Buying a race car is not an easy purchase. Sure, you find a car, give a complete stranger a lot of money, and you end up with a car. Beyond the actual transaction, unless you spend a lot of time inspecting each candidate, you could end up with a big can of worms. Race cars, especially circle track cars, live in a brutally harsh environment. These cars take a beating every week, and in the lower ranks, they don’t always get fixed properly when things break (how many of us learned to weld trying to fix our race cars?)

Buying a new-to-you race car can be a whirlwind of emotions. The excitements of picking up a new car (especially if you’re moving to a new class), coupled with the daydreams of everything you’re going to change to make it your own, and who you’re going to thank when you win your first feature can act as blinders, causing you to miss major red flags or issues that may cost you lots of time and money to fix before you ever get on track. Tunnel vision may not be an issue for the seasoned vet who’s been racing for 30 years, but for the newer or younger racers with much less experience, here are few things to keep in mind before handing over your hard-earned money.

The Circle Track staff recently picked up a used Pro Cup car. Our Ford Fusion is a solid piece! It’s a Hess chassis with a Tiger quick-change rearend, AP Racing brakes, full fuel system, ignition, fire system, airbox, brake ducts, dry-sump tank, two driveshafts, full containment seat, a set of springs, two exhaust systems, multiple sets of headers, and a bunch of wheels and tires.

These cars take a beating every week, and in the lower ranks, they don’t always get fixed properly when things break (how many of us learned to weld trying to fix our race cars?)

Depending on your location, the shape of the equipment, and how motivated the seller is, a similar setup can be bought for anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000. But there is a lot to keep in mind. Your driver most likely won’t fit in the seat, so now you need a seat. The rearend will most likely need to be rebuilt; the brakes will need to be inspected, and parts may need to be replaced; depending on your engine combination, the headers may be useless; and at some point the additional parts may not add any additional value.

Research is key. If you’re looking to buy a car built by a reputable chassis builder, they will have records of the chassis and any service they have done. In our case, we gave the guys at Hess Racing Products a call, gave them the chassis number, and found out some useful info. They informed us that our chassis was built on September 16, 2003. We were concerned about having an older chassis, but the HRP crew assured us that it was OK, as there wasn’t much difference in the geometry from what we had, compared to a new chassis. They also gave us a number of locations to check for work that may have been done, that we weren’t informed about. It was obvious our chassis had recently received a rear clip, but they were able to tell us that the car was recently checked on the chassis jig and the car is straight.


02. When it comes to the chassis, look for obvious signs like bent framerails or replaced front or rear clips. Tell tale signs are new paint or different shade of paint, or a design that doesn’t resemble the original builders design. Gusseting or patches like the diamond shown here can also be signs that a clip has been replaced. A clipped car isn’t a deal breaker. Many times, if the clip is done right, especially on an older chassis, the new clip may have improved geometry, which will make it a better car. Always check with the chassis builder for any info on the chassis.

03. Next, the suspension pick up points should be checked. Being that these are direct connections from the suspension to the chassis, they can take a beating. Check for crack or bends. Our Hess Pro Cup car has a slight bend in the lower A-arm mount, but the crew at Hess Racing Products informed us that it’s a normal occurrence, and the geometry isn’t affected in any way.

07. Using the straightedge, check the drag link setup for bends. Small bends can affect steering performance. Turn the steering from lock to lock and be sure the steering is smooth without binding. When inspecting the steering components, make sure to check for play or slop in all of the rod ends, ball joints, idler arms, steering box, or rack. Anywhere there is play could signal that particular component is on its way out.

11. A fire suppression system is a great thing to have. Even if a car comes with it, this is one of those things that you are better off replacing before you hit the track. Our bottle said it was still full, but we know the car had been sitting for a couple of years, and if there was ever a fire, you wouldn’t want to gamble with an old, untested system.


Check all of the suspension pick-up points for bends, cracks, or rust. Any signs of failure need to be fixed before going on track. Beyond the obvious, any variations from the original mounting points will change the suspension geometry. Measuring everything is key here because the right changes will improve handling, but the wrong ones can cause major handling issues.

Beyond the chassis, go through all of the various systems with a fine-tooth comb. Subtle things can tip you off to larger problems. Check things like fluids. Old, nasty oil, transmission fluid, or rusty water with stop-leak in the radiator can all be signs of neglects or lack of maintenance. Brakes are another big area to pay attention to. Check the brake pads and rotors for wear. Check all of the brakes lines for kinks, and the fittings for leaks. Check the brake fluid, as old, dirty fluid will not perform as well as fresh fluid. In fact, you should change all of the fluids regardless of how they look. There is no way to know how long the fluids have been in the car and how many laps are on them.

There are a thousand other things to check and look at, and we simply don’t have the room to hit everything here. It comes down to common sense. Look at as much as possible, ask as many questions as you can, dig for as much info as possible.

There are a thousand other things to check and look at, and we simply don’t have the room to hit everything here. It comes down to common sense. Look at as much as possible, ask as many questions as you can, dig for as much info as possible. Your new car should be entirely stripped and all components inspected before the season starts, or before racing it the first time. The more informed you are, the better decisions you’ll make, and you’ll end up with a better race car!


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