Racing on the Cheap

So you want to race, huh? You’ve got the need for speed but don’t necessarily have the deep pockets to support your habit. Well fear not, there is a solution out there that may be more practical than you think. Odds are you have a high-resolution flat screen TV and either a Sony Play Station 3, Microsoft Xbox 360 or PC, if that’s the case you’re more than half way there. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking about sim-racing or racing simulators for any geriatrics who stumbled onto this post accidentally.


Since the inception of the console/pc based video game, developers have been trying to bring the excitement of the track or drag strip into the home. Games like Outrun, Sega Rally, Pole Position and Grand Turismo 1-3 were staples of my childhood. These of course were just games with little to no realistic value so to speak of. Whereas now advancements in computer technology allow racing simulators to provide a surprisingly realistic driving experience. This is due to what nerds call a physics engine, which is a computer software program that provides an “approximate simulation of a physical system”. In other words when you take a sharp corner at a ridiculously high rate of speed you go flying off the track into a wall and crash. In real life you would be out a car and possibly more however, in a sim you simply hit reset.

How realistic it gets is all up to you. After you get the TV and gaming console or PC a game can run between $30-$70. There are quite a few titles to choose from and they span the various kinds of racing out there. Grand Turismo for the PlayStation 3 is one of the longest running titles, now in its fifth iteration, is regarded by many to be the best. Number two is Forza Motorsport 4 for the Xbox 360, it truly is an excellent game and on par with Grand Turismo without a doubt.

After you get the game you can play with the controller but that’s not very realistic now is it? You need a wheel and pedal set. Again there are many to choose from and they range in quality from crap to fantastic. It just depends on how much you want to spend. The Cadillac of wheel/pedal combos is the Thrustmaster T500 RS and at $550 it is quite expensive. For all this money you get a steering wheel with little motors that move the wheel back and forth, a six gate h-pattern shifter, and a heavy duty 3-pedal base. Now this might seem like a lot of money for what is essentially a toy, because it is, especially when you can get the same thing for about half of the cost. That’s right the Logitech G-27 offers the same amenities for around $220.

The Logitech G 27

So you’ve got a pretty good set-up the TV  the wheel and pedals, now you’re starting to smell the burning rubber and exhaust fumes. So what are you going to do clamp the wheel to your end table? No you get a seat and chassis. This is the foundation of your experience, it allows you to assume a realistic seated position in relation to the wheel, pedals, and shifter. Now, you are ready to race.

You don’t want to be ghetto

With a great set up you are guaranteed hours of racing excitement from the comfort of your home and at only a fraction of the cost of a real race car.

A proper set-up

As with all things in life there are some people who take it to the extreme and then something awesome happens. Some guys decide that nothing short of a real car in their living room will suffice. 

There are always some people out there who take things a bit too far…


2 Responses to Racing on the Cheap

  1. GT3 was the most incredible thing I’d experienced at the age of 12. The selection of cars at your fingertips with real world specifications and physics was incredible. I remember going in and memorizing most of the figures.

    I still remember winning the Trial Mountain circuit over and over and over till my friend and I had enough money to buy the Pagani Zonda C12. After that….it was OVER.

    Oh, and big shout out to the F094S F1 car that was in the game. It was so good it made me a downright lazy driver.

  2. One part of me as always wanted to spend some decent coin and pick up a good racing seat set up for Forza. A force feedback wheel is a must, as are feed back pedals. And a bigger TV. And a racing seat. and a black out room. And a conversion kit to add a stick and throttle for flight sims. And have a hand brake rigged up as well. And a nitrous button. And…

    And the other part of me simply is fine with racing with my thumbs. I think the one issue I always run into with the racing seats is the feedback is ok, but still limited. Sure, a good force feedback wheel can help you feel what is happening at the front of the car, but it leaves out what the other half is feeling. Further, it can only go so far to simulate wheel spin, brake fade, the way tires react with different types of surface, etc. I’ve always complained that the big issue I run into with a wheel and seat set up is not having any feel of how the back of the car is reacting. I can’t feel the rear end start to step out or feel it grip when I try to bring it back in.

    That all being said, it has been pretty well documented that those brave enough to take real steel out to the ‘Reng have logged serious man hours on the same track in Forza and GT and have come back saying it was a real boon. The ability to practice the same turn over and over and develop muscle memory can only be a good thing.

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