Brett Becker

The mind tends to wander when you’re out tinkering in the garage. It happens to me all the time, and lately it seems to be happening more often — because I’ve been out there a lot — and I’m happy to let my mind run amok.

The mental gymnastics have happened before, and it seems to coincide with building a new car. As we all know, there is a lot of disassembly involved in building a new racecar from a production model — more than I remember from the first two, as it turns out. Each time I put a wrench to a bolt or nut, each time I pull something off that’s been there since new, I marvel at how tight the assemblies are from the factory.

I feel pretty lucky to have found the donor car I bought, and as I’ve been disassembling the stuff not needed for racing, I can’t help thinking that whatever I’m working on has never been apart. It takes my mind back to the Miata factory back in Japan, where the last people to touch a given fastener worked.

They reported to work that day back in 1999 to assemble a handful of Miatas bound for the United States and elsewhere. Mine was one of them. I wonder if the workers were as surprised as I was that my car was built without air conditioning. Before this car, I had never even seen a car Miata come from the factory without A/C.

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I wonder if they knew where it would be sold and what would happen to it. Before I bought the car, three other people had owned it, all in inland regions of California. I wonder if those factory workers back in Japan considered that someone, someday would be turning it into a racecar.

Despite Mazda’s long history of racing, Spec Miata didn’t exist when this car was built. The class began in 2000, but I know the Miata had been used for racing since the car’s inception. One of the “favorite” videos on NASA’s YouTube page is the November 1989 Race of Champions on the Guia Circuit in Macau, which is great fun to watch. I’ve linked it below.

WATCH NOW

The Miata debuted in 1989, so it seems clear to me that by 1999, the people at the factory might have had a hint that a small fraction of their production volume would be used for racing, that someone might be undoing some of their handiwork to strip the car to the bare essentials for racing.

The same mind games might have played out on assembly lines for BMW, Acura, Honda, the Corvette plant in Bowling Green, Ky., or the Viper plant on Conner Avenue in Detroit. The same goes for workers assembling the BRZ/FRS and, of course, the current generation MX-5.

When I crack those factory-torqued fasteners loose, when I see those little indecipherable crayon marks on the undercarriage or disconnect the plastic clips that make assembly-line work faster and more efficient, I sort of tip my hat the people who put the car together.

The efforts of those people at the factory are a perfect complement to the work we put into creating a new racecar. It’s a privilege to be able to race cars, no matter who built them. It’s also a distinct privilege when we get to build them from a car that has never been apart.