Imagine a parallel universe where classic cars are overly maintained, kept in cosmetically perfect condition, and driven very few miles. This fantasy is right here on earth. There’s an automotive paradise in the world of drag racing. How can this be? In the muscle car era, we were brought up to look for cars that were “never raced” in the belief that cars that saw drag strip duty were so abused that their useful lives were shortened. Indeed, transmissions, rear axles, and engines were all victims of attrition even on the street. We’ve all heard the stories. But over the years the weak points have been addressed, technology has improved, and the cream has risen to the top.
During the 50s, 60s, and 70s some desirable cars were mistreated by young owners, tossed aside, and sold for a couple hundred bucks. They had no way of knowing what the value of these precious classics would be 50 years hence. Yet other cars were carefully maintained, kept in the same family; and as values rose, there was all the more incentive to invest in their preservation. Consider the life of the modern race car. It receives all the maintenance it can possibly need. The drivetrain components are under constant scrutiny. The oil (of the highest quality available) is changed every few miles. The paint is kept in immaculate condition and is rarely allowed to see even dust. If something does break, it is fixed immediately (with parts of the highest quality available), rather than allowed to grow into bigger or multiple problems. It is kept indoors and trailered everywhere. It is never driven in even the lightest rain.
Aside from the perception that a race car’s components live a hard life, there’s a concern that the vehicles are modified beyond their original condition. This depends on the category in which the car competes. There are some classes such as the appropriately monikered Stock Eliminator, that prohibit radical deviations from original. But what restorers have discovered is that it’s often more practical to restore a solid car that may have had its fenderwells radiused, for example, than to try to resurrect a rusted hulk that languished for decades in a field.
You may have experienced the disappointment of tearing into a project car only to find that it will require lots of labor to bring it back to life. On the other hand, there could be hidden treasure with that race car for sale. Some have been raced since new or nearly new. Some have even passed through multiple generations as a precious family heirloom. Some excellent restorations have started with a race car, or you might find a great foundation for a wild street machine. You may have searched a long time to find the right car. The racing world just might be where your search ends. It’s worth a try!