Despite the heavily blinged-out '69 Camaros parked in a tidy row at Pro Touring events, you don't have to spend a gazillion dollars to build a track car. With the right combo of parts, you can do it for less.
You've heard of the spiky-haired, Japanese tofu delivery driver who invented drifting; consider Jason Lewis his bald-headed, USA counterpart. His brutal, 62-mile commute from his home in Santa Clarita, California, to his wrench-monkey job at a shop in not-so-nearby Lancaster is a ribbon of twisty, desert, mountain roads. If you're going to be a commuter drone, you might as well have some fun.
"I love road racing," Jason says. "I've been racing cheap stuff forever: bikes, Sportsman circle-track cars, anything that was low-buck." Jason's friends know he is the one to call when a junker is spotted for sale. "I love a car that doesn't run that has boxes of parts around it. I want to make it run." The car was an '82 Z28 that had been parked with a blown head gasket and disassembled for repairs, apparently never to see the light of day again. The score was $500.
Using a 2x4 with sandpaper wrapped around it for the cylinder hone, along with some other unmentionable build techniques, Jason got the car moving and registered. That's when the canyons called. "I really liked the chassis, the view from the windshield, everything. I see why people like these cars," Jason says.
The plan was to set it up for the track and dial it in on the way to work. Jason scored a T56 from a '95 LT1 Camaro and wheels from a C5 Corvette, and he traded a beater truck for a replacement 350. He knew he'd have to splurge on the suspension, brakes, and safety parts to make the car fast. "When it rains, I practice my drifting. The car is reliable and comfortable, and even in the high desert with 118-degree weather, the car is really nice."
On the track, he gets dismissed in the pits and respected on the course because the car has skills. "Whenever there is an opportunity for track time, I am doing it. Streets of Willow (Rosamond, California) is my favorite, but for pure fright factor, Buttonwillow (Buttonwillow, California) is great for super-fast long corners. A typical weekend of Time Attack is about $150 to $250. If you win, you get recognition and some cash off the next entry fee. "In the pits, I get condescending talk while I am removing the T-tops. The M5 guys pity me until I cross over behind them in every corner in the mirror. Then they drive off the track because they are watching me instead of the road."