No longer a new car

For a brief while on Facebook, motorsports friends were doing the “10 Year Challenge,” posting a picture of what they were driving 10 years ago compared to what they are driving now. Almost everyone I know is driving something different from what they were driving back then — makes sense, as can someone really run the same car in the same motorsport for a whole decade?

Then I realized that I did basically just that.

State of the Miata, 2009.
State of the Miata, 2019.

I bought my Miata brand new back in 2009. I originally didn’t want this car; I had a ’91 Miata that I had bought with my own cash, earned over many summers of working in the family business, that I was perfectly content with, but my father thought that it was undignified for his son — an MBA student! — to be driving around in what was his eyes a tiny beat up piece of junk. He thought that the son that was slated to take over the family business should drive something more dignified — like a Lexus sedan.

I pushed back. In the end, I won out, and my “company car” became this brand new NC Miata. By the end of my MBA program, I had told my father that I had no desire to take over the family business after all, and ended up on Southeast Michigan doing the exact opposite of running a small business: working for one of the largest corporations in America.

My 1991 NA Miata and my 2009 NC Miata together.

Unintentionally, this 2009 Miata became my sole Serious Business motorsports competition car for a decade. It started off life as a C Stock car, and was the first car I took to a National SCCA autocross event at Peru, where I got my ass kicked by MS-R Miatas. (Incidentally, I met future Detroit friends Kenneth and Brandon at Peru, there driving CS in Brandon’s then also nearly new Mazda RX-8. I managed to beat them both, haha.)

When I moved to Michigan, the Miata became an STR car. At first, I dipped my toe in the water, simply putting on shocks and lowering springs, but as I got deeper and deeper into National competition, I began to prep the car to the full limit of STR rules: pimpy shocks and springs, intake and exhaust with a tune, and an aftermarket diff, plus the requisite collection of 17×9″ wheels and all of the summer tires to test and swap between. I ran the car in STR for several years, and that’s where I really cut my teeth on some very intense competition — some of the best years of my life.

I sold the car to Shane after he expressed interest in running in STR with his own car at a Nationals Awards Banquet. I sold it to him under one condition: he had to give me first right of refusal when he was done with the car so I could buy it back. He agreed to those terms.

My next few autocross cars came and went very quickly. I replaced the NC Miata with a brand new ND Miata, and ran that for a couple of local autocrosses, but the car never made it to National autocross circuit before it got wrecked in an accident. I also had a C5z that I ran for a couple of local events and a single Nationals, its only National competition event, before I tired of its incessant maintenance needs and dumped the car in a fire sale. There was also a brief fling with a D Modified Midget, I car I drove for all of two local events before running it at Nationals with its owner, Dan, and achieved internet infamy with my absolutely horrible, terrible, no-good driving. I also did some occasional National events with my daily drivers, with some participation in G Street and H Street with my Focus ST and Fiesta ST, respectively.

After two years of running the NC and putting the car in the top 10 at Nationals against ND Miatas, Shane was done with the car. As agreed, he gave me a heads up that he was putting the car up for sale, and I immediately bought the car back.

The Miata back in my hands, I continued running it in STR, despite the fact that the car is now wildly outclassed by the newer NDs that were filling its ranks. I couldn’t bring myself to spend money on another autocross car though, especially since I knew that I’d finish midpack in basically anything else I drove, so I continued to run the ’09.

I returned to Solo Nationals last year after a one year hiatus (due to the Alcan 5000 trip) with the NC Miata, looking a little bit worse for wear and now sporting two different colors of body panels. Just like in years past, I finished midpack.

While the car has remained a near constant throughout my entire motorsports life, it is transitioning to something new. I’ve got a roll bar in the car (that I actually bought before I sold the car to Shane, which I kept while waiting for the car’s eventual return) and am now doing Time Trials with it. I did several events during the SCCA’s inaugural Time Trials season, even more events for this year, and will be doing almost every single Time Trials event east of the Mississippi River this year. I suppose if you’re unwilling to (or too cheap to) change the car, just change the avenue in which you play for a change of pace.

At the same time, 10 years of daily driving and heavy motorsports use has taken its toll. I’m reminded of that every time I prep the Miata for another event. Things are failing that I never before considered back when the car was new. For example, I put four new hubs on the car after a front wheel bearing failed at the first SCCA Time Trials Nationals, and couldn’t figure out why a rear wheel bearing kept going bad after only a few weeks. Turns out that I had machined a groove on the axle hub and the resulting play ruined any new wheel bearing I installed. I’ve had no more issues with the rear hubs after I figured that out and replaced the axle hub.

There are other old car problems that I’m still working on. I couldn’t bring the Miata to Time Trials Nationals this year, as it suffered some sort of unknown transmission malady right before the championship event. (I ended up taking the Fiesta ST to Time Trials Nationals, where it performed adequately enough for a stock turbocharged car in 95+ degree heat). It’s sitting on the QuickJack right now deep in the back of the garage, waiting for a break in the weather when I can come into the (uninsulated) garage and drop the trans to see what’s wrong.

The realization that I would have to spend more time wrenching on the Miata was one of the factors that led to my decision to sell the Mustang. The Miata is no longer a “new car,” even if I still think of it as such. Ten years old will become fifteen years old, which will become twenty years old. Eventually, this car will quality for classic car plates! (My NA Miata, had I kept it, would have long ago qualified for such a distinction.)

Between the Miata, Mustang, and the Volvo, I now had three needy project cars, and I didn’t have time for all of them at the same time. The Mustang, being the easiest car to sell, left the fleet first. (I may or may not sell the Volvo next year, depending on how much time and effort I decide I’m willing to spend on it.)

So the Miata soldiers on. It’s in a sweet spot right now serving as my track beater: fun, very quick, easy on consumables, and now cheap enough that if I balled up the car in a tire wall, I could easily walk away. (Well, financially at least.) Ironically, no matter what this little Miata does to get away from S2000s and ND Miatas, I’m up against those cars again in the SCCA Time Trials class Tuner 4, not to mention plenty of hot hatches with more than enough power to gap me by several car lengths on any moderately long straight. Any well driven S2000 or ND Miata would leave my car in the dust, no matter how well I drove, so I’m once again running a runt of a car that’s uncompetitive in its class.

But the car is cheap and it’s fun. Those two qualities have kept me coming back to this car for the better part of a decade. I don’t think I’ll still be running this car ten years from now, but who knows?