Q: “Love your stuff. Huge fan, and I have a question for you. My son wants to learn to drive. He is about to turn 18 and has some karting experience (not racing). Where do we start? What car? Manual transmission? How much autocross? How much HPDE (high performance driver education events? How do you know when to progress to the next level? Thanks for your insight!”
A: That depends so much on budget, what the goals are, what resources (cars, tracks, etc.) are available, and so much more. Is his goal to race professionally, or do track days and/or club racing? If it’s pro racing, then go to a pro school, like the Lucas Oil School and do their race series. Race experience (racecraft) becomes a priority. If it’s track days, then do as many HPDE events as possible. Club racing? Again, race experience is probably more important than outright speed. Get involved with SCCA, NASA or one of the endurance race series, such as World Racing league, American Endurance Racing or Champ Car.
Driving cars like a Miata, E30/E36 BMW, or something similar – not overly-powerful, not a lot of tire, not a lot of electronics – is my recommendation. He will learn to drive better in cars like that than in something faster. I think it’s critical to learn to drive a manual (including heel and toe downshifting). If he’s going to do this for a while, whether he has a manual car or not, someday he will be invited to drive one that is. It would be shame not to take full advantage of that. And, what someone learns from driving a manual will help them be an even better driver in automatic/semi-automatics.
Drive as much as possible: karting, autocross, HPDE, track days, whatever – as long as it’s safe. But make sure what he’s practicing is the right things. Practicing the wrong things… well, you know. So, good instruction is super important.
Overall, get lots of great instruction in lower-horsepower cars, and in as many varieties of driving possible.
Unfortunately, Racing IS Expensive! And the faster you go, the more it costs!
Purchasing the vehicle, “fixing it up for racing”, paying for track time, tires and repair parts and maintenance, training… then a crew, transportation and equipment for a ‘racing series’, and a crew… and ever-more-expensive vehicles… and the cash register keeps ringing as you go ‘up the ladder’…
But I absolutely agree that you must crawl, then walk, before you can run. And no matter how ‘fast’ you may be on a video game… Actual Seat Time is the only way to REALLY learn driving. And the ‘feel’ of the tires as the border on grip, and finding that perfect braking point and rate of braking, and ‘Heel & Toe’ thru a curve — yes, learning that transition from brake release to power application will make you better with an automatic or dual-clutch — are things you can only learn by DOING.In a safe environment, with room for errors and ‘learning’…