Road racing is the world’s most popular motorsport. It features cars battling across multi-mile long race tracks with tight corners, harpin turns, s-curves and hills.
It’s the motorsport that makes up racing circuits such as Formula 1, Le Mans, and FIA GT Racing.
Despite its popularity around the world, in North America it takes a backseat to drag racing, stock car racing and off-road racing. Drag Racing is by far America’s most popular amateur motorsport, with drag strips existing in every state including Alaska and Hawaii.
Road courses are rare in the states, but amateur road racing does exist in America, and it’s governed by the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America). They are the largest sanction body for both amateur and professional road racing in the US.
If you are interested in road racing, the question that is likely on your mind is what car do I buy to start? Do I need a Porsche 911 or a Ferrari Enzo to compete?
The answer is no.
One day you may get a chance to race those cars, the cars need to get started are much cheaper.
For the most part, the best cars are Japanese sports cars and sport compacts as they are affordable, parts are cheap, and they are easy to work on. We have chosen 10 cars for you that will help you get started in road racing.
12 Awesome Road Racing Cars: Our Top Makes and Models
Here are 12 of our favorite road racing cars on the market:
Honorable Mention: Porsche Boxter/Cayman 987
The Porsche Boxter/Cayman is an excellent car for road racing. Not as fast as it’s sister, the 911 but still quick, lightweight, and offers excellent handling.
It’s variety of flat six engines will provide plenty of power and you can’t be the styling of a Porsche. The only draw backs are cost and maintainece costs.
Compared to most Japanese sports cars, the replacement parts for a Porsche are more expensive. KBB has the valve from $16,500 for a 2005 model to 23,500 for a 2012 model.
Honorable Mention: BMW M3 E36
The BMW M3 E36 is the second generation of the BMW M3. Released in 1992 the car quickly became a hit in both Europe and the US thanks to its sleek styling and German performance engineering.
Using a 3.0L (95-99 models use a 3.2L) Inline 6 engine with VANOS variable valve timing, the M3 is a car that scoffed at speed limits.
Draw backs to the BMW M3 E36 include high maintence costs and the car itself can be pricey.
10. Lexus IS300
The Lexus IS300 is a fun sports sedan that has all the makings of a great sports car.
Rear wheel drive, excellent handling, and the famous Toyota 2JZ-GE Inline Six engine. Its modest 215 horsepower is enough to propel you around a corner.
The car is durable thanks to its Toyota build quality and can be found in the price range of $4000 to $6000.
9. Porsche 944
The Porsche 944 is unique compared to other Porsches, in that it was designed to be a more fuel efficient and economical sports car.
The 944 breaks many Porsche traditions including having a front engine rather than a rear engine, and being powered by an inline four rather than a flat six.
Lightweight and featuring both turbo and natural aspirated models, the 944 makes an excellent beginner sports car. Horsepower ranges from 143hp to 247hp (turbo) which makes it not too much car for a novice to handle.
They range from $5000 to $17,000 depending on mileage and options.
8. Mazda RX-7 FC
Famous for being Ryosuke Takahashi’s ride in Initial D, the Mazda RX-7 come in at number on our list. Not only is the RX7 a great drift machine, it’s excellent at cornering and racing too.
With a fuel injected 13B-VDEI rotary engine and both NA and turbo options, the RX-7 is a race car right out of the box.
It’s less common than Miata’s, Honda’s, BMW’s, and Porsche at the track which means it will standout more.
They fetch about $7,500 on the used market which makes them fairly affordable. Let’s face it, you know you just want to drive one and blast Running in the 90’s.
7. Toyota MR2 W20 (1989-1999)
Another unique looking car on this list, the Toyota MR2 was built to be a compact sports car that excelled at road racing.
The Toyota MR2 uses a rear mid-engine rear wheel drive platform similar to a Porsche 911.
During the production of the 2nd generation W20, Toyota sought advice from professional road racers from Le Mans and Formula 1 to fine tune the handling capabilities of the MR2.
