It has to happen if you stay in racing long. Your first race car may have been someone's hand-me-down or a swap-meet bargain. It helped you through the formative stages, but now your racing program has moved to the next level. It's time to get your first brand-new race car.

Sounds daunting, doesn't it? It doesn't have to be if you are an informed buyer. That's the type of customer the chassis companies love to work with. Everyone is usually quite satisfied with the results when this process is put into place.

Most of today's chassis manufacturers have decades of experience. They've kept a steady eye on the pulse of the racing world, in some cases seeing trends go and then return. They listen to the customers' raves and rants, always thinking of the elusive ways to build a better race car.

When you pick up the phone to make the call, you're buying more than a series of pipes welded into a structural form. You're buying that experience, and, in many cases, the service that goes with it. It's not a decision to take lightly. It has to fit with your objectives on track and your situation in the shop.

"They need to decide where they're going to be racing," says Harley Boeve of Port City Race Cars. "Sometimes that may require two cars. You want to make the car good for where it is going to be raced. You want to maximize the car's ability at the track."

"The rules are important to know," adds Chas Howe of Howe Racing. "They should have the track rules before they call. A lot of times, if they tell you the track, you may be able to get the rules online."

"Knowing what they want is the first thing," says Steve Baker of Rocket Chassis. "We get a lot of calls from people wanting stock clip cars, which we don't do. It helps to know what the company makes before you call. We'll get some who'll call and be very vague and then want to know a specific price. We can't give them that unless they know exactly what they want."

The situation with rules is especially tough on the guys who are thinking about racing at a couple of tracks. For some reason, promoters seldom link together. There are always slight differences. "Travelers have it better," says Boeve. "Promoters have quirks in their rules, but it's not so much the chassis as it is the engine in most cases."

"It's a lot easier for dirt cars," says Howe. "It seems like dirt cars can go just about anywhere. With asphalt, it's a little different."

The transfer of parts is an important consideration. "If they're taking a car apart from last season," says Baker, "they need to look at what they have and let us know that. We have a parts inventory that we can use to supplement the parts they have."

"You have to be careful when you're looking at building a roller for a customer who's transferring his parts," adds Boeve. "There are so many variations you have to consider."

A trend from the past is beginning to make a reappearance in the 21st century. "For the last two years, we've seen more customers buying kits and putting the cars together themselves," says Howe. "It was like that years ago, but then people were working overtime and making the money and not having the time to do it. Now they aren't working as much, so they have some time and want to save a few dollars. We're prepared to help them with that with a kit and a complete manual."

The successful chassis company will open up customer options. Rocket Chassis offers "everything from the bare chassis to a complete roller and everything in between," says Baker.