Speed costs. How fast do you want to go? Or so the saying goes. In that same mindset, many racers complain about other racers beating them with cubic dollars. Granted, money has a great impact on racing, but not always.

Occasionally, something very affordable comes along that makes everybody stand up and say, "Wow!" Imagine sitting in the pits (during the late '50s) when the first car rolled through the back gate with a great big wing on top. That type of shock factor has happened again. This time, it's data acquisition.

In professional racing, data acquisition is very common and has been in use for roughly 15 years. Now, it's spreading to all levels of racing and for a very good reason. Few items have the incredibly huge performance potential of data acquisition. As such, the number of data acquisition users and suppliers is growing.

Contrary to what you might imagine, data systems are affordable, relatively simple, and easy to operate. Don't be scared just because they are electronic recorders. If you can operate a telephone answering machine, then buckle up, because your race car is about to get a whole lot faster.

Affordability When it comes to something new and different, the first thought is always about cost. Actually, like most electronic gadgets, prices for data acquisition have migrated downward and become surprisingly affordable.

Peter Kelly of Competition Data Systems states, "System costs are incremental, but [each] value is huge. A lot of it depends on what you want to measure and record." Prices have been coming down on all systems, and pro systems may come down a little more. Many subparts are manufactured by third parties, which limits how much the prices can decrease.

"Prices only go up when a new technology comes to market," says Scot Elkins of Pi Research. "Typically, data acquisition is the last thing racers think about, but any system can be a huge advantage." Whether it is a basic system that just records rpm, or a full-blown pro system, the performance potential is huge.

Just as a Nextel Cup tire costs more than a Hobby Stock tire, the same is true for data acquisition systems. Professional-level circle track systems can cost $20,000 or more; however, for around $5,000, you can get an ASA-level system from Competition Data Systems. Even more affordable are systems by Comp Cams for $3,600 or Performance Trends for roughly $3,500.

You may think this is a lot of money, but you could easily spend it on a motor. Remember, there's added value from a data system. If you change classes, you can use it on the new race car (which you can't always do with a motor). You might even think of the system as an investment and rent it to racers in other classes. You definitely can't do that with a motor.

Although price is typically used as the reason to outlaw data systems, it's not fair legislation. To quote Elkins, "If a racer has enough money, he is going to get a 50-foot trailer rather than a 20-foot trailer; you just can't control spending." However, if by using a data system, the midpack racer learns what the weekly winner knows (and then becomes a front-runner), it improves the show.

Anybody who wants to win or is serious about racing needs to own a data acquisition system. A good rule of thumb for a purchase might be to look at how much you spend on an engine. An equal amount of money, or only half as much, toward data acquisition is going to be a wise investment. In fact, for what you spend on a Super Late Model engine, you could buy a NASCAR Cup-level system.

When selecting systems, Kelly states, "Deal with an established company. Support, reputation, and experience are very important." If you need customer support, a U.S. company is likely to be better than a company on the other side of the world in a different time zone. Just like any other part of racing, it is helpful to look around and ask others what they have found.