If you haven’t heard of Nissan’s Micra Cup, that’s not much of a surprise. Especially if you’re in the U.S., since the Micra isn’t even sold there. The Micra Cup takes a brand new car that costs less than $10,000 Canadian and turns it into a racecar. Nissan will sell you one of these cars with a cage and a seat all ready to go for a hair over $20k Canadian. In U.S. dollars, that’s about the price of the average trip to Costco.
Watching the Micra Cup racers follow Porsche Cup cars onto the track frames the series well. While there are some legitimate up and comers racing here, like two-time champ Olivier Bédard, these are largely gentleman (and gentlewomen) racers. One of the entrants is the mayor of this weekend’s host city, and he’s doing it to win a bet with a comedian. Who also races in the series. The loser has to mow the lawn at City Hall. With an old-style reel mower. Think of the Micra Cup as the Ferrari Challenge for six-figure bank account holders. Not the eight-figure accounts those Ferrari ride and drivers likely have.
But for the Micra Cup drivers, there is very little that actually separates them from the likes of Ferrari Challenge or other similar series drivers as far as the weekend experience goes. Maybe a little less noise, and a little less speed, but no less racing. That’s because racing, even cheap racing, just might be the pinnacle of luxury.
I’m not talking about cushy seats and Alcantara leather, though, even if your racing seat happens to be trimmed in that material. Just the act of strapping yourself into that FIA-approved seat puts you in rarified air. Nobody has counted how many racecar drivers the world has seen in the 151 years since the first two cars lined up on track, but out of the population of the world, it has to be well under one percent. And that includes all racers. From the $500 (yeah, right) cars of the 24 Hours of Lemons through grassroots local series, to touring car championships, and even the stratosphere of Formula 1.
It’s not just the exclusivity, though. Walk through the paddock at any racing event and you’ll see loads of hospitality suites. They can range from a two-person tent to a million-dollar hauler, but every racer has a place to come back to that’s just for them. And the people that they allow to share the experience with them. You spend the afternoon doing your hobby, then retire to your own hospitality suite. Now that’s luxury.
How about where that hospitality suite is parked? In the country club that’s called the paddock at a facility that’s built just for you. If you’re not a racer, or allowed in by a racer, you’re not getting your vehicle parked in the paddock. It might be the world’s smallest gated community, but on any given weekend that’s your community. And even better, you won’t have to worry about the neighbours taking offence to your loud exhaust.
Time is one of the greatest luxuries. It’s the one thing you can never really buy more of. If you’re able to spend your weekends behind the wheel of a racer, you probably have lots of it. If you’re driving a cheap racer, you probably have even more. Or at least you did, but you chose to use that precious time preparing your car for the next race weekend.
Racing can even get you more of that time. Take your car into the garage for a tire change and you’re waiting for at least an hour while it’s done. Racing mechanics can get your tires changed and put you back on the road in under three seconds. The mechanics that work on Top Fuel dragsters can even complete an entire engine rebuild in 75 minutes. An engine that you will completely destroy in under four seconds if you’re lucky. They’re giving you time, and you’re using that time to just throw away that work and money. Now that’s luxury.
You’re even playing on a surface that is nearly impossible to get access to. Getting a tee time on even the most prestigious golf courses, for example, isn’t overly difficult. Even St Andrews Links, the home of golf, lets you show up tomorrow morning and have a chance of playing a round. It’s positively plebeian. Not the major racing circuits. At the very least, you’ll need to find a group that has managed to rent a course on a weekday evening. But for many courses, if you want to set a timed lap it needs to be done in a racecar. And not just any racecar, one of the few series that’s permitted that weekend.
Which brings me to my main reason why racing is the pinnacle of luxury. I’m watching the Micra Cup at the Grand Prix of Trois Rivieres. There are no top NASCAR series here, no headline open-wheel racers like Formula 1 or even Indycar. No, the main draw this weekend is the Pinty’s Series. A lower rung NASCAR feeder series, with no offence intended to the drivers who race in those cars.
And for that, Trois Rivieres shuts down a handful of major streets. For at least two weeks. So fewer than 200 people can go racing. Maybe there isn’t much going on in this small Quebec town on a weekend in August, but look at some of the other street circuits. Like Long Beach, CA. One of the busiest port cities in North America shuts down a handful of streets to let people race. Or the Monaco Grand Prix. It’s the home of some of the richest people in the world. And every year it shuts down downtown so that some guys can parade around in their fancy open-wheel cars.
Just try and get that access for whatever other activity you can think of. It’s not going to happen. They wouldn’t do it for your polo match. They won’t do it so you can hunt with your falcons. But they’ll do it for a car race. Because if luxury is the state of extravagant living, then nothing else stacks up. Who gave out the trophy after the finish of this low-buck racing series? The Premier of Quebec. Imagine the governor of your state coming out for the end of your spa trip. Not happening. Or strangers lining up for autographs after you climb Kilimanjaro? Nope.
And the best part is, it doesn’t matter if your racecar cost $10,000 or $100,000,000. The only thing that changes is how fast you go. So if you want to experience real luxury, go racing. I recommend these tiny Micra Cup cars. I don’t think a car that’s ten times the price will be even 10 percent more fun. And it’s not likely to be any more prestigious.