The world of auto racing can seem like an intimidating place. At the highest levels of competition, professional drivers race cars that cost more than $100,000 in parts alone. However, stepping into the world of racing may not be as difficult as you think. There are several different types and levels of racing, ensuring that you can find some way to participate regardless of how much time and money you can invest.
The easiest way to start racing is with autocross. The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) holds more than 1,200 events around the country, and these events are open to anyone. All you need is a car that has passed a safety inspection and a helmet, which you may be able to borrow at the race.
In autocross, makeshift tracks are laid out with traffic cones, often in a large parking lot or at an airport. You’ll race the course alone, just you against the clock, and compare your time against other vehicles in the same class. You can talk to your local race organizer about how to best prepare for the event, but common advice is to put some extra air in your tires, remove your hubcaps and take any loose items out of the car.
If autocross doesn’t quite cut it for you, wheel-to-wheel racing might be more your speed. You’ll be put on a road course with several other drivers, pitting your skill – and your car – against theirs. Being on the track with other racers does add an element of risk, which is why your vehicle will have to meet strict safety requirements. Here are a few safety features most racing clubs require:
- Roll cage – This prevents the roof or sides of the car from crumpling inward in an accident.
- Window net – To prevent shards of broken glass, windows must be rolled down or removed. A window net keeps your arm inside the car in case of a rollover.
- Kill switch – In the event of an accident, a safety worker can use this to disable all electrical components on the car, helping to prevent a fire.
- Racing seat and harness – Racing seats are much sturdier and stiffer than car seats, and a racing harness will hold your body firmly in position during a crash.
Ready to Race?
First, you need to figure out what kind of events you want to participate in. Most racetracks will hold events for a variety of categories and classes. The easiest SCCA class to get into is Improved Touring (IT). IT cars are production vehicles at least four years old, and these cars are further separated into categories. These go from ITS, which includes cars such as the Porsche 944 and the BMW 325, to ITC, which includes cars such as the Toyota Corolla and the Ford Escort.
Once you know what category you want to compete in and have brushed up on the rules, it’s time to get a car. There are two ways to go about this. You can find a prebuilt, race-ready car to buy, or you can modify a car yourself.
If you decide to modify your own car, you need to have an organized garage to work in. You’ll almost certainly end up with parts strewn around and the car will be taken apart more often than it’ll be put together. You can’t afford to have dirt and rain mucking up your performance parts, so make sure your vehicle is kept in an enclosed space.
An Investment of Time and Money
How much or how little time and money you spend improving the performance of your car is up to you, but keep in mind that you won’t be winning races without years of hard work. That said, racing is still a blast whether you’re at the front of the pack or trailing behind.
In addition to getting a car ready to race, you’ll need to undergo a sports physical to prove that your own body is ready to race as well. After that, you can sign up for race driving classes. These classes will usually include some track time, so make sure your car is ready to go by that point.
Once you’ve gotten your car, your body and your mind ready for racing, you’ll be certified as a novice and free to participate in road course events in your category. This comes with its own set of costs, including entry fees, tires and maintenance. However, the thrill of racing is like nothing else, and if it’s truly something you love doing, you’ll find it was worth every penny.