in the time. Most of the really competitive cars are several-year builds for this reason, and because of the next point I’m going to address.

3. Don’t Try to Win the Whole Thing Your First Time: The first time you attend this event, you’re going to get seriously Dunning-Krugered. Despite our exceptional coverage of the event, you’ll have no real idea what you’re in for until you actually see it in person.

Instead, focus first on winning a single competition segment. Any of the three–autocross, drag or concours– will do. Just pick one and completely sell out your budget, your prep and your setup to dominate it; don’t even worry about the others until you can sniff the front of the pack in your chosen area.

Once you’re there, start to adapt your build to the other disciplines. If your build is too broadly focused too soon, you’ll be chasing solutions for years.

4. Don’t Cheat: Look, we all know it’s true: In many forms of racing, “getting away with one” carries with it a certain backdoor badge of honor. Creative cheating is what turned Smokey Yunick into a legend.

I don’t say this to condone cheating in any way, merely to point out that we’ve all cracked a smile when we hear about someone who has used their wits and skill to stick it to The Man®.

The Challenge is different, though. As this event has grown, we’ve actually seen a drop in creative rule interpretation. Instead, badges of honor are earned more through strict rule adherence, maybe because it demands a level of creativity greater than what you’d need to break them.

5. Disregard 1-4 and Just Show Up: Really, the best way to win is to silence the trolls. For every d-bag on the internet posting “This event is bullcrap,” there’s someone who went to their first Challenge and had the epiphany that the event is decidedly not bullcrap. If I had a nickel for every first-timer that came up to me at these events and said, “I had no idea,” I’d have–well, I’d have several nickels, to be sure.

So there’s your recipe, and the clock has already started counting down to 2017. When you show up, even though I just gave you an idea, you’re still welcome to tell me “I had no idea.”

This article is from an old issue of Grassroots Motorsports. Get all the latest how-tos and stories for just $20 a year. Subscribe now.

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View comments on the GRM forums
Stampie GRM+ Memberand Dork
2/7/17 4:54 p.m.

I learned #1 this year. Decided to take it easy and just run my future engine donor. Things came together and we won half budget.

evildky SuperDork
2/8/17 10:59 a.m.

Patience is paired with persistence and dumb luck. My mr2 build started when I stumbled upon a deal on a wrecked turbo sw20. It took me 2 years to find a cheap enough, good enough aw11 chassis to receive the swap. I was prepping my Z31 for a return to the challenge when I stumbled upon a distressed $300 miata a week before $2013 Challenge.

appliance_racer New Reader
2/8/17 11:12 a.m.

Helpful article. I've been as a spectator a few times. I hope to bring a knife to the gunfight this year.

"You know what happens to those that bring a knife to a gun fight......they get shot" (out of a tarantino flick.)

Karl La Follette
Karl La Follette UltraDork
2/8/17 4:15 p.m.

Never disrespect your Taco Wagon

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