The thrill, the ambiance, and the competition are arguably the three big reasons people are into motorsports. Whether it’s the local go-kart or the Formula 1, seeing cars struggle to be the first to cross the finish line is nothing short of exhilarating. But for some, watching the race isn’t enough–they want to be down there, behind the wheel.
If you’re eyeing a career as a racecar driver, you should know that there’s a long road ahead (no pun intended). Big names like Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, and Sebastien Loeb had humble beginnings, and yours should be no different. Fortunately, this step-by-step guide should steer you in the right direction.
Start on Entry-level Races
Making it big requires starting small, and motorsports are no exception. Look for any small-time races in your area and participate in as many as time and budget allow. These races don’t have to occur in a bonafide racetrack (though it’s safer that way), too. Below are some examples:
- Autocross – This race often happens in an open lot or parking area, with the course built on traffic cones. Your car doesn’t have to be equipped for racing; most participants enter with their everyday vehicles.
- Rallycross – This race is similar to autocross, except that the course has an abundance of dirt and gravel. Again, you can enter this race with your everyday vehicle. However, expect wear and tear due to the terrain.
- Go-Kart – If using your own car for racing isn’t too appealing, go to your local go-kart track and rent one. Some tracks supply safety gear onsite, but it’s a good idea to have a personal set ready.
You can head to the Sports Car Club of America’s (SCCA) official website for information on upcoming autocross or rallycross events. They also have tips on how to prepare for these races.
Expect a Hefty Investment
Whether or not you’ll use your own car for racing, don’t expect it to be cheap. At this point, your best bet is to modify the vehicle while keeping it street-legal. As you know, dedicated racing cars are missing several things, like a speedometer, head and taillights, and, in some cases, working doors. Some changes to the suspension and chassis are also necessary.
As with any hefty investment, you don’t want to rush things. Start by swapping out stock parts in your car for high-performance ones, such as coilovers, air filters, and brake kits. Upgrading these parts piecemeal won’t hurt your finances too much, not to mention it’ll allow you to prepare for better modifications in the future.
Join a Car Club
The abundance of national and local car clubs in the U.S. shows how much Americans take cars seriously. Aside from the SCCA, there’s the Classic Sports Racing Group, Automobile Racing Club of America, and National Auto Sport Association. Clubs that cater to specific makes and models also exist, like the Mustang Club of America and BMW Car Club of America.
These big-name associations usually have strict terms and conditions, so keeping up with them may not be easy. A good alternative is to join smaller car clubs, namely those hosted in social media groups. Being in a forum with fellow racing enthusiasts goes a long way in building your motorsport hobby or career. As a member of various forums, you’ll also learn about some car customization tricks or upcoming racing events.
Volunteer for Track Duty
Volunteering is a great way to get close to the track as possible. Many races employ volunteers on many functions–from guiding attendees’ cars to parking spaces to picking up trash all over the venue. Naturally, volunteers don’t get paid for their work, but they’re passionate about the sport enough to don’t mind at all.
If you want to get really close, consider signing up as a track marshal. These volunteers are often close to the action, tasked with clearing the track of hazards like broken-down racecars and other debris. Understanding how a full-fledged race works from the sidelines gives you that essential sense of immersion.
Set up a Gaming Rig
As irrelevant as it may sound, playing racing video games can help hone your reflexes behind the wheel. Today’s racing sim games have grown more realistic, from the graphics to the controls, but more demanding in hardware. Set up a gaming rig with a steering wheel and driving controls and devote some time to playing.
Even after doing all this, there’s still plenty more to do before you get to drive in the Nurburging or Laguna Seca. Nevertheless, as a well-known adage goes: ‘Slow and steady wins the race.’ It takes a combination of commitment and investment to succeed in this sport.