The Best Way to Make a Mazda Miata Faster

Say you have a Mazda Miata. It doesn’t matter what generation Miata you own – there are many options to make your Miata into a track monster, a daily driver with some oomph, a canyon carver that will hang around with a Porsche 911 GT3, and anything in between. If you don’t have a Miata, I highly encourage you to get one. Hop onto Craigslist, type in “Mazda Miata” and see what comes up. You can get one for $1,000, but I wouldn’t recommend that, unless you know what you are going to do (i.e. yank out the engine, put on new bodywork, etc.). If you know what you want to do, get one for cheap. Otherwise, my rule of thumb is get the nicest one you can get. Paying a few thousand dollars more for one that’s been taken care of, has a paper trail, and no accidents will mean less of a headache for you down the road.

The Miata was designed with extreme abuse in mind, so keep in mind it’s pretty hard to break them. They are durable cars, and will hold up to more abuse than many new cars.

Here are some options:

  • Monster Miata: Ever wanted to stuff a V8 into a tiny roadster just for the hell of it? That’s exactly what Monster Miata did. The overall structure of the Miata is more than capable of holding up to the massive stress of a V8. It’s almost as if the Miata was built for it! Monster Miata certainly has the expertise – they have done over 100 conversions in the past 20 years. You can have Monster Miata do the conversion for you, or you can do it yourself through their incredibly detailed instruction manual. You can buy the kit (not including a motor) for $3,995, which includes everything you’ll need to shove a Ford 302 V8 into one. You can find a Ford 302 V8 from a 1980s-1990s Mustang for $1,000. Throw in the fact you can get well over 400 horsepower without having to put a supercharger or turbocharger onto the engine, figure about $1,000 for everything. What do I mean by everything? The car, the kit and the engine. That’s a really good deal, especially because the Monster Miata cars are designed to be daily drivers, but track cars, autocross cars, and weekend warriors all in one package. Check them out at monstermiata.webs.com Doesn’t look like it’s going to fit, does it?
  • Flyin’ Miata: Flyin’ Miata started modding Miatas when they came out in 1989. They have everything from V8 conversion kits to turbocharger kits. Flyin’ Miata stuffs GM’s wonderful LS-series engines into the tiny engine bay of the Miata. The car gains less than 200 pounds, 1/3 of which is on the rear wheels. Road & Track tested one in 2013, and it hit 60 mph in 3.8 seconds. That’s Porsche 911 territory. Automobile Magazine compared it to the Shelby Cobra. A Flyin’ Miata will be a bit more expensive, but it’s well worth it. Monster Miata only does NA generation Miatas (first generation) conversion kits. Flyin’ Miata does V8 conversion kits for all generations of Miata. I’d go for an NC generation Miata (third generation), just because I like them the most. Oh, you can also buy used ones from Flyin’ Miata. Don’t worry about repairing them – any engine, transmission, or rear end part can be bought at any GM dealer, and most other parts can be bought at your local Mazda dealer. Want to keep the little four banger but want near LS engine power? Not a problem! You can get a turbocharger from Flyin’ Miata, as well as all the necessary parts. It’s literally a bolt-on process.

    This Miata is Flyin’ Miata’s test bed. They call it “Atomic Betty.” Several magazines have likened it to the Shelby Cobra 427.

Now, some of us might not have that kind of money. Don’t worry if you don’t – there are still plenty of options to make your Miata a speed demon!

  • Tires, tires, tires: I can’t say enough about how a good, sticky set of tires will dramatically improve the handling characteristics of your Miata. Get a set of really sticky summer tires, and if you daily drive your Miata, get a set of all-season tires that will last a while. This will mean a couple of sets of wheels, which I’ll talk about in a second. Just keep this in mind: the right summer/track tires can make the difference between winning and losing a race, but they come at an expensive price. Tires aren’t exactly the cheapest things on the planet, and considering that the Miata is a small car, you probably won’t have room to put four wheels (with tires on them), plus a cooler, tools, and whatever else you bring to the local autocross or track day. Think about towing the car if you can, or get a really small trailer. Lots of grassroots racers do that. Also, ask your friend if they will loan you their truck for a day, or ask a racing buddy who has a truck and is going to the same event if they can grab your tires.
    These might be all-season tires, but they are sticky all-season tires, along with wheels designed for the Miata.
    • Wheels can also make a big difference. A carbon fiber set of wheels will shave a good 20-30 pounds off the weight of your car. It might not sound like a lot, but consider this: lighter wheels + stickier tires = more smiles per mile. There are a lot of options for wheels, and tires.

