Getting Your Feet Wet
I fully understand that the idea of starting to race can be intimidating. I was in the same position not so long ago myself. There are many common questions and concerns people have. How can I start racing? Will I be able to afford it? What happens if I finish last? My car is not nearly as prepared as many others, so how will I ever be able to compete with them? What if this? What if that? One of my friends told me a story that really helped put things into perspective. While at a race as a spectator, he talked to his wife about how badly he felt for one of the drivers. “That driver is so far behind everyone else that is racing. That must be really awful.” I know when I watched races in the past, I used to think the same exact thing – “That poor person!” Of course, it often takes the wisdom of a woman to set us men straight. “Who should feel bad for whom? You are the one sitting here on the hill and not driving. I feel sorry for you, not him!” She was absolutely right. Keep in mind that running in the back of the pack is the worst-case scenario. But when you really think about it, that worst-case scenario really is not so bad. And by all means, I am not saying that you will be running in the back of the pack.
This may sound obvious, but one of the first things you need to do is determine where road course racetracks are located in your area. Once you have identified the tracks in your general area, start looking at the tracks’ schedules and identify clubs that race or hold high performance driving events (HPDE) there. The majority of tracks list the upcoming schedule on their websites, as well as the clubs that the track hosts events for. The links page of this resource includes a few good web sites for you to use. Many of these sites provide a huge wealth of knowledge, not only about the tracks in the area, but on many, many other topics as well.
At this beginning stage, you may or may not already have some money put aside to begin racing. Even if you have no money available right now, it certainly does not mean you should wait to get started. I am not saying to charge everything on a credit card or anything silly like that, but there are many different ways to begin the process. In fact, even if you do have the money to race right now, it is still important to attend a few races and get a feel for club racing and the specific club(s) your are thinking of racing with. Each racing club and region has its differences. While at the events, don’t be afraid to walk around the paddock and ask lots of questions. People just love to talk about their racecars and share stories. Try to stay away from talking to people about costs associated with racing, as it will most likely be discouraging. Remember that a part of the reason you are reading this resource is to learn how to race at a moderate cost, so don’t focus too much of your time on this aspect while at the races. Instead, try to get a feel for the club and how it operates.
There are several organizations that hold club racing events. Two of the biggest organizations in the United States are the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and National Auto Sport Association (NASA). In addition to SCCA and NASA, there are many other smaller clubs that are also worth looking into. So if one of the clubs is not what you expected or hoped it would be, don’t give up. Try attending another club’s event to see if that is a better match for you. You might wonder how clubs can be different from one another. As an example, one club I race with has racecars that are prepared at many differing levels. At this club’s events, it is not uncommon to see people who have spent a significant amount of money on their cars and equipment. Other clubs are much more laid back, and as a general rule, the cars are not prepared to the extent of the previously-referred-to club. Especially as a new person to the sport, this can be nice because you can be much more competitive on a smaller budget. Various clubs may also attract different crowds to their events. Although the two clubs I race with are unique in their own way, they complement each other nicely.
As you begin to get a better idea of which club you are interested in racing with, it will be worthwhile to get a copy of the club’s rulebook. The majority of the rulebooks can be found on the clubs’ website. Some of these rulebooks can be quite lengthy, but don’t be overwhelmed by their size. When I first saw the SCCA rulebook and started flipping through the pages, I kept thinking, “How in the world will I be able to learn all of this?” Now that I have gained familiarity with how it is put together, it really is not as bad as it had appeared. Keep in mind that these rulebooks are written to cover several types of club racing classes.
The rulebook will soon become your bible of racing. While providing you the ultimate wisdom, it also can be confusing as heck and cause you to swear once or twice at the rule gods. When in doubt if something is legal or not, seek guidance from this holy book, and be sure to live to the letter of the rulebook. There is wrath and many headaches for those who don’t follow the word of the book.
Creating a Plan
Have you developed a plan and established what your racing goals and expectations are? If not, now is the perfect time to do it. What do you want to accomplish in racing? What type of car do you want to race? Do you “need” to win races? Maybe you will begin racing a car that is only capable of running mid-pack during the first few years. After gaining experience, you may plan to purchase another car capable of being a front-runner, or work on further preparing the car you have been racing to its full potential. Perhaps you are like many people who race and are happy to be out there racing and don’t need to win or be at the front of the pack. This does not mean that in time you can’t work your way to the front of the pack. Believe me, whether you are battling for 16th place or 1st place, you will have a blast. A good initial goal is to focus on simply getting out on the track and then worry about winning later on in your career. As with establishing any set of goals, you should establish some short-term goals, as well as long-term goals. When setting these goals, keep them reasonable, and don’t place unrealistic expectations on yourself. A goal such as beating Michael Schumacher in a Formula One race after your first year does not exactly seem realistic. Also, remember that you can always revisit your goals and adjust them. If you really want to win, you need to be aware of what it takes: lots of money, time, testing, money, frustration, time, and money. The Moving On section discusses what it takes to become a front-runner in further detail, but for now, let’s focus on getting out on the track and not worry about winning just yet.