Just south of Miami, in a place called Homestead, there was a small colony of French people. They called their home the Miami-Homestead Speedway. I visited this colony at the invitation of Volkswagen of America, who noticed that every one of the residents of this colony drove a Beetle. Well, not quite a Beetle, a Fun Cup spec Beetle.
Within the gates of the Speedway everyone speaks French. That’s because these people have all come from France and Belgium, all race car drivers in a European series called the Beetle Fun Cup. The French chapter, says Benoit Abdelatif, one of the founders, started about 16 years ago at the turn of the century, but it was preceded by a Belgian series.
Created by a former touring car driver, the series is intended as an easy way to get into endurance racing. More accustomed to racing at European circuits like Spa Francorchamp, the Beetle Fun Cup offers fans of motorsport a relatively inexpensive way to reliably have a weekend of racing. We are still talking about a race car, though, so nothing’s cheap. Buying a car costs about £42,000 (~$54,000) and then there's the expense of running it, but what, after all, is the quickest way to become a millionaire racing? Start out a billionaire.
The expense is well worth it, though, to those who can afford it, because the mid-engine, tubular framed, single seat, 1,700 lb "Beetle," driven by a Volkswagen Motorsport developed 1800cc, 130 hp inline four is a heck of a lot of fun to drive. Just ask Scott Speed and Tanner Foust. Although they usually spend their time racing Beetles in the Red Bull Global Rally Cross series, this weekend they’ve come, at the behest of one of the team, to race for the weekend.
“It’s amazingly fun,” says Foust. “The tires are fairly grippy, but still with the mid engine and the rear wheel drive, it’s the fun factor of not oversteering too much. The door-to-door action is awesome.”
Seeing three Beetles come out of the final banked corner of this NASCAR track is not an uncommon occurrence. Moreover, since it’s endurance racing, four different drivers take the wheel at different points. That means that the running order is by no means garanteed. Speed and Foust, for example, were up into third at one point, but a puncture during a gas run—a hilariously banal sight, during which Beetles lineup at a gas station as if it was the ‘70s—caused them slip back down the order.
As a spectator, too, the action is fun. From just one spot on the track you can catch a remarkable amount of passing and action, because as Foust points out the Beetles “punch a pretty good hole in the air, so the drafting at 130 mph or whatever you’re doing […] it’s like a video game where you tuck in and you’re able to just hear the rpm [wind up].” From the stands even you can see this. The Beetles are fitted with a sizeable spoiler that at this NASCAR track wobble and shake on the front straight. When one car tucks in behind another, though, the spoiler stays perfectly calm and the former catches the latter quickly.
Unfortunately, last weekend was your first and last chance to see the Beetle Fun Cup on American soil. The Beetles have all been packed up, an ordeal accomplished by the organizers (racers only had to fly themselves over), and are now back in France. Far from being an experiment in series expansion, this was a vacation for the racers. The series, says Abdelatif, chose the Miami-Homestead Speedway not because of its rich NASCAR tradition and exciting infield road course, but rather because of its proximity to Miami. Last year, the first time the series left Europe, the racers went to Dhubai. It was supposed to be a one-off event, but no sooner had the racers gotten home than they started asking Abdelatif about where the next foreign race would be.
Even though this colony was never meant to be permanent, and even though there were no open aspirations of conquest, Abdelatif shrugs Frenchly at the suggestion that the series could come here. “It could happen,” he says, and in his voice there’s some hope. So maybe they’re missionaries, not colonizers, and if that’s the case then I’m a convert.
That’s because there is a space for this kind of racing in the landscape. The Beetle Fun Cup is much more expensive than LeMons racing, but for that you get a car that’s ready to race and has a better chance of lasting a couple of seasons. The two shouldn’t really be compared, though. Abdelatif almost bristles at the suggestion. “It’s not cheap,” he says. “A lot of these people could afford more.” Be it a Porsche or any other amateur GT3 series, the racers—some of them formerly professional—haven’t chosen this series of its low price, but rather for its value and fun.
The cars last a long time, parts are affordable, they drive well, and, importantly, in the pits the atmosphere is, well, fun. After the race a driver whose stuffed his Beetle into a wall laughs with his teammates about the off and everyone immediately gets to the business of fixing the car. It’s an intoxicating atmosphere in which the ratio of fun to risk is in the perfect Goldylocks zone. No one here too heavily invested, but everyone’s at least trying to do well.
This weekend, there were two races. One four hour race on Saturday and another on Sunday. Although the series has left these shores, we really ought to bring it back.