Spec Miata at Daytona

Spec Miata: Which Should You Race?

There are a number of factors to consider before buying your Spec Miata… Which generation of the Miata do you want? Are you planning to build your own race car or have one prepped for you? And if it’s the latter, how do you choose a builder? It can all seem a bit daunting, but here’s a quick rundown of considerations to help you get started.

Build of buy? If you choose to build your own Spec Miata, expect there to be some big money items. The most obvious one is going to be the car itself. You want to try and find a donor car with a decent motor and tranny. (One with a hardtop would be an even better find!) Then you will have to think about buying the suspension package, having a roll cage installed and some spare wheels for your rain tires.

Ideally you want a car that hasn’t been in any bad wrecks, doesn’t have any rust (cars from southern states tend to have fewer rust spots because they don’t go through winter driving conditions), and has relatively low mileage. You also want a decent motor because even though you’ll probably have to rebuild it eventually, the better engine you have to begin with, the better off you’ll be.

Finding the right Miata is actually really similar to what you’d look for in a street car. And since you’ll be building the car yourself, you can gauge what issues you’re willing to inherit based on your mechanical knowledge and your budget.

Remember, though, there is no such thing as a race-ready car until you or someone you trust has gone through the car and all of its components. (There are some great Spec Miata shops out there.) There are many different parts that need to be regularly checked and replaced. For example, all of the safety equipment such as seatbelts, nets, center nets, fire systems need to be up to date and within the regulations of the sanctioning body you are competing in). Also, the brake rotors, brake pads and the hubs on all four corners need to be checked due to the abuse they take on a regular basis. From there you have to think about the fluids, belts, hoses, tires, etc. There are a lot of details that need to be taken care of before you can race. Fret not, because there are plenty of people who can help, especially since this is Spec Miata.

On the other hand, you could buy a Miata that was completely updated from a top shop or have one of these shops build your own to your specifications. If you decide to go this route, your first task is to find the right shop.

You’ll want to know the shop’s track record, of course. It’s a telltale sign as to their ability and talent. Talk to other Spec Miata racers and ask who they recommend! They might be your competitors, but that’s what makes this Mazda racers community so great – there is always someone willing to help! Shop location is important too – you should try to find one close to you or to the track where you’ll most often be racing.

Once you’ve found the right shop, you can discuss your options with them about how much you want done to your Miata. Some people have their car prepped at the shop, then do all of the general maintenance on their own. Others have the shop handle everything, right down to transporting your Spec Miata to the track and providing trackside support. You can get the shop as involved as you want, from starting you on your way to treating you like a factory driver.

The NA (first gen Miata) vs. the NB (second gen Miata)

The first generation of the Miata, known as the NA, was in production from 1989 to 1997. There are two engine packages in that generation: a 1.6-liter engine from 1989-1993, and a 1.8-liter engine from 1994-1997.

My opinion of the NA chassis is that it is definitely more fun to drive. People usually refer to this car as a “1.6;” if they have a 1.8, then they refer to it as the “94-97.” It feels lighter and more agile than the NB, and it responds well to the driver’s inputs. Plus, this generation is very rewarding if driven correctly. This car likes to be tossed around and driven to the limits! Due to having a lighter platform, its tires, brakes and other components live up to the abuse you give it. It feels like more of a driver’s car.

Of course, the downside to the NA is the 1.6-liter motor in the early models. With the current rules, it is very hard for the 1.6 guys to compete against those with the 1.8 of the later models. A well-prepped and well-driven 1.6 has the ability to be competitive, but it’s easier to be competitive with a 1.8.

The upside to all of this is that a ‘94-‘97 NA with the 1.8 engine is a very nice package and gives us a good blend of both worlds. While it’s not as much power as the ‘99 1.8-liter engine, you get both the handling of the NA and the added power of the bigger engine.

The second-generation Mazda (aka “NB”), debuted in 1999. The 1.8-liter engine had slightly more power than the one in the NA. The NB has two versions: the 1.8-liter engine introduced in ’99 and the 1.8-liter VVT (variable valve timing) engine introduced in 2001.

The NB is definitely the dominant car on track. Called ‘99s or ‘01s, the car is slightly larger and heavier than the NA, and this is immediately felt upon turning your first laps. It does not respond as quickly as the NA, nor is it as agile. The NB is the definition of a momentum-based car. It’s all about keeping your speed up in the corner so you can multiply it down the straight. This momentum driving is a great learning tool, and you are greatly rewarded for being smooth.

The VVT cars are still pretty new to the scene. Some people love ‘em, some people hate ‘em. The main difference is the way the power is delivered. The VVT cars have more torque, but less HP. So at a track like Daytona it may be at a disadvantage, but at a place where you are climbing hills, like Road Atlanta, the torque can help. Also, the chassis of the VVT has more “structural bracing,” which gives the car a different feel from the ‘99s: a stiffer-feeling chassis that demonstrates less “roll.” One cool feature is that these braces can be on or off, so you can use it as an additional set-up tool for certain tracks.

When you choose which generation to race, take into account your driving style as well as the types of tracks where you’ll be racing the most – which model will suit your style and those tracks the best.

Related Articles:
Spec Miata: Introduction
Spec Miata: Why Race It?
Mazda Factory Driver: Andrew Carbonell