Top Speed Amateur Racing

Top Speed Amateur Racing

Breaking records in a resto rod

Auto racing is usually reserved for the wealthy. Sure, you can buy an older, less expensive car for sports car or stock car racing, but you aren't likely to write your way into the record books. Yet one of the few types of racing where an amateur can set records without breaking the bank is top speed racing, where drivers see who can go the fastest. All sorts of older cars are eligible to enter this type of competition, the ideal scenario for amateur racers on a budget.


Most top-speed events are put on by the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) or the East Coast Timing Association (ECTA). West Coast events are held on dry lakebeds and at the salt flats in Bonneville, Utah. ECTA holds one-mile standing-start time trials at an airport in Maxton, North Carolina. The ECTA is a relatively new organization of diehard speed racers who were tired of cross-country tows and decided to have some fun on their side of the country. Both groups have similar rules, but keep separate records.

Since the SCTA events tend to get all the attention in the automotive press, it's fascinating to see how differently things are handled in the East. For anyone used to high-pressure, micro-managed track events, racing with the ECTA ( is a refreshing change. Upon arrival at Laurinburg-Maxton Airport, competitors sign a release and receive an armband. A trip to the registration trailer yields a logbook, registration form, and a number to put on the car. Entrants specify which class they will run in and then report for tech inspection. Tech officials check for completed forms, proper class designations and numbers displayed on the car, and driver safety gear. Then they inspect the vehicle's safety equipment, which is determined by speed potential.

If a street-driven car is not expected to run over 125 mph, a roll bar is not required, but a fire system will be. Some drivers simply remove the passenger seat from the track and attached a temporary plate with a Halon fire bottle and nozzles aimed at their feet and body. This is activated by a pull-handle the driver can reach from his seat. For the 125-mph group, H-speed rated tires are required. Faster groups require higher speed rubber and progressively stronger rollover protection.

Clock Time

Then it's time to race! The cars pull up to the line and wait their turn. The starter will tell the driver when he or she is cleared to go. Experienced drivers take a second to relax and clear their head before they start. Contrary to expectations, gunning hard off the line may not result in a faster speed at the finish line, where the cars are clocked for top speed, not average speed. If your car has reached top speed 3/4 of the way down the track, stressing the clutch and tires at the start is no advantage. Small car drivers save their car (and tire money) with an easy start. Of course, very powerful cars with optimized gearing will gain an advantage from a hard start, but it seldom helps lower-powered street cars.

If the car has mechanical trouble during the run, the driver pulls off to the right side of the track. For emergency help (as in a medical situation or a fire), the left side is used. After the run, the driver reports to the impound area for a time slip. If a new record has been set or the driver is involved in a class championship chase (points are awarded at every meet), they must be inspected at that time for legality. Then it's time to get back in line as often as the Need for Speed arises!

As with any form of motorsport, there are many classes in ECTA events. Some are for all-out racecars, others for modified street cars, vintage racers and dead-stock street machines. These are further broken down by engine size, fuel type (gasoline or alcohol mix) and the use of superchargers or turbos.

Case Study

So that's the big picture of top speed racing. But what's it like from the individual's perspective? Dick Jurkowski is a bona fide racer, with a stack of wins wheeling drag bikes and musclecars, but when it came time to set speed records, he chose his daily driver, a dead-stock 1976 Porsche 912E.

Although the 912 (a cheaper, four-cylinder version of the Porsche 911) looks like a fire-breather, it only has 86 hp and a top speed of a little over 100 mph. They can be bought used for around $10,000, so the price was right (of course, any car can compete).

Jurkowski's 912E would normally run in G/Gas Real Street (for stock street machines with engines from 1.51 to 2.0 liters). He noticed the records in some other classes were within his reach as well, so he also entered in G/Blown Gas Street Stock (G/BGSS)-even though he had no supercharger (the fact that they are allowed does not mean you have to use one). He also entered in the G/Blown Fuel Competition Coupe Class (G/BFCC) even though he was using gasoline.

Jurkowski's competition at one event was a group of Mazda Miatas and Saturns. The Miata pilots were freaking out until they discovered his steed wasn't a fire-breathing 911! Jurkowski knew the existing G/GRS record was under 100 mph and he was confident he could break it. However, he prefers to go only as fast as needed to break the record without showing everything he has. This way, if someone else goes a little faster during the meet he still has something up his sleeve for a later run. He set a new G/GRS record with a run of 103.174. For the G/BFCC record he upped his speed to 104.415 mph, and claimed the G/BGSS record at 105.143 mph. Not bad for one weekend-two days and three records.

Due to the large number of classes that ECTA and SCTA have, any car will have an appropriate class and other cars of similar performance to compete with. The first step is to join a club and attend some events to see what classes are of interest. Next, pick up a car and head for the track-it's time to set some records of your own!

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