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How do I Become a Racecar Driver?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

The racecar driver has been a staple figure in automobiles virtually since the first car was made. The first organized race was held in 1887, and although it only had a single racecar driver competing, it nonetheless set the foundation for an entire industry. By the end of the 19th century a number of major races had been held in France, and by the early-20th century they had become a popular form of entertainment, and had a pivotal role in helping to make automobiles more well known to the world at large.

Of course, becoming a racecar driver in today’s world is about as different as can be from those early days. Modern racing is highly regulated, one of the most popular sports in the world, and involves massive amounts of money. As a result, it is highly competitive, and like any other professional sport, becoming a professional racecar driver requires an incredible amount of study, hard work, and above all, perseverance.

Working on a pit crew might be a good way to learn about racing.
Working on a pit crew might be a good way to learn about racing.

The first step to becoming a racecar driver is to immerse yourself entirely in the world of professional racing. This means both educationally and practically, and it should become a driving passion if you hope to succeed. You should read everything you can find on the subject, from classic texts like Carroll Smith’s Drive to Win, to magazines that cover the racing world. There is a great deal of theory involved in being a racecar driver, and the sooner you are able to get a grasp on the rudiments of it, the sooner you can start to think strategically about where your weaknesses lie, and where you can improve yourself.

At the same time, you want to be watching every race you can get to. You will start to see what works and what doesn’t, and to get a feel for the world you will be inhabiting as a racecar driver. When you’re there, talk to anyone and everyone who is willing to give you the benefit of their experience. Professional drivers, pit crews, teams, sponsors — anyone with a hand in the world of driving will likely have their own take on it, and can teach you more than any book or class. Be sure to be friendly and open, and to understand that these are busy professionals, who may not have time to spend talking with you, but be thankful and polite for anything they are able to offer.

Next, trying taking a more active role in the world of racing. Get a job at a track, as a ticket seller if need be, and if an opportunity comes along, join a team. Working on a crew can teach you an immense amount about the fundamentals of racing, as well as giving you the opportunity to interact with those who have already realized your dream of becoming a racecar driver.

Once you feel like you have a good foundation, and once you’ve hopefully saved a bit of money, you may want to look into attending a racing school. There, you can start taking intensives to get some time behind the wheel, some time with an instructor, and to really see if being a racecar driver is what you want to do. From there you can go on to start driving in small races, either with a small sponsor or with your own savings, generally beginning with races sponsored by the schools. Once you have enough time in a racecar, and once you start proving yourself on the track, you’ll be ready to move on to the next step, and hopefully wind up as a professional.

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Discussion Comments


@Terrificli -- A lot of people who wind up as pro racers started in the amateur ranks and worked their way up as they gained experience. Those racecar drivers on dirt tracks, drag strips, outlaw class vehicles, demolition derbies and other things may wind up in the big leagues one day.

That is the perfect example of something that started out as a hobby but turned into something serious. People who can do that are fortunate, indeed.


But things are a lot easier if you just want to be kind of a casual, hobbyist racecar driver. There are dirt tracks, drag racing strips and other facilities in a lot of areas that allow enthusiasts to get together and race.

It doesn't take a whole lot of cash to get involved in those thing (the most expensive items are your car and the modifications you will make to it), but you won't make a lot of money, either. Those cats all have day jobs and race just for fun.

If you want to turn pro, well that's something else altogether. NASCAR drivers and such make tons of cash, but it is tough to break into that field. If you just want to hot rod your car and race it on weekends, the casual route may be the way to go.

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    • Working on a pit crew might be a good way to learn about racing.
      By: Alexey Stiop
      Working on a pit crew might be a good way to learn about racing.