Bay Area Miata Drivers
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by nick
Looking ahead and looking back on the Miata, sports cars, clubs, and BAMD. Plus of course updates on my Miata.
Entry # 21 (2,827 Views) Posted on December 6, 2011
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Notes from the Miata Underground
 
Over the past couple of years I've come up with a lot of blog topics that I didn't seem to have a lot to talk about. Not that the topics weren't interesting, just short. So I thought I'd throw some of them together into one blog. Sorry if it seems to jump around a lot. 
 
Sway bars 
 
As much as aftermarket swaybars are promoted, they're still underrated. I've said this a million times before, but spend any amount of money you want on your Miata to improve the handling, and you can get more than half that improvement from sway bars alone. They make a huge difference. I think Racing Beat or Flyin' Miata are best. You can sometimes find them on CraigsList, unfortunately not often at bargain prices because everyone thinks they're made out of gold or something. 
 
If you have aftermarket sway bars and you drive your Miata hard, you need reinforcing blocks. Kits from Racing Beat are $28 plus around $10 shipping. That's a lot for $4 worth of 6061-T6 aluminum and four Metric flange bolts and nuts. But it's a lot less than the cost of replacing or even re-welding your flimsy, broken sheet metal mounts. 
 
Electric windows 
 
I debated with myself over the propriety of having electric windows in a sports car. My first sports car didn't even have windows. The best argument I could see for electrics is the ease of lowering the top while driving, and not having to lean over to wind down the passenger window. But installing electric windows in a car with wind-ups is major project. Which is why all the electric window hardware I have is still in the garage. 
 
Stone Chip Protectors 
 
I never liked the term "bra" for a stone chip protector. It really has nothing to do with a bra. It doesn't look like one and doesn't serve the same purpose. Cars don't have stone chip protectors to hold up the front end, and women don't wear bras to protect their chests from flying rocks. I don't know who first coined the term, but I'm sure it wasn't a woman. 
 
Now we have clear bras, which is even worse. The companies that make the material call it paint protection film or surface protection film. That's what it is, but no one calls it that. The term has even become a verb, as in having someone "clear bra your car". Like no one can figure out how to say, "apply surface protection film". You wouldn't "bra" a person, would you? No, a bra is a noun, not a verb. 
 
I don't know how to fix this, or even if it can be fixed. The term is so widespread now, it's probably already migrated to different countries and different languages. Maybe instead we should start calling women's bras "stone chip protectors". It would make as much sense. In the end it might even eliminate all the confusion. Everyone would know a bra is something you put on your car, and a stone chip protector is something you buy from Victoria's Secret. 
 
The BAMD Lemons Project 
 
It started with an idle forum thread by Ben (cricket) Huffman, wondering if anyone was interested in turning a cheap Miata he'd found on Craigslist into a SCCA Spec Miata racer. Within half a dozen posts the hurdles and expense of SCCA racing had downsized the goal to a Lemons racer. A couple dozen posts later, the idea died. 
 
What would it take to field a Miata Lemons car? The team budget would have to be miniscule. If four drivers chipped in $800, the team would have enough for the car ($500), tires ($800), entry fee ($900), roll cage ($600 with home-town discount), and other safety gear ($400). Clearly a sponsor would be needed. Among the ranks of amateur racing, most sponsors are happy to let you put their name on the car, and for that you might get some free spark plugs or a little shop time. Sponsors willing to actually part with cash are exceedingly rare. The harsh reality is that no one is impressed with what you're doing, and everyone is scrambling to make a buck. 
 
Maybe the biggest hurdle would be getting the race organizers to accept the entry. Lemons racing has grown exponentially from its start just four years ago, and it's amassed a huge, nationwide following not because of its fast cars and intense wheel-to-wheel competition, but because of its entertainment value, which the organizers try to ensure by accepting entries from only the most entertaining teams. In Lemons racing, what qualifies as entertaining is anything outlandish, scandalous, humorous, or somehow appealing to the mostly young, mostly male audience. Having women drivers on the team would be a definite plus. 
 
Miatas do get accepted, though. At the last Lemons race I went to there were at least half a dozen in the field. Whether or not they were competitive is another story. For every $10 the organizers believe you spent over the $500 limit -- and actual proof is no help here -- you're penalized one lap. You'd have to be pretty darned fast to make up for all the penalty laps that Miatas typically accrue. 
 
Wheel locks 
 
I don't believe there are a lot of different wheel lock keys for the Miata. Probably if you had a dozen Miatas together in a group, one of their wheel locks would work with your wheels. If any of them still had factory wheels. And if you did. 
 
Does Top Gear ignore Miatas? 
 
Since I've been watching, approximately three years, the UK show has road-tested one Miata. They raced it against dogs, and the dogs won. Fans of Top gear here and in the UK love cars, and most of them didn't develop that love of cars behind the wheel of an Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Ferrari, or McLaren. They drive whatever provides the most fun within their budget. No car built today fits that description better than the Miata, and the Miata has outsold all other inexpensive fun-to-drive cars put together. So why do they pretend it doesn't exist? Or that nobody cares? 
 
