note: this article was last updated in 2009.
If you look hard enough, you can still find a bargain, even in auto racing. AJ. "Buddy" Pugliese is living proof of it.
Pugliese is the President and Chief Executive Officer for the Formula Race Car Club of America (“FRCCA”), an organization dedicated to providing “The thrill of racing without the agony of expense.”
That’s not easy when some famous racing schools can charge $1,000 or more per day just to learn basic skills, but the FRCCA lives up to its motto. Incredibly, Pugliese maintains that the total cost of running the 10-12 races each year on the FRCCA schedule would total $10,000 - and that includes purchasing and servicing a single-seat, rear-engined race car capable of speeds in excess of 140 mph!
The three divisions for this type of car form the backbone of the FRCCA. Called “Club Fords,” they are older Formula Ford racecars that are no longer competitive against newer machines – except under the special rules of the FRCCA.
“There are two aspects of racing: speed and competition,” said Pugliese, “and somewhere along the line the search for speed was given a higher priority than the search for competition.”
This sort of thinking by a sanctioning body can very quickly sideline all but the most wealthy competitors. Back in 1979, Pugliese was growing frustrated with the Formula Ford rules. “The whole concept of Formula Ford was getting out of hand,” he said. “Formula Ford was supposed to be a beginning series in Formula car racing. That idea was being forgotten by the people who set the rules, and it has gotten worse since then. Today a competitive new chassis costs more than $20,000. By the time you get it ready to race and add other necessary equipment, like a trailer and some spare parts, you’re looking at a $30,000 investment. As an ‘entry level series,’ Formula Ford became a joke.”
With the idea of Club Ford as his only resource, Pugliese and five interested friends decided to try to create a set of Club Ford rules that would enable older formula Fords to race competitively. And, to make sure they had a place to race, they formed the FRCCA in 1980 and established their own race schedule. The largest expense of running a Formula Ford had previously been tire costs, with drivers using three or more complete sets in a race weekend. The FRCCA has substantially reduced this major expenditure by working with American Racing Tires to develop a special tire capable of lasting the entire schedule and requiring all Club Ford competitors to use it. Few engine modifications are allowed; the rules called for a specified camshaft with specified lift, a flywheel of uniform weight and allowed virtually no internal modifications to the standard 1600cc Cortina engine.
The whole object of the FRCCA rules is to minimize the effect of the car in the racing equation. Driving ability is what the group tries to cultivate. The goal runs from conducting its own racing school (for just $550 – less than a third of the cost of other schools) to teaching and enforcing professional-style rules. They offer seminars that will enable anyone to learn the small amount of maintenance that the cars require.
“Even though a Formula Ford is a true race car in the sense that it was designed as a single-seat racing machine,” said Pugliese, “the cars themselves are mechanically quite simple. Most drivers get by on two engine tune-ups a year, and if you don't want to do it yourself, a mechanic can do it for about $200. Believe me, a person with very little mechanical aptitude can easily do the routine maintenance on a Formula Ford.”
Perhaps the most unique facet of the FRCCA is the fact that it has a class of racing strictly for beginners. The Tyro division allows new drivers to concentrate on developing driving skills rather than watching their rearview mirrors.
Since holding its first race in 1980, the FRCCA now has a division for every style of Formula car from Formula Vee to Formula Libre (a “free Formula” for any exposed-wheel racer). The seven main FRCCA divisions include three Club Ford classes -- Formula Tyro (for inexperienced drivers), Formula Sportsman (experienced drivers with Tyro legal cars -- i.e., with required gear ratios), Formula Senior (experienced drivers in newer model cars) - Formula Ford (no specified tires), Formula 2000, Formula Vee and Formula Libre.
Another special aspect of the FRCCA concerns the tracks on which the series is held. Besides such traditional venues as Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania and Lime Rock Park in Connecticut, the FRCCA also races on ovals; Mountain Speedway in Pa., Thompson Speedway in Conn., Tioga Motorsports Park in NY, and Flemington Speedway in N.J. have hosted FRCCA events in the recent past. “A lot of road racers turn up their noses at ovals,” Pugliese said, “and, quite frankly, they don't know what they're missing. Running on an oval teaches a driver different things than he might learn on a road course, and these things help develop a better overall driver who has more well rounded skills. And no matter where the FRCCA competes, we have only seven classes of cars racing -- not 22-- and track time, regardless of the track, is what makes a better driver.”
The FRCCA's “reasonable cost” approach to racing is becoming more popular each year. More than 175 active driving members ranging in age from 16 to 65 and hailing from throughout the Northeast compete.
“The concept of affordable, safe and competitive Formula car racing has universal appeal,” Pugliese said. “With the success we've had in the Northeast, it’s clear that there is interest in this type of racing. Not everyone believes that the only type of racing is NASCAR stock car racing. Race fans watch races on TV and dream about racing in the Indy 500 or the Monaco Grand Prix; with the FRCCA, most people can finally experience Formula car racing from the cockpit.”
But Pugliese knows the FRCCA is facing a challenge. With the number of available Club Fords growing slowly because fewer drivers were purchasing new Formula Fords, there were more drivers who wanted to race than there were cars available. Pugliese took his knowledge and created a new brand of racing car – Banshee Engineering – that used many production car parts yet was competitive with existing Club Fords. In race-ready form for $12,995, the Banshee provides a new alternative for drivers looking to buy a car and race it. More Banshees take to the track each year.
“We’ve worked hard to make sure that the Banshee performs equally with existing Club Fords,” Pugliese said. “But the Banshee provides an advantage over Club Fords. Because the Banshee is new, parts tend to last longer and, when they do need to be replaced, it is easier and cheaper to get them. It can be difficult and expensive to get replacement parts for a 17-year-old British race car that the guys down at NAPA or Auto Zone never heard of.”
Pugliese continues to nurture the FRCCA by matching cars for sale with aspiring drivers, making proposals for series sponsorships and new race venues, overseeing the transition of the organization’s name to Formula Race Car Club of America (to stand out in a world where NASCAR stock cars have greater fan following) and finalizing the details of televising the races - in short, giving the FRCCA (or FRCCA) membership a lot more than they thought possible. And isn’t that what a bargain is all about?
2009 A NEW BEGINNING
At the end of the 2008 season AJ Pugliese decided to retire as the club president. The honor has been passed on to John Heckman who took over in 2009.
Mr. Heckman's racing experience is long and varied and he looks forward to the challenge of taking over the club. His hope is to grow the club not only in the NE but also to the West and South.
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