Anyone that has ever had an affinity for cars has thought about becoming a race car driver at some point in their life. How hard could it be? You mash the gas pedal, you brake, and turn corners. In theory it is simple, but being able to do it for a living is a completely different story of sponsors, driver’s contracts, and actual talent. There isn’t an ad for “race car drivers wanted,” or a race car driver application form to fill in. If you want to finish on pole position, keep reading and we’ll give you 7 ways to become a racing driver.
Go-karts are a great platform for aspiring racers. Relatively inexpensive compared to racing in cars, Go-karts aren’t just for kids and shouldn’t be taken lightly. There are superkarts which can go as fast as 160 MPH. Most of the top F1 drivers started in go-karts. Starting in go-karts can teach you about weight balance and proper braking. Smooth driving and keeping your momentum will make you a successful go-karter.
2. Racing School
Attending a reputable racing school will prepare you for racing cars. You can choose which discipline of racing you want to focus on. Whether you choose —circuit racing, rally, drifting, or even moto racing. All disciplines have the same foundation. Starting in a smaller displacement vehicle and working your way up to larger displacements will gradually progress your skill. If you have a natural inclination to speed, then racing school can present opportunities for you. Aside from skills you can use on the track, attending a racing school can make you a better driver on the road.
3. Grassroots Racing
Grassroots racing are events that don’t have spectators or lavish prizes. Grassroots racing events are where drivers run their personal cars. This is the purest in any racing series because of the camaraderie and the simplicity of racing for racing’s sake.
4. Sports Car Club of America (SCCA)
The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) is the governing body of road racing, rallying, and autocross in the United States. The SCCA has over 2000 races all throughout the year in all corners of the United States. Check your local SCCA for events being held near you and spend time trackside to get a feel for the culture. The SCCA can also issue you licensing from novice all the way to professional. This is typically the first step to professional racing.
5. Single Make Race
A single make race is when the playing field is leveled and all the drivers are in the same make and model. The SCCA has a single make race utilizing Mazda Miatas. Sharpen your skills not just by out driving your competition, but learning the mechanical setup best for your driving style as well. Finish a season convincingly as champion of the Spec Miata class and you might get yourself noticed by a sponsor.
Almost a decade ago, Nissan set out to prove that technology has caught up with reality. GT Academy is the brainchild of the NISMO, the performance and motorsports division of Nissan Motors. They set off to find the next NISMO athlete using the PlayStation game Gran Turismo. Gamers who set top qualifying times were invited to the Silverstone racetrack where they would compete in a series of physical, psychological, and driving skills tests. The winner gets a one year contract with the NISMO racing team and a chance to be a racing driver. Finding a racing contest like GT Academy will fast track you from your sofa to the seat of a Nissan GT-R.
7. Be Rich!
Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can sure buy your way into motorsports. Funding is the greatest challenge for all novice racers. Some drivers will never grow beyond a certain race series because of the lack of funding. Other drivers will grow frustrated at the fact that they can’t advance without money and quit altogether. If the question is how to be an instant racing driver, then the most straightforward answer is to have money. In fact, a well known legend in Formula 1 got his start by buying himself a team just to be able to start racing at the pinnacle of the sport. But remember that while money can most likely get you in the driver’s seat, it can’t buy skill and natural talent.
Professional race car drivers get exorbitant salaries to push the envelope to the extremes. Championship level racing requires drivers to find a tenth of a second every lap, pushing the race car to the very limit. This sort of pressure demands a lot of from the driver physically. The high g-force being pressed onto the body during hard acceleration, braking, and cornering requires a race car driver to be at the highest level of physical fitness. Formula 1 is considered the highest form of motor racing because of the demands on the driver. Aside from the high g-forces, F1 drivers need to have ironclad concentration and nerves to drive in excess of 200 MPH. Any lapse in concentration can lead to disastrous consequences.
You can race in any car at your local track. Some track marshalls require roll cages in race cars before they can enter the track. Invest in a quality racing suit, helmet, and underwear that is FIA approved. Join trackdays and get as much seat time and experience as possible. Being a race car driver should be more than just popping bottles of champagne on a podium, or making the front page of the sports section in the newspaper. The love and respect for the sport should be more than enough to make your childhood dream a reality.