May 7, 2012

How to get your racing license.

I've done a few interesting things in my tracktard "career":  dodged cones in parking lots, more track days than I can possibly remember. Driven on the Nürburgring a few times and on the Monaco GP track in a Ferrari, I've driven a Gumpert Apollo at Paul Ricard, I've won Time Trials, I even won my class in the One Lap of America but I don't think anything came close to the thrill of my fist standing start in a twenty four year old, 168 hp BMW!

I've wanted to get a racing license for a while now. I don't think it's fair to comment on racing without at least minimal experience doing it yourself but also, most of my friends have one at this point and many have race cars of their own.

Living in New York City, owning any car is not an easy proposition much less one that needs to be trailered to the track.  But can that excuse:  my Axis buddies Freep, Styles and "Crazy" Pete have been having a blast racing NASA's Spec e30, a class based on 1984 to 1991 BMW 3-series, for a few years now and  "arrive and drive" e30 rentals are easily available through .  If you don't like BMW's there are similar companies that will rent from a Spec Miatas to, I suppose, whatever your wallet allows.

This is what you will need to do to get your NASA racing license:

Arrange to have a three day week end free, typically your Comp school will be on Friday and if you pass, you can race that Saturday and Sunday.

Download and complete your medical forms. Yes, you will have to go see a doctor to get a physical including, depending on your age, an EKG trace.

You will need a helmet that meets at least SA2005 spec.and a HANS device,  a racing suit with an SFI 3.2A/1 or FIA 8856-2000 rating. Fireproof gloves, socks and shoes complete the package.

Obviously, procure or prepare a car according to the rules.

Sign up via NASA Pro Racing's web site.  Cost was $495 for the Comp School, costs and format of schools may very with the different regions.   NASA NorthEast is a bit more relaxed about their format but, unlike SCCA who will allow people who have never been on a race track before to attend comp school,  NASA asks that you have at least "advanced" track day experience.   That is not to mean everyone automatically passes but it's not rocket science, you do have to show common sense and not be "that guy".

The object of the game is to learn the flags, learn the rules of conduct, show you have a clue and will not mess up.    Do that and you will pass any race school,  all these organizations are businesses after all and they do want you,  they don't want idiots but they do need fresh faces.
At the comp school I attended, only one guy did not complete the week end after a shaky performance in the first race.  Ironically he was a guy who came in with very much of an "I drive flat out" attitude and ended up blocking and hitting a bunch of other cars... Like I said, you don't want to be "that guy".

School alternates classroom instruction with on-track exercises, usually with drivers paired practicing overtakes, driving side by side at speed, mock starts, mock races....   sometimes it got interesting.

Once you passed your comp school you are free to join the race (entry fee not included in the Comp School price) week end under provisional "rookie" status.   Complete four races without incidents and you will be able to apply for a NASA Competition License.  You are still considered a Rookie even with a full license until you complete eight races.  That essentially means you have to run with a large "R" on your car marking you as a potential hazard.

Rentals for an e30 runs $800/day and includes all consumables,   the car Drive-Gear gave me was well set up and competitive.  Arriving at the track and just having to suit up and drive was an amazing treat.  No tire changes, no unloading no gassing the car no checking tire pressures.....aaaah, luxury!

In our first race I had an extra treat, a rare standing start as opposed to the usual rolling one.   I loved it, actually gained a spot for an all too brief stretch,  in the end I finished, where I qualified, third in class field of eight.

Sunday, I got an extra bit of education,  I rained cats and dogs.  I qualified P4 and ended the race in P2 when Axis Pete had a mechanical issue.   I certainly have a much finer appreciation for anyone racing in the rain because truthfully, you cant's see shit in front of you....

Compound that with the windows fogging up and it really gets funky.  at this point I could only see flaggers out the open side windows,  just enough to avoid something like this guy and his clever re-entry after a spin...

I had a blast.  Hey, I even won a whopping $175 of contingency tire money!  I will do it again and encourage all of you to give it a go.
There is only one drawback:  it is highly addictive and you will probably not want to go back and just lap around the track in the future!


