Evan J. Smith
December 17, 2013
Photos By: AWOL Photo LLC/Eric Tillotson, Brad Adler, Diane Smith

Sunday morning, May 26, 2013—Hot, humid air fills my lungs with every breath. My chest is beating against the belts. I'm strapped tightly to the Recaro seat in the FM3/Optima Batteries Fox Mustang, and Sweat droplets are forming on my brow.

I'm awaiting command to start our engines as I sit on the grid at Daytona International Speedway about to embark on an adventure of speed and endurance.

Thanks to Optima Batteries and Jimi Day's FM3 Marketing, I was immersed into a team of drivers, prepared to take on 14 hours on the banks at the world center of speed. Racing butterflies in my gut are nothing new, but this was different, this was Daytona. As if racing at the 3.56-mile course wasn't daunting enough, I'd never turned a lap—not even practice—in this Stang—yet in moments I'd be hurling around the 24 Hours of Daytona road course at breakneck speeds.

Welcome to the Optima Batteries ChumpCar World Series, designed for budget-minded racers on a quest for serious fun. And these races are fun, as I'd soon learn. ChumpCar races on the best tracks in the country, the ones you've seen on TV and only dreamed about driving on? The series stops at Daytona, Road America, Road Atlanta, VIR, Laguna Seca, and Watkins Glen to name a few. There are races almost every weekend with events all over the country.

Best of all, Chump cars can't have a starting value of more than $500 (not including mandatory safety items). The cars are low-buck stockers with the necessary safety gear. And since it's endurance racing, making those stock parts last is as important as speed—more on that later.

"The ChumpCar World Series is a road racing series for young people that want to get started in racing, but don't have the budget," said John Condren, president of the series. "It's a road racing series for those of us well-beyond our young days who always wanted to go racing but never had the time or the money—and ChumpCar is a road racing series for everyone in the middle, anyone and everyone; no experience necessary … just passion.

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery

"There's only one requirement to racing with us: Don't come with any expectations or agenda other than having a great time. If you come with some preconceived notion that you're going to win, set a fast lap, or get spotted by a Formula One talent scout … well, it's going to be a very long and disappointing weekend for you. But if you come out to enjoy the cars, great tracks, great people, and share a beer on Sunday afternoon, then you're our kind of Chump. Win a race? Hell, we consider it a victory if the is car running at the end!"

Chump makes it amazingly easy for novice racers to participate. No fancy racing license is needed. Save for the Daytona race, you can participate at any event, even without experience, as long as you attend the Chump Car driver's school. It's a free classroom-based school offered by the series officials before each race. The Chump series is pure genius. If you have even a passing interest, take a look at the rules and schedule online at www.chumpcar.com.

There is an injection of extreme crudeness and some silliness in vehicle themes, but they are every bit as much racing machines, and the camaraderie is top notch.

"As we say on the website, this series is for gearheads; for people who love driving and driving fast," Condren added. "It's for Chumps like you who have always wanted to go road racing without all the hassles or expense. ChumpCar is a throw-back to the era when racing was fun and cheap, when Bondo beat carbon fiber; when homemade engineering made everyone sit up and take notice; and when adding a little theme to your car didn't get you laughed off of pit lane. Those were good times, and they're back."

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery

Let's Go Racin'

Daytona has a rich heritage steeped in history—its sheer size is awe-inspiring. Entering the infield through the tunnel, I thought about the great racers who've turned laps here, and suddenly I was in minor disbelief that I'd soon be dancing on the 31-degree banking.

To my surprise, Jimi Day picked me to start the race, and once race morning arrived, we got right to work. First was a team meeting, then final check of the car and the radio system, and then the mandatory ChumpCar drivers meeting. Before I knew it, I was strapped into the Mustang sitting on pit road.

The crew darted around the car in final preparation, checking the tires, peeking under the hood, mounting cameras, and then pit lane cleared. My heart was thumping as I pulled on the belts and rolled out behind the pace truck. I was second in line of the 120-plus racers, ready to take on Daytona.

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery

My plan was simple: learn the track, keep the fenders on it, and pass carefully (if possible). While no track is easy, the DIS Roval (part road course and part oval) is straightforward. The infield corners are flat, almost nothing is blind, and most of it is plenty wide. In contrast, the banking is like nothing else in racing. Tilted to 31 degrees, it is flat-out and fast! You hold it to the mat and it holds the car. Just being out there at pace speed was exciting. The field took a few pace laps, we bunched up, and finally…