January 1, 2009
With the insulation removed, the next step was spraying the floorpan with light gray Rustoleum.

A second aspect of simplicity is stripping the car to its bare mechanical and electrical essentials. This has the dual effect of making the car cleaner and easier to troubleshoot and repair, as well as lighter. Another old racing adage says, "Watch the ounces and the pounds take care of themselves." Once the initial gutting of the interior and readily unbolted parts is done, the pounds don't come as easily, but little things add up, like removing the 11-pound ABS control module hanging from the core support and plumbing new brake lines, or scraping all the sound deadener from the passenger compartment.

To further simplify the project, I decided that, rather than start from scratch, I'd get a head start by buying a car that had already been raced. Generally, I avoid used race cars, for the reason that so many of them are poorly built in the first place, not well maintained, or have too many things that need to be changed to make it worth the cost and effort. But this time, I found the perfect candidate: a mildly modified SN-95 Mustang that had been raced in the AI series and parted out. It already had a solid, legal rollcage and a NASA logbook (more on that later). The chassis was in excellent condition, still sporting its original paint and body panel VIN tags, so it had never been in a wreck, either on the street or the track. In answer to the question Buy or Build (see sidebar), it was the best of both worlds-I got a caged chassis for a bargain price but I'm still able to build it my way from the ground up.

When previously raced, the car had a fabricated aluminum dash in place of the stock dash, which CMC rules require be retained. I found a stock dash with blown airbags on Craigslist for $25 and gutted the frame hoping to get it fitted to the car without too much interference from the dash bar in the rollcage.

So here we go, starting this month and continuing through our entry into the 2009 NASA National Championships, we'll show what it takes to build a budget road racer from scratch. Next month we'll look at preparing the suspension and brakes, followed by the engine and drivetrain, testing and suspension setup, and finally, taking it to the National Championship race at Mid-Ohio.

Buy or Build?
It's an age-old question asked by anyone new to the sport of drag or road racing-should I buy or build my first race car? There's no right answer, but there is a strong case for both sides of the argument. In favor of buying are the ease of entry and cost savings. Buying a turnkey car can get you behind the wheel in a fraction of the time it takes to build a car and usually for a fraction of the cost. Used race cars often sell for pennies on the dollar compared to their initial build cost, so let the other guy take the depreciation hit. The downside of buying a used race car is the fear, which often becomes reality, of the unknown. No one wants someone else's cobbled together nightmare. How well was it built in the first place and equally important, how well was it maintained? How many hours or runs are on the engine, trans, and rear, and how was it treated? Is it even the engine that is "supposed" to be in the car? Another drawback to buying a used car, especially one that may not have been raced for a few years or is coming in from a different series, is bringing it into compliance with your current rules. It's not uncommon to hear horror stories of the "great deal" that turned sour once the new buyer started to take a closer look beneath the skin. The best advice you can follow, whether you buy or build, is to become intimately familiar with the rulebook for the series you intend to compete in and do some research before you buy. Knowing what is and isn't legal can save you a lot of money and headaches in the long run.