Using a prep shop to store, transport and maintain your car is the next best thing to being a pro, and for many it’s the only route to racing.
If you ask Dave Wheeler, the sport of club racing is moving toward being shop based, with more and more club racers using a prep shop to store, prepare and transport their racecars as well as keep them in good shape during the weekend. Of course, he’s in the prep shop business, running Advanced Autosports, one of the bigger Spec Miata prep shops in the country. But he says the way his business is growing is a clear indication that things are heading in that direction.
The reasons for doing so are fairly obvious. Not only do you need a place to store your racecar, you need a trailer, a tow vehicle and the associated costs of licensing and insurance that go with them. Then you’ve got to do your own maintenance in between races and during the race weekend.
“I bet if you go to a big race like the June Sprints, 60 or 70 percent of the cars are running through a prep shop,” Wheeler says. “The days of a guy being competitive and working on his own stuff are pretty much gone. People are just too busy to do it themselves and these cars are too complicated to work on, especially as we get into the newer cars where even more stuff is computer controlled.”
Wheeler says he has more than 35 Spec Miatas in his shop at the moment, but he’s had as many as 45. About a dozen go to the track with his crew on any given weekend, so it’s clearly a popular option. So what does one of his customers get for the money?
“We do everything but wash your driver’s suit,” he explains. “We provide coffee in the morning. We have a very nice lunch for the crew and drivers and drivers’ guests. It’s not unheard of for us to feed 40 or 50 people every day. And we keep the car running – we’re not in the car repair business, we’re in the entertainment business. I joke that my competition are golf, boats and young blondes!”
What he means by that is racing is competing for the same dollars that other forms of entertainment seek and require. So the experience has to be good for the money, which he says $800/day is a fairly typical. He adds that he doesn’t charge storage fees as long as you’re racing, nor do other shops that he’s aware of.
Wheeler notes that while his shop specializes in Spec Miata, you can find shops that specialize in other cars; shops that prep mostly Formula Mazdas, for example, are pretty common, such as World Speed Motorsports or Texas Autosports. He says that searching for the right prep shop is similar to finding the right vendor in any other industry.
“You’re looking for someone that’s got some integrity and has been around these cars long enough to know what they’re looking at, to know all the little idiosyncrasies of a Miata,” Wheeler says. “There are a lot of smart people that get into a Miata for the first time and they completely screw it up because they don’t know it. I don’t claim to be that smart, but after 15 years of doing this and doing 10 or 12 cars every other weekend, you just get a lot of repetition and you learn stuff.”
So for those who want to go racing, but don’t have storage space, the means to transport the car or the time or expertise to maintain it, going with the prep shop option might be the best means of getting on track. Yes, it costs money, but so do all those other things. Let’s face it – for many, the idea of showing up, changing into your racing gear and hopping in the car is a pretty attractive proposition.