Q: “I was wondering, if someone had a good amount of money, but was short on time, how would you get a rookie racer (no racing experience at all) up to speed as far as racecraft goes? I’m a NASA HPDE4 driver (took me about a season thanks to your book and a lot of focus so I’m happy about that), and I’m wondering if I should start by getting my competition license and doing sprint/club racing first, or endurance racing with series like AER/ChampCar. I get a lot of conflicting info about this and I’m wondering what’s your take on it. Endurance racing offers more bang/buck seat time and a lot more passing (and being passed), but sprint racing seems to be about raw speed in which it allows you to make decisions passing some very competitive people.”
A: Funny, but I just answered that same question recently while I was doing some coaching at a club race. You said “a good amount of money,” so I’d have to answer by saying “both!” Oh, but you have limited time, right?
There are pros and cons to both – club/sprint racing (assuming you’re in a very competitive class, like Spec Miata, or some other spec class) will force you to find the last few tenths of a second, and teach you how to race with cars of very similar speed. That’s important. Low-cost endurance racing (WRL/AER /Lucky Dog are my favorites because I think the level of driving is a bit higher than ChampCar) teaches you how to manage traffic more – cars of different speeds, drivers of very different abilities. It also teaches you how to manage your focus for longer periods of time, and because you have so much time on track (and co-drivers you can compare to), you can learn more about how to find better lap times.
Because they each have pros and cons, there’s not an outright winner in this discussion. I’d suggest making the decision based on how the schedules fit your schedules, how you can get more quality seat time (not just seat time, but quality seat time – there’s a big difference), and the car/team/people you race with. For example, if you have a choice between a really well-run club/sprint racing car/team and a questionable car/team for WRL, the decision is easy. Obviously, the opposite is also true. So, I’d see what racing opportunities you can put together – what team/car you have access to, and make the decision based on that.
That one other thing you might do is try both and see which you enjoy the most. I just made that recommendation to driver I met recently. I told him to go do a couple of sprint races, and then a couple of endurance races. Doing that before you make a commitment one way or the other seems like a smart thing to do. And you may find that you enjoy the people in one form of racing more than another – and that’s more important than anything else.
The good news is you can’t really go wrong, as either option is a good one – as long as what you do is the best quality program you can put together, and you’re having fun. Safety and reliability are waaaaaay more important than speed, so focus on what’s going to keep you safe and give you the most quality seat time so you can maximize your learning experience. Believe me when I say that having a car break all the time, or feeling like you’re driving a death trap is NOT fun!
Good luck and have fun!