      Like these wheels? How surprised would you be if I told you they were the stock wheels plasti-dipped, and with the center cap removed? That’s probably a modification under $100 for all four wheels.
  • Cold air intake: Want a bit more power out of your Miata, but not so much? A cold-air intake is a great investment. It works as a kind of ram-air system. They draw cold air from outside the car into the engine. Because of this, combustion requires less heat and fuel, which means a more efficient burn. Acceleration will increase, not dramatically, but you certainly will notice it. Your fuel economy will also increase, no matter how hard you drive the car. The engine note will be louder and more aggressive. It won’t bring the cops to your house at 1:30 a.m. when you’re revving it (good ones won’t), but it will have more of a roar then before. Get one from a reputable brand like: K&N (who promise, and deliver an extra 15 horsepower or your money back), Injen, Volant and Airaid. This is a great modification, and it’s pretty cheap too! One from, say, K&N, will cost about $300-400.

    Here’s an example of a cold-air intake on a Miata. Saves a lot of space in the engine bay and boosts performance!
  • Bigger brakes: If you’re planning on seriously autocrossing or tracking your Miata, invest in bigger, better brakes. You don’t need to go all-out and get massive 14-inch disc brakes – when you hit the brakes, the car will literally catapult you out of it! Step up about an inch or two in rotors, and don’t go above four-piston calipers. I’d go for EBC brakes. They provide great stopping power at an affordable price.

    EBC Brakes is a British brake company. Think of them as the working man’s Brembos.
  • Upgrade the suspension: Get adjustable coilover shocks, better struts, etc. They will make the ride a bit stiffer, but if you’re serious about driving the car hard, the added stiffness will pay off.

    Here’s an example of a suspension upgrade kit. This one is from Flyin’ Miata, and has just about all you need to keep your car a daily driver and be truly flyin’ at the track.
  • Racing seats: Most tracks will not allow you to track the car without a racing seat, a HANS device (I’ll explain that in another post), a five-point harness, a track suit, gloves and a helmet. Those are all great investments, and I’ll get to them in another post. They are a bit too much to explain how to get in this post. But, a racing seat is a great investment. Look at Corbeau, Recaro, and Sparco. They are all incredibly comfortable, and you can keep the stock seatbelts in the car, so you don’t have to buckle up into a five-point harness every time you have to go to get milk.

    Here’s a good example of a Recaro in a Miata, but just be careful of hitting the convertible top with the seat. Some seats are quite tall, and then it’s a bunch of hacking the floorpan to make it fit. The stock seat is the passenger seat, which the builder left in the car for comparison.
  • Rollcage: If you are going to track the car, definitely get one of these. A rollcage will protect you when you flip over at the track. Airbags will only do so much to save you. Not to say they aren’t great, because they are, but they won’t help very much when you flip going 110 mph. That’s where a rollcage will. The car will be damaged, but you should be able to walk away with only minor injuries. Go to a trusted and highly recommended fabricator. It should be a piece of cake for them. You should also get it padded, because a rollcage will seriously injure you if you’re driving without a helmet on. Most of the time, the padding can be removed if the track safety officials won’t allow it.

    This is a padded rollcage for a Miata, but it still allows the convertible top to go up and down.
  • Less weight: Never really used the air conditioning in your car? Rip it out and there goes about 30 pounds. Keep the heater core and all of the defroster stuff. Rip out the soft top and get a hard top. There goes another 30 pounds. Remove the spare tire and jack from the trunk, and that’s probably a good 30 pounds. This will free up trunk space, and you can get a tire repair kit. That right there is 80-90 pounds.

    Ever wondered what a stripped-down Miata interior looks like? This. It’s still perfectly functional, but all the heavy carpeting is gone.

All of these options are great. You will love the added performance bonuses all of these options give you. Think about it this way: if you don’t want a massive V8 in your Miata, all of the cheaper options I listed will total about $10,000, which is about the same price as one of the V8 conversion kits (before the engine). Excuse me, I have to go onto Craigslist and find a Miata to do all of this to. As always, donations are gladly accepted. I have always wanted one, after all…Why not go all out and get one with a V8?

What Makes Last Week’s Sprint Car Tragedy So Special?

There’s no denying that last week’s tragedy at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York is horrific.  For those of you who don’t know, Tony Stewart, a very good sprint car and NASCAR driver, had an on-track collision with a fellow sprint car driver, Kevin Ward, Jr.  Ward’s car spun out, hit the wall, and suffered a flat tire.  Ward then proceeded to climb out of his car and stride down the track pointing his finger at Stewart.  As Stewart’s car went by, Ward was struck by the rear right wheel of Stewart’s car, sending him flying a good 20 feet down the track.  Health officials said that Ward was killed on impact.  The result?  A massive internet phenomenon where just about every internet user has become an “expert” on sprint cars overnight.  While I’m not a sprint car expert either, I do find them fascinating.  The reason for this post being almost a week behind the tragedy is that I wanted to put some time behind the incident to gather more information and let everybody cool off.