Why don't we have more Polls? 
 
I saw a poll on the SAMOA website last year. It asked about your favorite type of Miata activity. I voted for track days, but there were half a dozen other categories, including autocrosses, aggressive drives, overnights and so on. Garnering more votes than all other categories combined was "leisurely drives". It was slightly encouraging that three people voted for aggressive drives, however since you don't have to be a member to vote that could've been anyone, including BAMO members, although I have no idea what a BAMO member would be doing on the SAMOA website. I can't even remember what I was doing there. Also, I think you can vote as many times as you want (didn't try it), so it might've just been one renegade member voting three times. 
 
I wouldn't put up a BAMD poll on favorite Miata activities, because BAMD will do anything so long as there's a BAMD driver willing to organize it. But it seems like we could still have polls for something. 
 
Club Autocrossing 
 
I was looking at an old post on miata.net, one that came up in a search, from around four years ago. The post was about a local Miata club. The OP was asking why the club wasn't more involved in autocrossing. A sports car club should have the resources to put on at least a few autocrosses a year. The Lotus club does it, as does the Porsche club, and even the local Datsun 510 club. More Miatas participate in autocrosses than any other model of car, so why doesn't the local Miata club put on autocrosses? If they did, the OP felt, a lot more Miata owners would join the club. 
 
Most of the responses were not favorable. This particular club was described as inactive, mostly older folks, with few events, mostly "wine-and-cheese" tours. Some of the responses defended the club's position by explaining how expensive it was to host an autocross. Besides securing a venue, there were equipment costs and insurance to consider. In the end, it was a sizeable investment and lot of work for very little benefit, and even the very real possibility of losing money for the club. 
 
At the time, I recall disagreeing with that. Back in my M.G. days, we used to rent the parking lot of the Ryder Street Pier in Vallejo (long since gone). We would borrow cones from another car club, and break out the stopwatches. The club's regular insurance covered the liability, and the cost of the pier was split among the participants, maybe twenty bucks apiece. For that money we'd get 15-20 runs and have a great old time. Admittedly, stopwatches were a little crude, even back then. (Today that would be like, with all our modern technology, having umpires call balls and strikes in professional baseball.) But fun trumped egos, and even a rough idea of your time compared to others was all you really needed. 
 
Today, local Miata clubs don't seem to be into the autocross scene. They have the resources, but they're not looking to host any motorsports events. What about BAMD? we're not a club, but could we find a spot to set up some cones and split the cost among the participants? We'd be starting from scratch, renting a parking lot, finding equipment, including timing gear, and securing insurance. When BAMA hosted a timed autocross at Miatapaloolza 2008, the club's insurance covered the liability, but only if it was billed as a non-competition, instructional event. (Which of course, it was. Getting your lap times fed back to you after each run was highly instructional, and there was nothing to win, no points to be gained, so it wasn't a competition.) 
 
Monster Park wasn't cheap, though. Even if the cones and timing gear were free (BAMA got an amazing deal for the complete SCCA autocross trailer -- timing gear, cones, flags, radios, the works -- for just $500), the cost of the grounds and insurance would be around $30-$60 per participant, depending on the number of attendees. That's a sizeable investment, and BAMD doesn't have a treasury to draw on, which means it becomes someone's personal investment, which is something your personal financial advisor would be unlikely to endorse. 
 
The all-in-one Miata 
 
I used to have a couple of Miatas. I used to say, when asked, you can't have too many. They're all different, and they're all fun. Looking back, though, I realize that having more than one Miata didn't work for me. It does for some people. They have a good idea of the condition of each car, what it needs, what it's used for, how it fits into their master Miata plan. What I found was, I favored one Miata over the other. The favorite got driven everywhere. It got parked in the garage. It received most of the attention. The loser got worked on when necessary, and taken for a spin every once in a while to keep the battery charged. Now that I'm down to a single Miata, all of my attention can be focused on the one car. One set of mods, one to-do list. 
 
But every Miata has some nice features not shared by other Miatas. I think it's possible, with a little work and maybe a bit of compromise, to have all the best features in a single Miata. Among the things I liked best about my '97 were the seating position and the transmission. Even when I had other Miatas to drive, every time I jumped into the NA I was more comfortable and the transmission felt excellent. 
 
The other thing I liked best about the NA was the looks. The NB is a fine-looking car in its own right, but the NA is simple and classic. Automobile styles come and go, particularly the angled vs. rounded look. Angled is coming back now, after being out for the last 15-20 years. Cars that blend the two, or don't go too far in either direction, never go out of style. There have been many great examples of this over the past 50 years. In the convertible world, the NA Miata may be the best-looking car since the Ferrari Daytona Spyder. 
 
