The primary defining difference between Club racing and Pro racing is that Pro racing will involve, at a minimum, some sort of prize money for the top three finishing positions (podium finish). However the cost of running a professional series is quite a bit more expensive with costs per season leaping from a four to five figure Club racing budget to six and seven figure Professional race team budgets.

On the plus side, depending on the amount of media exposure a given series receives, as well as a drivers’ ability to run up front, there is considerably more sponsorship money available to the Pro driver. Unless you have more money than God this sponsorship is an essential part of any Pro racing budget for the driver that wishes to run up front. Any driver considering such a career move will need to aggressively pursue this sponsorship. Generally speaking it is not something that will seek you out and come knocking at your door.

The other notable difference between Club and Pro racing is that the level of driving skill over all, and especially among the top Pro drivers, goes up considerably. Although there are Club racers who would argue this (they would be wrong of course) no one would argue against the fact that the Bill Auberlens’, Hans Stucks’, Boris Saids’, Montoyas’ and Colin Brauns’ of the world are simply stunning in their ability to wheel a car around a track. Of course along with this skill level the intensity of the competition escalates considerably.

 

Obtaining your race license

For those of you reading this who have been involved in recreation sport driving, otherwise known as “lapping days”, for some time I would like to make something clear. There is very little similarity between lapping days and wheel to wheel competition. While both activities take place in a car, on a race track, all other similarities end there. I am not saying that one is better than the other; just different. Very different! The challenges faced in competition are considerably more complex and difficult to master.

As such this would be a good time for you to really take a final hard look at why it is you are thinking of going racing. If you are happy and having fun at the race track on lapping days then why change? On the other hand if you are beginning to feel bored or stalled in your driver development, or perhaps you are tired of beating up your street car and are beginning to consider purchasing a dedicated track car then maybe it is time to make the move.

Under no circumstances should you make this move because you or your friends think you “should” or because you feel you need to prove something to somebody. In my opinion and experience this will generally end badly.

Having said that, many, but not all, race schools will have an officially sanctioned relationship with some kind of race sanctioning body in the U.S. Most notable among these sanctioning bodies is the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). The SCCA is the largest and oldest sanctioning body in the US. Membership in this club, as well as obtaining an SCCA Competition license is, generally speaking, a good place to start if you want to go racing. An SCCA license is recognized and honored by most Club racing sanctioning bodies in the US and Canada. In short, it will open more doors Nationwide than will a license from a lesser known sanctioning body. Additionally, when and if you want to step up from Club racing and go Pro racing the SCCA has many Professional level race series for you to choose from and can serve to smooth the licensing process into a Pro license for other Pro sanctioning bodies.

There are other sanctioning bodies beginning to make serious inroads into venues once considered the exclusive turf of the SCCA. NASA is probably the most notable of these and is worth a hard look. Additionally, if you live in the Northwestern US ICSCC is a lively and viable alternative to the SCCA. For simplicities sake I will focus on the SCCA. Most of what I will tell you will apply, with very little variation, to other sanctioning bodies Nationwide.

To begin racing with the SCCA you will need to complete two SCCA sanctioned driving / competition schools. Once you have completed the required schooling you will be eligible to apply for your Novice Permit. Included in your application you need to have a physical on an official SCCA medical form filled out, signed and stamped with the official clinic stamp, by your doctor. Make sure that he also checks off the box at the bottom of the last page that says you are physically qualified to go racing. Otherwise your application will be rejected. You will also need to include copies of your certificates showing completion of the curriculum for the driving schools attended, a copy of a valid State issued drivers license, a couple of pass port sized photos of your self, a valid SCCA membership number, and a method of payment (check, CC #, etc.).

The Novice Permit is a competition License and will allow you to begin your racing career. It comes in the form of a log book that race officials will use to track your progress through your first few races. You will need to have the Race Steward sign off in your log book stating that you have successfully completed two races without incident. If there was an incident (passing under yellow, car to car contact, failure to finish the race, etc.) this will also be noted in your log book. Once you have completed your two races without incident you can apply for your Regional Competition License. You will need to compete successfully in four more regional races before you can apply for the SCCA National License.

 

Selecting an appropriate vehicle - buy a car, build a car, rent a car

OK! So now you have your license and you are ready to race. All you need is a car: But which one? This decision in itself can be a daunting task. To begin with I recommend that you attend some races as a spectator. Race weekends are usually divided into two parts with practice and qualifying on Saturday and additional qualifying and racing on Sunday. Plan on attending both days. You will learn a great deal.

While there take the time to walk around the paddock. Take a look at all the different types of race cars. Talk to the drivers and mechanics. Unless they are buried underneath the hood of the car, or the car itself, they are generally more than willing to talk about their car, their race class, and anything else race related. In fact the race community by and large is one of the friendliest communities you are likely to find anywhere. They will bend over backwards to help get you and your car out on track just so they can try and kick your ass once there. Go figure!

The biggest mistake you can make is to leap in with both feet and make a purchase before you have done the necessary research to find out if your dream race car will even fit into any of the available categories. Like any sport, there are rules for the various types of cars out on track. There are many classifications for many different types of race cars. Depending on the classification of a car there are ways in which it can be modified and there are ways in which it cannot. Doing a little bit of homework in this regard can save a great deal of aggravation and expense later on.

 

 

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