Best Home Prep Practices

Yes, you can perform basic maintenance on your competition vehicle

While many racers are choosing to use prep shops to get their Mazdas ready before races, as well as for support at the track, others choose to do it themselves to either make sure it’s done the way they want or to keep their racing budget under control. A couple of months ago we received advice regarding home preparation tips from those who prep vehicles for a living. Their advice came down to having an organized workspace, owning the right tools, getting help when you need it, and putting a wrench on anything that might come loose.

We also talked to people who have a lot of experience preparing competition vehicles at home. Much of what they’ve learned has come from experts, but there is also a lot of trial and error. Peter Ensor is currently racing in the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich with Atlanta Speedwerks, but he has also raced Spec Miata for several years. He and his father, Joe, prep their Spec Miata at home. 

“When we started racing, it was just the two of us and we had no idea what we were doing,” Peter Ensor explains. “We kind of made it up as we went. We’re both mechanically inclined – I’m a mechanical engineering student, my dad is an engineer. We’ve been into cars so we knew what kind of general maintenance we had to do. We never had a specific checklist, but we just went over the car and set our own maintenance schedule for hubs, oil changes, air filter changes, and all that kind of stuff.

“The bigger work, like engine changes and engine builds, we bought the parts and had the work done by a shop. Between races, we do all the nut-and-bolt checks, put it on scales and set it up the way we think would be best for the next track we’re going to,” he continues.

Ensor touches on a couple of key points. The first is a maintenance schedule, which means having a set period, based on track time, for replacing wear items. The other is checklists. Having checklists for prep work, most experts say, is a good way to make sure you don’t miss anything.

Deana Kelley is an autocrosser competing in a C Street ND Miata; she’s also a road racer in Spec Miata. Like Ensor, her prep work is simply going through the car to see what needs work.

“With either car, road race or autocross, it’s going through and doing the oil and trans or diff fluid, if that needs to be done,” says Kelley. “Going through and refreshing the fluids and doing a nut-and-bolt check on it, making sure that nothing shook loose. With the road race car, we scale it, we check the alignment, and make sure that everything is how we want it for the track. Those are the major homework assignments going into a race weekend, making sure that everything on the car is the way it should be and nothing is broken or loose.”

Most general maintenance items, like changing fluids, checking bolts, and swapping brake pads or hubs can easily be accomplished singlehandedly. Other work, like bleeding brakes or removing a transmission or rear end often requires help. But by being organized, having a knowledge of everything that needs to be done and a schedule for doing so, home preparation for racing and autocross can be easily managed.