Buying your first "Dwarf Car" - Things you should know!
By Jack Van Dyke OVDCA
This information is meant to help a new or prospective Dwarf car racer make his first car purchase. There are many things that you should know but unless you know someone that has experience with these little speed machines you may not have the slightest idea where to begin.
Often times people make some very big and costly mistakes by buying first and learning later. The first thing you should do is find out where they race these cars in your area or within a reasonable driving distance from your hometown. Go to the races, buy a pit pass and talk to the local racers, they are always friendly and more than willing to show off their cars and talk up the sport. Look around and pay close attention to what you are seeing, you will want to be looking for a car that is similar to the type that these racers run. Is it a "Mod type car", or do they race classics? They may race both classes and you'll need some time and a lot more information before making a choice for yourself. Ask what brand of cars that the majority of local racers run, what is the motor of choice. You should probably make several visits to the races and be sure that you really want to try this, it's not as easy as you might think at a first glance. The speed of these cars is often deceiving from simply watching, but becomes very apparent after strapping yourself in the cockpit and heading down the backstretch with the more experienced drivers blowing past you at unbelievable speeds.
With that all said and done and you still think you're up for the challenge it's time to select a car to buy.
The local racers will know of any cars in your area that may be available for sale, and often you can look at it and even see it run and this is always the best way to be sure it's what you really want. Being a beginner you should buy a "turnkey car", that is in good condition, complete with all parts in good working order, and race ready. One of the biggest mistakes made by a beginner is to buy a fixer-upper, or an older, outdated chassis, simply because the price is cheaper. If you spend, let's say $2,500 to $3,000 for an older model classic that will need a lot of updates and a newer motor, you've just wasted a lot of time and money. You could easily spend another $4,000 on a newer motor, suspension, shocks, springs, rack and pinion steering, and other related items needed to make a car like this more competitive; it may still not be good enough. Only an experienced racer with good fabricating skills and equipment should ever attempt to update an older car. If you look for a car that already has these items you'll pay a bit more at first, but much less in the end, and have your first summer to learn the techniques of racing instead trying to keep the old heap running.
There is no comparison between an old two valve, air-cooled motor and a later model liquid cooled four valve motor. A stock liquid cooled 1000 cc motor will make a lot more power and out last an old 1250cc air-cooled motor. Unless your local track has a sportsman class that races these old motors, you should not consider them in your purchase.
Competitive Dwarf cars today use small body, purpose-made racing shocks with 2 7/8" diameter coil over springs, "Pro"-"Bilstein"-"Carrera" brands but all are ok. The older fat body automotive shocks will not perform as well at all, and should be avoided!
Rack and pinion steering is a must at the speeds we race at today, it allows for quick and firm control between the driver and the car without a lot of free play. A purpose built racing rack (Stilleto or Sweet) is ideal and much better than an automotive rack (Chevette or Pinto) modified to fit a Dwarf car. Chain operated steering should be avoided at all times.
All steering and suspension components are very important and should be inspected closely for any defects, bends and wear. Step sharply on the front and rear bumpers, does the car raise back sharply or does it stick or is it sluggish in rebounding?
Is the car in a good general state of repair, are the body parts in decent condition, free of any sharp edges, have the bumpers been welded in several places to make repairs, has the frame suffered any major damage, are the main roll cage tubes straight and undamaged? All of these things and more need to be inspected before you buy!
If speed is your goal then brakes will be an important thing to check. Four-wheel disk brakes are a must on today's Dwarf cars. They may be aftermarket type or "OEM" but all four must work well, and drum brakes need to be avoided.
Let me assure you I'm not trying to be a spoiler or discourage anyone from entering into what I consider a great sport but rather to inform you so that you may be better prepared to make that initial purchase without having regrets after you show up at a track only to find your little speed buggy just doesn't measure up to the competition. So take your time and learn a bit more about these great cars before you jump in and your chance of enjoying the sport will be much greater.
Hope this helps to keep some of you that are thinking about getting into the sport from making the $2500 mistake!
Jack Van Dyke OVDCA (firstname.lastname@example.org