Here’s what happened – Tony Stewart grew up driving sprint cars until his mid-20’s, when he became heavily involved in NASCAR and IndyCar.  He still drove sprint cars for fun.  After he got out of IndyCar around 2005, Stewart went full-time into NASCAR.  He went into NASCAR’s prestigious Sprint Cup Series, where he won three Cups.  He has won many, many races in NASCAR, sprint cars, and IndyCar.  He may have a reputation for having a temper, but he’s calmed down in the last few years.  According to those who know him and have interviewed him, the man has a heart of gold, but can act impulsively.  When Danica Patrick came to Stewart-Haas racing, Tony personally started coaching her.  He’s been a driving force in sprint car safety measures ever since he suffered a severely broken leg last year in a sprint car race in Iowa.  His broken leg was so bad that it forced him to go around in a mobility scooter for a good 4 months.  He had to miss the rest of the NASCAR season, making him ineligible for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

This year, Tony’s been back with an eye on the prize.  He’s already gotten one pole at a race, and started in the Top 5 4 times.  But, the death of Kevin Ward, Jr. last weekend shook him.  He was scheduled to race the next day at Watkins Glen International Raceway for the Cheez-it 355, but decided not to race after the tragedy the night before.  On Thursday, he released a statement saying that he will not be racing at Michigan International Speedway, and that Jeff Burton will continue to drive his No. 14 Chevrolet SS for the indefinite future.

Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle both grew up driving sprint cars on dirt tracks.  Many drivers like Stewart have humble beginnings on short tracks, or start off in go-karts.  Mostly in NASCAR, it’s the former.  For Tony Stewart, driving sprint cars is just a fun hobby that he does for fun occasionally.  However, he does have a couple of drivers driving sprint cars under his direction from Stewart-Haas Racing.  It’s like Ivan “Ironman” Stewart (no relation to Tony Stewart), who is still an off-road motorsports legend.  Ivan grew up riding motorcycles, and he enjoys riding them across the country with friends when he’s not helping Toyota Racing Development (TRD) with new off-road race trucks.  Back to Tony Stewart.  The tragedy obviously shook him to his core, and I think that he just needs to take a break from racing all together for a while to reorient himself.  I don’t think that he will ever recover from accidentally killing a fellow driver, especially a 20-year-old.  I don’t think that anybody can.

In the aftermath of the tragedy at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, NASCAR has released new on-track protocols for drivers following a wreck.  In a nutshell, drivers are not supposed to exit their car after a wreck unless instructed to by a safety official.  Drivers are prohibited from going onto the track or towards other cars under all circumstances unless it is a safety vehicle.  The reason for this is that some NASCAR superspeedways like Daytona, Talladega, Michigan, Charlotte, Texas, and Homestead-Miami are big enough for cars to reach speeds in excess of 200 mph.  When a caution happens in NASCAR, drivers are only supposed to let off the gas and coast until the pace car comes on the track.  If a driver exited their car at Daytona and started striding towards another car, the result could be disastrous.  Drivers are safer inside of their cars.  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars are built to withstand multiple impacts of 200 mph or greater, and still allow the driver to live.  The driver might have an injury like a broken leg or arm, but they will be far better off than dead.  These rules might seem foolish, but they are really only common sense.  There is no logical reason for a driver to approach another car on foot.

Now, let’s talk about sprint cars.  These little things that look like they belong on a WWII fighter plane are tricky and super cool.  Sprint car racing is different than midget car racing.  Midget cars are essentially go-karts with semi-powerful engines (usually a Ford flathead V8 or a GMC “Jimmy” inline-six-cylinder) and dirt or asphalt tires.  They are freakishly fast and unsafe.  Sprint cars are the next step up from that.  These cars define insanity.

There are a couple of different classes of sprint cars:  The craziest class is World of Outlaws, started in 1978.  These cars use a 410 cubic-inch naturally-aspirated V8 (6.7 liters) that can produce anywhere from 900-1,100 horsepower.  These cars do not have a starter, transmission, clutch, or battery.  This means that these cars must get a push from a start truck to get going.  They simply use a driveshaft directly from the engine to the rear axle.  Their left rear tire is 335 millimeters wide (that’s as wide as the rear tires on a SRT Viper!), and their massive right rear tire is 380 millimeters wide.  The class that Tony Stewart races in is called the United Racing Company.  These sprint cars use a 360 cubic-inch V8 (5.9 liters) that is based off of a Dodge/Plymouth design.  That’s where the similarities to the Big 3 end.  These engines are capable of producing anywhere from 700-900 horsepower.  Again, these cars don’t use transmissions, clutches, batteries, or starters.

