How Do You Become A Racing Driver?

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Michael Schumacher driving for Scuderia Ferrar...

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Motorsport has been big business for over half a century, and rightly so. Whether it’s the glitz and glamour of open-wheeled Formula One racing, the all-American thrills of NASCAR or the more obscure feeder series’ for these and other high profile racing events, seeing those death-defying vehicles race around might well inspire you to ask ‘couldn’t I do that?’. This blog post aims to answer that question with some simple tips and difficult truths:

The Age Question

If you’re a fan of motorsport, it won’t have escaped your attention that drivers are often very young. Michael Schumacher is the oldest racing driver in Formula One at 42, and despite being seven time world champion, he is considered past his prime (as he was five years ago, when he announced his initial retirement). The last time anyone over forty one a world championship was Jack Brabham, back in 1966. In the last decade, the only person over 35 has been Schumacher himself.

If you’re reading this how-to guide for yourself whilst seriously considering a career in motorsport, you will have to understand that starting young is considered essential for competing in most of the big-name championships. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t exceptions (Damon Hill started motorcycle racing at the age of 21 and didn’t step into a racing car until the age of 23).

It also doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of opportunities for competitive racing out there. Anyone who has obtained a driver’s license can then train for a racing drivers license at a number of centres. There are also plenty of local (and legal) racing events for everything from clapped out old commercial cars to pickup trucks and stock cars. With a little investment, you could have a fun new weekend hobby!

Starting Young

The reality is, if you haven’t started racing by the time you’re a teenager, you will almost certainly never make it to the higher echelons of motorsport.

Why is this? Well, progression in motorsport certainly isn’t any different to progression in many other sports. Footballers (American or ‘Soccer’ players), tennis pros, athletes and more start very young and become full professionals around school leaving-age. Just because driving is something that millions of people do, doesn’t mean we’re all trained to racers: billions of people can run, but a statistically insignificant number of us can compete with Usain Bolt.

Racing drivers must learn racing skills: how to overtake, how to find the correct racing line, how to belt it round a track at the highest speed possible. The vast majority of drivers start learning this in local karting championships, usually in their preteens. With practice, some will show their talent. For others, it’s simply not meant to be.

Next Steps

Depending on what area of motorsport you’re aiming for, the step after karting is to jump to through advanced cars in the intermediate and advanced local-level divisions below your target sport. In American stock car racing, hopefuls aim for the ‘Late-Model’ local divisions. Those targeting Formula One go from karting to the one make Formulae (like Formula Renault, Formula Toyota and the like), before making the leap to feeder series like Formula Two, Formula Three and GP2.

Of course, there are regional biases: it’s difficult for a British racer to take the stock car route, for instance. Drivers frequently crossover between the various types of racing, being taken wherever they feel the thrill of speed (and sponsorship money) is to be found. It’s tough to make it as a professional driver, much less a driver who makes it to the top. You get there by winning races, getting sponsored and getting noticed. You’ll notice that there are holes in this general advice, because neither talent nor blind luck are things that I can prepare you for!

Jo Johnson is a copywriter working on projects for MWVC, a Vauxhall vivaro hire company.


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