The list of things I liked best about the NB Miata is a long one. It started with the steering wheel, and high on the list was the much improved suspension setup. The car felt a little more removed from the driver, but more than made up for that with a smooth, solid ride with greatly reduced levels of vibration and harshness. It didn't take much to accomplish it, a few more rubber bits and another inch of wheel travel, but the result was night-and-day different. The good news is, you can add all of these improvements to an NA, and maybe have the best of both worlds. 
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Comments (newest first)
2012-02-28 12:06:06 from dhale_510
When SCCA ran us out of their autocross game we started our own. We call it the UFO series. It takes a lot of work and money to do. 
The equipment ran about $25K. $7.5K for the trailer, $5K for the timers, $2.5K for cones, and another $10K in crazy "invisibles" like trailer benches, flooring, cabinets, paint, and 30 loaner helmets, and fire bottles, and flags, and a PA system, batteries to run everything, and on and on. 
It cost about the same as a new race car, and Peggy bought it for me. 
Getting a site is a huge deal. We have worked on getting maybe 2 dozen sites over as many years and "scored" about 6 of them. It never is as simple as walking up to the front door and asking to rent the lot. You are asking someone to rent you a $5M or $10M piece of real estate for $500, and you seem to be intending to harm it. It takes about 3 years average to get in, and you lose anytime another club's "committee" jumps in to "help". The sites are all overused [well, as often as possible anyway] by the competing clubs and go away as fast as we can talk our way into them it seems. The biggest clubs will pay the most [and will "negotiate" with more money] and that removes them from a small club's range too. The available dates are all taken months before an event, especially "good weather" ones. Lots of planning and work by someone. 
All sites require liability insurance. Tracks have a policy you can buy into, they are a business. Autocross parking lots do not have this. Individual event insurance is crazy expensive but we have found that we can buy into a group plan and it is "affordable", but that requires a formal nonprofit business status for the club and again, lots of planning and work by someone. 
We consume about $300 an event in cones, batteries, fuel, chalk, paper and so forth. 
Each event costs about $3500 to run after all is done, not including any "depreciation" or payback on that $25K cost. 
We originally tried to run a series of each event being hosted by a different club since no one club could afford the process. The idea was each club would support the others as well as run and profit from "their" event. It didn't work. The clubs ran their own event, never really understood how to do about half the things that needed to be done every time, took the money and ran. We had to just be one club rather than a group. 
So I think that's some of why BAMD is unlikely to have a little autocross party. 
Dennis
2012-02-05 18:33:15 from alex
Re sway bars: I agree they are the best bang for the buck, (wait a sec, can I say that here? Sounds less than vaguely sexual. . .) but what about where the rubber meets the road? Literally. Or do tires not qualify as a "mod"? Just axin.
2012-01-12 17:29:23 from burGerGang
Autocross for the holiday party of 2012! Whatever it takes, I don't mind picking cones all day as long as we can put this together.
2011-12-08 08:50:39 from Tony
Yay! A new blog post! 
 
I really do want sway bars, more then anything right now. I just cant justify paying ~$200 when I have a few other, more urgent, issues to deal with. Anyone want to donate to the "Tony needs a better car fund"??? 
 
Youmna told me a story involving some youths and crank windows. Apparently, if you remember manual windows, you are a "Dinosaur". I'm pretty happy with my squeaky, light weight workout. Beats going to the gym. 
 
Bra's will hold the front end up if the subject has been hit a few times, and is falling apart in it's old age. In both cases. (Ohhhhh! I went there!) 
 
I'd like the idea of turning that dead '00 SE into a lemons. Then I consider that organized racing is both a hazard to your wallet, as well as your sense of "fun". 
 
I use to work at a tire shop in high school. It's not just Miata wheel locks, it's all wheel locks. We had 8-10 keys. They worked on 95% of the cars missing their wheel locks. 
 
I wonder this too, then start watching and forgive/forget. Jeremy Clarkson makes up for the lack of Miatas. 
 
I can start making random polls if you really have the need to voice your anonymous opinion. Sample: 
Do you like Tacos? Yes / No / Only on Tuesdays! 
 
I think I'd pay almost any amount of $$ to do a BAMD group autoX. There are multiple reasons why I haven't started to get back into track/autoX days, one of the many is that my friends don't do it anymore. An annual BAMD X day would be a worthy investment, IMO. We have a lot of talented drivers that could double as instructors, too, if they're willing.  
 
NAs are starting to grow on me. I've pretty much fallen in love with the '96 M and would buy it for myself in a heartbeat. That being said, I still have a soft spot for Zs and Mustangs. If I could build my perfect car: 240z body, Mustang power plant, Miata weight/suspension. Oh, wait, I actually think this is possible. Stripped out Scarab Z, anyone?
2011-12-06 23:10:19 from alex
The stone and flying debris protector? 
 
Why don't we call it the "over the fender boulder defender"? 
 
Ahem.