Many people, arguably smarter than me, live in warm climates year-round. Warm weather folks probably don’t have an issue with finding local cars & coffee events or setting up a nice weekend drive with friends as temps drop below freezing. They may even find a track day or two. Lucky bastards! As a Chicagoan I don’t have these luxuries, so I’ve cobbled together a list of alternatives to keep my automotive itch at bay during the throws of winter.
1. Car Maintenance and Performance Upgrades
If your favorite car isn’t your daily driver, there’s a good chance it sits in your garage with a car cover and battery tender attached. Winter is a great time to get your car in tip-top shape. Most people have some to-dos and I’ve gottas that were neglected during the summer because you’d rather be out driving instead of wrenching on a hot summer night. Now is a great time to stop putting off these maintenance projects. If your car is already in good working order, time to install those performance parts that you’ve had sitting in boxes for the last six months. To get motivated, just think of how great your refreshed ride will be when it comes out of hibernation in Spring.
2. Detail, Detail, Detail
If you’re like me you can’t stand the sight of dirt, smudges, or spots on your glossy exterior or small crumbs in the crevasses of your interior. Maybe you still have a caked-on brake dust from your last track day or autocross. Why not go completely nuts and see if you can get your extended family member into concours shape? What does this mean. Present a vehicle that is in the same, or better, condition than it was in when it left the production line. This is a project that will take lots of time and patience but will give you a real sense of accomplishment once complete.
3. Winter Autocross
If you’re the type of person who seeks out empty, snow-filled parking lots winter for doing donuts, winter autocross could be right up your ally. I’ve yet to try this myself but it sounds amazing, and we’re giving it strong consideration for this winter. [Mental note, start looking at snow tire set-ups and pricing for Mila…] This could be a great alternative to your run-of-the-mill winter sport. Sign me up!
4. Indoor Go-Kart Racing
In any other year indoor go-karting would be a great way to maintain your driving hand eye coordination skills during the winter months. It’s amazing how much concentration and stamina is required to race around a small track for twenty minutes with ten other drivers. It’s a ton of fun for not a lot of money. Just be careful, it can be dangerous. My brother Marc and my Uncle Dave both got pretty banged up indoor karting crashes. Fortunately, only one of the accidents was my fault.
5. SIM Racing
As a teenager, and even into adulthood I loved playing racing simulation games. My favorite was the original Grand Turismo on PlayStation. Matt and I and our friends would play for hours and hours. We didn’t have the current day steering wheels or pedal controllers, so it didn’t transfer well to real track driving. Fast forward 20 years and the technology is incredibility realistic with a major online presence. It’s so lifelike that professional drivers in IndyCar and IMSA used iRacing simulators as a training during the first months of the pandemic. The racing was so captivating that some of these races were broadcast on ESPN and NBC Sports.
The issue is the amount of startup capital needed to be competitive. You’ll may need an elaborate setup which includes a powerful desktop PC and a driving rig including a steering wheel, pedals and racing seat. Fortunately, no harness required.
Like any new hobby you can go as extravagant or low buck as you want. If you’re just looking to have fun with online racing and not interested in spending a small fortune, you can’t go wrong with a standard gaming console like Sony’s PlayStation or Microsoft’s Xbox, a basic wheel and pedal setup, and a copy of Sony’s Grand Turismo or Microsoft’s Forza. It was good enough for us back in day and still tons fun for the modern-day motorsport enthusiast.
Hopefully this list gives you some ideas how to satisfy that winter automotive itch. Enjoy the holidays and stay safe.