Q: “I’ve been following racing for many years, and recently I’ve gotten involved with the flaggers and safety crews with the SCCA. This has only turned up my desire to go racing, but I don’t know where to start. What do I do?”
A: I wish there was a ladder system for racers, like there is for baseball… but there isn’t. There is no simple, clear path to where someone wants to go in racing. And part of the reason for that is because there are so many different end goals for where you want to be. Do you want to club race in SCCA or NASA? Become an Indy car, NASCAR or F1 driver? Race sports cars or open wheel formula cars? Race in low budget endurance racing (WRL, AER, Lucky Dog, Champcar, etc.)? And then there’s off-road, rally, autocross, oval racing, and so on. How you get there is dependent on where “there” is.
There’s no getting around getting experience. And learning as much as you can in as little time as possible is the most important thing you can do. Start by going to one of the racing schools (Allen Berg Race School, Lucas Oil School, etc.). Then jump into anything you can to gain experience, while continuing to study from every source you can (although, not all sources are to be fully trusted). You can learn so much about racing before you ever get to a track, so read, watch videos, take courses, seminars/webinars, and so on. The more instruction and coaching you get, the more you’ll learn in a shorter time. Everyone will tell you that you need lots of seat time, and that’s mostly true. But it’s the quality of that seat time that matters most. Simply driving around a track, doing the same thing you’ve done in the past will not help you very much. Your limited seat and practice time needs to be well-defined, focused, and strategic. A great coach can help you with that.
Of course, your budget will play a huge role in how you go about getting to where you want to go. Focus on spending what budget you have in the most effective way.
Motorsport is an extreme sport, and that means the people in it are the most extremely nice and helpful people – except for the very few who are not. Be careful when taking advice from people. Again, most are doing so to help, and really do have your best interests at heart. But a very small number are out to take you for a ride, so ask lots of questions to find out who you can trust, and who you shouldn’t.
The path may seem very cloudy right now, but you’ll find that as you get in and start along it, the next steps will become more and more evident. The key is to jump in and begin making things happen – learning and gaining experience. Because then you can ask more informed and focused questions.
Never forget: keep learning and having fun!