In recent years, sprint car safety has greatly increased.  Roll cages are now mandatory, as well as fully tubbed chassis’.  Fuel tank bladders prevent fuel leakages, and alcohol-infused fuel is now used.  Six or seven-point safety harnesses are now standard, and drivers are now required to wear a 2-layer fire suit and Nomex gloves.  Full helmets, arm restraint devices, right headrests, and a 1/8 inch-thick rock/debris screen on the front of the roll cage.  Plus, World of Outlaws and United Racing Company require head and neck restraints (HANS devices).

Winged sprint cars are much safer than non-winged sprint cars, due to the fact that the aluminum wings are capable of absorbing a good deal of impact.  When crashes happen, they are often violent, and debilitating injuries in non-winged sprint cars are commonplace.  The safety of winged sprint cars was shown in 2013 when Tony Stewart’s sprint car flipped and hit a safety fence before hitting the ground upside down.  Tony was able to walk away from the crash with only a severely broken leg (okay, maybe hop away).

Any sprint car is capable of reaching speeds of 140 mph or more.  With winged sprint cars, the wings add hundreds of pounds of downforce at speed, making the car easier to control.  Surprisingly, sprint cars are easier to control at higher speeds, thanks to the added downforce.  Sprint cars are mainly steered with the throttle, which is why they are almost always sideways.  They are built to turn left 99% of the time, and side visibility is almost nothing.  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Greg Biffle also grew up driving sprint cars, and he has said multiple times in interviews that sprint cars need to have better side visibility.  The wings on the sides go down to about head level of the driver, and shorter drivers have no problem with visibility.  What needs to happen with sprint cars is simple:

  • Drivers should NOT exit their car unless it’s on fire.  This would alleviate any repeats of the Ward/Stewart tragedy.  When a car spins out or hits the wall, a caution is called.  Drivers let off the gas, but they still are travelling pretty fast.  Tony Stewart was going about 40 mph when he hit Kevin Ward, Jr.  Even if he was in a street car, Ward would still be dead.  Safety officials can be anywhere on a track like Canandaigua in seconds.  Watch the video, and you’ll see that the safety truck was at the site where Ward was killed in under 10 seconds.  The truck was heading out to help Ward’s car get back to the pits when the accident happened.
  • The wings on the side NEED to be raised about 6-10 inches higher for better visibility.  It won’t make the cars more unstable.  Look at Can-Am McLaren’s of the 1960’s and 1970’s – their wings got higher and higher.  It actually HELPED the car’s stability and downforce!  Sprint cars could benefit from that.  Plus, it will make the cars safer, as there will be more space between the wall/catch fence/ground and the driver.
  • Drivers need to wait until after a caution to talk to race officials about who was at fault in the accident.  It was clear in the Ward/Stewart incident the lap before Ward was killed that Ward bumped Stewart’s car and hit the wall as a result.  Ward was clearly at fault in the accident, but Stewart also used his car to shove Ward’s away from his so that both cars didn’t spin.  It’s a simple maneuver, yet it proved to be ultimately fatal.  Race officials know who did what when, and they will assign points and/or penalties accordingly.  I know that drivers become furious when their car is wrecked, but walking towards the car that wrecked yours is simply not a smart or good way to take your anger out.

I think that in the coming months, many sanctioning bodies of various motorsports will enact rules telling drivers to not exit their vehicles until told to do so by safety officials.  Let me be perfectly clear:  Crew chiefs and spotters are NOT safety officials.  They are there to make sure that you stay out of accidents and win a race.  They are not a track safety official telling you to get out of the car.  I know that humans make mistakes, but Kevin Ward, Jr.’s mistake proved fatal.  There’s no taking back what happened that night, but we can prevent it from happening again.  It’s sad, and my thoughts go out to Kevin Ward, Jr.’s family and to Tony Stewart.  I can’t even begin to fathom how sad Tony Stewart must feel about what happened that night.

I have attached the video of Tony Stewart killing Kevin Ward, Jr.  Please do not watch this video if you felt at all uncomfortable reading this post.  I had trouble watching the video, but I feel that it is important for you to see it.  Viewer discretion is advised when watching this video.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5JNNXXdqM4