Rare is the person who spends an afternoon on a race track and thinks “Gee, I sure am glad I got that out of my system.”
More common is that first taste infects the soul, leaving the participant searching for a bigger and mightier “fix.”
For Track Night in America drivers, that fix comes in many forms. For some, they are content to improve and enjoy more Track Night in America events. Others stay, but look for faster cars and more upgrades to increase the thrill level.
Those that dive in the deepest begin to search for competitive programs to scratch that itch. Many find their way to the Tire Rack Time Trials Program, often using the same cars in both venues.
But the itch goes further for others, who want to get involved in SCCA’s Summit Racing Road Racing program. But how?
There is no one answer to that question, and sometimes that’s the challenge. But that challenge isn’t insurmountable! It basically comes down to two different items: getting yourself as a driver qualified, and having a race-ready car.
Let’s look at each of these separately.
SCCA.com offers step by step instructions on how to qualify for a license in detail, but it basically comes down to one thing for new drivers: someone needs to see you drive to make sure you can handle the responsibility safely.
For those with no previous racing experience, that almost always means a driver’s school. There are two main ways to approach a driver’s school. some SCCA Regions offer these schools throughout the year, often in conjunction with a Regional race weekend to help get you on track quickly. The second option is a commercial driver’s school, a la the Skip Barber Racing School and many others.
Those two options differ in their approach, and there are pluses and minuses to both.
Let’s start with the big one. SCCA Regional schools are often less expensive than a commercial school, but that’s for a reason. SCCA schools most often require you to have a race ready car (we’ll get to that in the section on a race car) and safety equipment, including a firesuit, helmet and HANS. Commercial schools, more often than not, will provide that car for you, but at a price premium. Which is best for you is simply a matter of personal preference and resources.
Another advantage to an SCCA Driver’s school comes when the school is offered in an area in which you plan to race regularly. Because they are conducted by members and fellow racers, the driver’s school provides a leg up on meeting a group of familiar faces that you’ll begin to see in your racing journey. Conversely, commercial schools more often than not will happen more times throughout the year, which may make it easier to find one on your schedule or at a track you’ve always wanted to visit and/or learn.
To go racing (whether prior to your school or after), you will need an SCCA-legal race car. This is where the choices can be overwhelming at first. What to race?
That depends on a variety of factors. If your goal is ultimately the SCCA Runoffs, it’s likely that you’ll want to pick a car that fits a rule set of the 26 current Runoffs-eligible classes. Many Regions and Divisions have strong regional-only classes that thrive and can be among the most cost-effective way to go racing. It’s important to consider your budget in making that decision as well.
At its core, there are three different approaches to a race car (though we’ll admit that there are degrees in between each stage).
The first is for the handiest of mechanics and fabricators, who can study the General Competition Rules and build a car from the ground up. This is far from impossible; many SCCA racers enjoy this part of road racing more than the actual racing. But for non-experts, it’s likely a difficult row to hoe.
In the middle is purchasing a race-ready race car, either a new build or a used race car. Again, budget and goals are likely a consideration in this, as it’s possible to purchase cars that “ran when parked,” as the old saying goes, all the way through championship-caliber or championship-winning race cars. This applies to classes that have a variety of makes and marks – Production, Touring and a handful of open-wheel classes – where you have the opportunity to have a “better” car than others (but remember, the converse can also be true). This also applies to SCCA’s Spec Racer Ford and Formula Enterprises classes, in which every car is more or less identical and the driver skill determines the winner.
Finally, there is a third option – renting a car. There are prep shops throughout the country that will rent a driver a car in nearly every class and situation, but there are also fellow racers who just don’t get to use the car as often as they’d like and would be thrilled to split or defray the cost of ownership. Naturally, the first is easier to find, but the second can provide a friendship and a partner to navigate the racing waters with. A friendly word of advice for those in the second situation: both the car owner and the renter should discuss in advance what the “rental fee” covers, from tires to crash damage. This helps avoid any surprises or hard feelings down the road.
But, Really – How?
So we’ll admit that there are a few steps to cover, which are necessary for the world of safety in wheel-to-wheel racing.
Truly, the best way to navigate these waters is with a mentor or friend. If you know someone that can help you through the steps, you’ll hopefully avoid missteps along the way.
But what if you don’t? That’s an easy fix too.
At your next Track Night in America event, there will likely be a representative (or a few) from the local SCCA Region. Just ask your coach for an introduction. Don’t want to wait til your next event? The SCCA Officials – Members Facebook group is an excellent opportunity to interact with Members and ask questions. Most of us are willing to help, as more racers is an interest to everyone. Just post the question; you’ll quickly find those who seem the most helpful, and if they’re in your area it doubles as a friend. There is also a group of racers who have made it their mission to help new racers navigate just this hurdle, and are active on that page as well. In short – we want you! And we all want to help!
If you’d rather go the analog route, another great suggestion is to find a race at your local track. Wander the paddock; ask questions; talk to Region leaders and ask questions and observe and decide what works best for you. A full listing of events, both local (Regional) and nationally, can be found here. Remember all of those friends and helpful coaches in your Track Night event? They are well connected in your area; they likely know (or can help themselves) the right person to help you on your road racing journey. Reach out to us!
Mostly, find what works for you. We, the SCCA, would love to help you become a racer. We, the competitors in the Summit Racing Equipment road racing program, feel the same. Just like that first foray into Track Night in America, we just want you to have fun with cars!
Photo by Jay Bonvouloir