With squinty headlights, a shape like a tic-tac and a gaping front grille that looks like a fish standing at the register in a fast food restaurant trying to decide what to order, the Mazda Miata is hardly material for a bedroom wall poster. Yet, visit any track around the world, and you are likely to see and hear Miatas from the past 30 years buzzing about.
“I don’t get it!,” you may tell yourself. “Why on Earth would someone drive a BMW 7 series to the track, only to squeeze behind the wheel of a glorified Matchbox car?”
The answer: pound-for-pound, dollar-for-dollar, odometer mile-for-mile, the MX-5 Miata might just be the greatest performance car ever created. Take any of those three — money, weight and engine life — out of the equation, and, sure, other cars come out looking way better. But when trying to squeeze every last droplet of fun out of a vehicle, the Mazda MX-5 shows you that sexy curves and pony car bragging rights are secondary when you have a reasonable price tag, great handling and the tenacity to take on abuse.
MX-5s Have Amazing Handling and Adequate Performance at a Stellar Price
For just $15k-$25k, you can put a track-ready Spec Miata on the start line for your favorite racing club. For that price, you get a safety cage, racing brakes, a stiffened and lowered suspension and other features that make it compliant with Spec Miata Race minimums.
You also get one hell of a chassis. MX-5s tend to turn hard and fast. Like a mom who hears her children snickering behind her back after a stern lecture, the Miata whips around with stunning poise and compliance. Every motion of the steering wheel feels connected with the road, and the MX-5’s light weight makes each turn feel dramatic but manageable.
Alongside this amazing turning capability, everything else just seems to “click” on a Miata. The responsive manual gearbox, brakes with plenty of bite and a high enough rev point to push the Miata where you want it to go.
And push you shall! When we asked racer and AMP track coach Ashton Harrison what it’s like racing MX-5s, she thoughtfully responded, “the MX-5 is a relatively slow car, so to get it to do what you want, you have to push it to the extreme limit.”
Racing Miatas Offers Low Barriers to Entry and Low Upkeep
As the case often is, driving a slow car fast is so much more fun than driving a fast car slowly. It also helps that flogging a Miata is not a sentence to a second mortgage, either.
As car blogger James Derek Sapienza recently noted, this cheap ownership cost and instant fun factor make the MX-5 an obvious choice for driving enthusiasts: “Because of its popularity and affordability, the Miata has become the entry-level sports car for an entire generation of drivers. As a result, track days around the world are dominated by the little cars.” Many owners can race a chosen model for a few years, and then turn around and sell it for about the same price they paid.
Popularity and affordability also creates a lovely positive feedback loop. Aftermarket parts, mods and fixes come at a drop in the bucket compared to more expensive-to-own German and Italian sportscars. The vehicles are also reliable. As Jalopnik’s Raphael Orlove once put it: “What makes the Miata so great is that it gives you exactly what you want: driving. Not wrenching, not waiting for parts, not busting your knuckles — just driving.”
Come Flog Your Own Racing Miata at Atlanta Motorsports Park
If you are interested in joining our Member Race series at AMP or just plastering your face with some grins on a free afternoon, then a stock or track-ready modified MX-5 could be the perfect thing for starting out. With a low entry price, easy modification prospects, high reliability and a distinct fun factor, it’s not hard to see why the Miata is an enthusiast’s favorite — even if it isn’t exactly poster-worthy.