The MR2 is available in two trim levels a standard with a NA 2.2L inline four engine and a turbo with a turbocharged 2.0L inline four engine. The NA produces 130 horses and the Turbo produces an even 200.
The MR2 sells for an average cost of $6,000.
6. Subaru WRX-STI (2001-2007)
Arguably one of the most famous and best engineered sports sedans of all time.
When it was released in the United States in 2001 the WRX quickly gained a strong following among fans of Japanese imports.
Here was a Japanese Sedan that could go toe to toe with a BMW on a road course and was a fraction of the price. With a turbocharged 300 horsepower 2.5L DOHC engine, aggressive styling, and precision handling, the STI was the high-performance sports car that import fans dreamed of.
While not the cheapest cars, second generation STIs could be found for an average price of $15,000.
5. Honda S2000
Honda is more famous for their sport compact cars such as the Civic and commuter sedans such as the Accord, but from 1999-2009 they produced a two-seat roadster, the S2000.
The S2000 was designed to compete with the BMW Z3 and Z4 series of roadsters. Rear wheel drive, lightweight and powered by a 247hp 2.0L DOHC inline four engine the S2000 packs a powerful punch.
A double wish bone suspension is used to help the S2000 navigate around the twists and turns of a road course. An S2000 can be found for $6,000 to $11,000 depending on mileage.
4. Nissan 350z
Since its release in 2003, the Nissan 350z has a large following among import fans. With it’s 3.5L V6 engine, rear wheel drive, superb cornering and sleek styling, the 350z is a favorite among road racers.
With excellent handling, a large aftermarket and affordable the 350z can be a great car to handle around a road course. The 350z goes for an average cost of $5000 to $7000.
3. Nissan 300zx (1983-1989)
The Nissan 300zx was the car that 80s kids dreamed of owning.
With exotic styling, pop-out head lights and most importantly a fuel injected turbo charged 3.0L V6 engine it’s a fine sports car.
The 300zx corners like it’s on rails and has a large aftermarket which makes it easy to build into a race car. The 300zx is still affordable though its value is increasing. The average cost is around $6000.
2. Nissan 240sx (1989-1994, 1995-1998)
Small, compact, affordable, and rear wheel drive the Nissan 240sx is one of best budget sports cars ever made.
Released in the US in 1989, the 240sx quickly gained a following as an affordable sports car. Powered by either a SOCH 2.4L or a DOHC 2.4L I4 engine, 240sx has enough power to carve corners and pass on the straight away.
Some cars were optioned with Limited Slip Differential rear ends, multilink suspensions and Nissan’s HICAS four-wheel steering that was also found on the 300zx.
All 1995-1998 models came with the DOHC 2.4L engine making them the better car for more power. While far from being the most expensive cars on this list, they can be a little pricey due to their popularity among drifters making the cars a little hard to find.
Average price is $4,000 to $,8000 depending on mileage and year. The 1989-1994 models are cheaper.
1. Mazda MX-5 Miata (1989-1997, 1998-2005, 2006-2015)
The Mazda Miata began in the late 90s as a teen girl’s mall crawler and has since evolved into arguably the world’s most famous roadster.
For the last two decades the Miata has made a name for itself racing in SCCA events across the country. The car checks all of the boxes to be an effective road racing sports car; rear wheel drive, lightweight, multilink suspension, great handling and affordability.
Due to its popularity among road racers, the Mazda Miata even has its own racing series, the Global MX-5 Cup. If you are going to get started in road racing, this is the car to buy.
Before you get started in road racing, attend a few SCCA events as a spectator and attend the SCCA’s racing school. You cannot compete on a road course in the US without being an SCCA member and attending an SCCA race school.
Since road courses are rare and it may not be easy to get to a track day every weekend, give autocross a try.
Local autocross events are held at parking lots and smaller race tracks across the country. Autocross can help your cornering skills and make you a better driver.
Remember stay safe and enjoy the ride.