Welcome to the Club

May 24, 2010

If it’s true that there’s a racer inside every performance vehicle owner, then club racing offers them a chance to prove it.

Grassroots racing is at the heart of the performance market, and provides plenty of opportunities for local speed shops and engine builders to create and maintain a strong business. With a penchant for wearing out parts and the desire to go faster and faster, club racers represent an attractive repeat customer base for local performance retailers and installers.

If you’re not yet tied into your local club racing scene, start by researching the Sports Car Club of America (www.scca.org), the National Auto Sport Association (www.nasaproracing.com) and similar groups to become familiar with their series requirements and schedules. Then make yourself visible at your local track before and during events, letting racers know you have the parts, service and knowledge they need to succeed.

Join the Club

Despite the wide range of competitive opportunities available, defining club racers is fairly straightforward.

“A club racer is generally an amateur road racer, time-trial competitor or auto-crosser. Our typical club racer is an SCCA or NASA member, and is a regular regional competitor,” says Jeff Cheechov, president, The Progress Group Inc., Anaheim, Calif. “He or she usually contacts us when they are building, tuning or campaigning their race car with a specific question, and to see if we have what they need to improve their vehicle. We know the local tracks here pretty well, and we can make suggestions for most handling issues.”

One of the attractive things about selling to club racers is that if you can name it, chances are at least some of them need it.

“I’m not sure there is a typical club racer,” says David Norton, officer, SPEC Clutches and Flywheels, Birmingham, Ala. “The great characteristic of club racing is the diversity in the approach of the racers, from simply having fun to having fun winning.  For some the thrill is having fun at the least expense, and for others spending thousands of dollars for that last 1/10-second or 2 hp. Regardless, a quality part at a fair price is required to sell to club racers.”

The common thread is that all of them are enthusiastic about what they do.

“The typical club racer is someone who likes a lot of activity in their lives. They have done something active prior-they may have some kind of competition background in another motorsport, or they could just be a gear head that likes to build cars and take advantage of their creation,” says Chris Childs of Angry Sheep Motorsports, Waterford, Mich. “Club racers will come to a shop to look for experience and expertise they don’t have. Most customers are mechanically apt, but may not know or be comfortable with the more involved mechanics or car setup. They may also just be looking for a good local place to buy parts.”

One of the keys to a successful relationship with these racers is being flexible and responsive to their needs.

“While the typical club racer wants to have the best equipment, most are faced with limited budgets to fuel their passion,” explains Julie Sediq, director of marketing communications, Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp., Cypress, Calif.

“Club racers are typically on a tight budget and have a do-it-yourself mentality to keep all costs to a minimum,” adds Edwin Mangune, Motorsports Sales Manager, Hawk Performance, Solon, Ohio. “They have a need to source premium quality parts at an economic cost.”

That’s where understanding the rules and requirements of the different series can help you not just with parts sales, but to establish your business as a knowledgeable resource.

“Club racers are always trying to maximize performance within the rules of their class,” notes Brian McNamara, Motovicity Distribution brand manager for Quaife, Kelford Cams, Samco and ThreeBond, Madison Heights, Mich. “The driver is out on track to win, and having the best parts for the job is a key part in making that happen. They need their car to perform at its best and take them to the end of the race without issues. So buying the best quality products, including Quaife, for example, is very important.”

What to Sell

And those products are varied.

“Toyo Tires offers the Proxes RA1 and Proxes R888, both R-compound, street-legal tires that are ideal for club road racing. A broad range of sizes are offered to cover all of the classes, as well as having sizes popular with many vintage racers,” Sediq notes. “For the Street Touring classes of SCCA ProSolo and Solo (autocross), we offer the Proxes R1R extreme performance tire. This has quickly become the tire of choice in autocross.”

“SPEC manufactures single and multidisc clutch/flywheel assemblies for all club racing applications,” Norton says. “Our offerings are inherently lightweight, but include options to further enhance rev-ability, response and power output such as stock-appearing aluminum pressure plates, all-billet aluminum assemblies and ultra-lightweight discs. We can supply our end-users products ranging from budget-conscious single-disc to wild full carbon-on-carbon multidisc, each falling within club racing rules, of course.”

Suspension components are always near the top of club racers’ wish lists.

“The Progress Group manufactures anti-sway bars, sport and race springs, coil-over systems and alignment components for many popular sport compact applications,” Cheechov says. “In some cases, we offer a more aggressive competition version within the vehicle application for our club racing customers. Civic, CRX and Integra applications are some examples.”

And brakes are another important segment.

“Hawk offers an extensive line of performance street brake pads, and because of the increased stopping power and fade resistance, many club racers use our street compounds for autocross and light track use,” says Mangune, noting that his company also offers a variety of racing compounds for more serious track events and purpose-built race cars.

McNamara notes that Quaife’s transmission systems and components also run the gamut from mild to extreme, to serve the entire club racing market.

“The most popular and most beneficial performance part Quaife offers is its automatic torque biasing helical gear limited-slip differential,” he adds. “It’s a direct replacement for the standard, factory open differential. The Quaife ATB Helical LSD maximizes traction and minimizes wheel spin in any vehicle, plus drastically reduces torque steer in front-wheel drive cars.”

Get Out There

Just being there is the first step toward a successful partnership with club racers.

“Get out to these races and market yourself and your business; get involved,” McNamara says. “Join the local clubs and participate, help out, get involved or even get behind the wheel and race with them. If they know who you are and that you own or work for a shop, you have a lot better chance of attracting a new customer.”

He also suggests offering discounts for local club racers and advertising where the racers are, either at the track or on club racing forums.

Angry Sheep’s Childs also recommends attending club events and offering discounts, and even free tech days, to local racers.

“The more people you work with, the more you will get referred other business-especially if you gain the business of the top competitors,” he says.

Local promotions and trackside support are vital, says Hawk Performance’s Mangune. He also suggests getting with the sanctioning bodies to see what opportunities are available.

“Give local club racing organizations such as NASA and Cal Club support by assisting in event marketing and sponsorships,” he says. “You can sponsor a race class for a weekend, or buy advertising in a club racer newsletter.”

Progress’ Cheechov also believes visiting race events and advertising on local forums and in newsletters will earn a shop club racing business. But, to keep them happy, you also have to know your stuff.

When it comes to suspension, “learn proper race car setup techniques, and provide shop services for installation, alignment and corner-weighting,” he says.

Tire knowledge can also help with creating optimum handling setups, Toyo’s Sediq adds.

“Convince racers that you are a knowledgeable performance tire dealer. Make an effort to learn baseline starting points for racers who are asking about tire pressure and suspension geometry,” she says, noting that Toyo offers information on its website and directly to dealers to help with club racing questions.

And finally, once you get that club racing business, make sure you continue to support it.

“Offer a quality part at a fair price,” says Spec’s Norton, “stock those parts for immediate needs and spend time at the track with the end-users.”

More to Come

The ongoing opportunities club racing has to offer make it all the more attractive. From conversion and engine swap opportunities to increased classes and car counts, shops can certainly get out of club racing all they put into it.

“New classes and new cars that are being added to classes can create growth potential, including new performance parts, car builds, fabrication and maintenance business,” says McNamara. “In club racing there are a large number of classes, from bone-stock cars to fully modified track-only cars.”

That means lots of chances to prove to racers you have the knowledge, parts and service capabilities needed to help them perform at whatever level they are trying to reach. And before you know it, you too are a member of the club.