  1. i see what you mean with "addictive" i became hooked since day one racing here in mexico.. take a look at my pics!

  2. Awesome article but I have to point out: it's damn expensive. Yes you can argue that the lesson learned are worth the money but that's still A LOT of money for those who don't have any. I don't know how much suits/helmets go for, but I'll say 1K every single attire needed (shoes, gloves, etc.), which is probably a underestimate considering that everything needs to be fireproof. Then add in the $800 a day for the E30, but times 3 for the three day weekend ordeal, which comes out to $2,400. Finally there's the comp school which is $495. There's still entry fee and the doctor's visit to keep into consideration.
    In total:
    Attire- $1,000
    Car - $2,400
    Comp School - $495
    A whopping $3,895. That's quite a lot of money. Even if you have awesome friends that can loan you a car for the three days and loan you attire, you still have $495. Granted, it sounds WAY better than $3,895, but $495 isn't easy to come by these days. Especially if you're still in college and have a girlfriend. Some people might even have daily cars that are within rules, but for those people who get by in a hand-me-down minivan, we're just not that lucky.

    You could also argue to get sponsored. But again for us who are working, in college, or whatever it may be, we are just not that lucky to get out and suddenly get noticed and sponsored.

    Which brings up a point: It's not that people don't want to get into racing, like me, it's just that it's SUPER expensive. I wonder, if racing was cheap, would we have better driver out in the real roads? By any chance does anyone know if Europe is as expensive? Maybe that's why we don't have as much racers in the top leagues of international motorsport, meaning F1, Le Mans/WEC, WRC, etc.

    On that note: If anyone wants to sponsor me, I'm all ears!

    1. well figure that for most Axis readers, they likely already have at Least a helmet and that a helmet is a 10 year investment. It;s likely you have a HANS and at least gloves and shoes. Yes a suit is expensive and a pain but it will last a long time.

      Arrive and drive is expensive but in the end much cheaper than having to buy a tow vehicle, trailer and building a race car. It's certainly something to consider. It's also much less expensive than doing one of those manufacturer sponsored "driving schools:

      In any case, If you can figure a way to swing it, it's well worth it.

    2. Unfortunately in my case, I got nothing... Going to college and going racing don't necessarily go hand in hand unless you have money.

      I wouldn't mind doing arrive and drive but I don't know how much track action my dear 11 year old minivan can take. She'll hold up as much as she can, but it's no miata here haha.

      Are those manufacturer driving schools worth it? Or would it be better just to go to Skip or Russell ( and other schools like it)? My mentality was that if I got that specific manufacturer's car, then I would take their school. For example, if I got a C63 AMG, I'd go for the AMG academy. But that's even if I could even afford either!

      Anyway, I'd love to go arrive and drive, or even better, get a competition license but it's not within my budget...for now at least. After college, perhaps most likely, but just not now.

      In other words, damn you guys for writing awesome articles on why I should be racing. No I'm not bitter, why do you ask? haha.

  3. @Atomic. Go karting, best fun on four wheels and considerably cheaper. 4k in Australia will get you a great race craft all the rest is up to you.

    1. That's true. In my opinion, actually I think most people think so, karting is a premier way to get into racing for cheap. But....Cheap is relative to the other forms of motorsports. 4K is still A LOT of money for someone who has NOTHING. Keep in mind you still have to buy attire, which like I said, is still a lot of money. Cheers if you kart though! You have my envy......!

  4. Racing isn't cheap... but I think it's worth it. I got my SCCA Comp license 4 years ago and have been having a blast. My friend and car co-owner just got his Novice Permit last weekend.

    I'm not sure how you could make it much cheaper - the sanctioning groups like NASA and SCCA aren't out to make a bunch of money - they charge what it will cost to put on the event, rent the track, pay for ambulance & wrecker crews etc. and hopefully have a little left over to put in reserves and pay for other club overhead. All of that costs a lot of money.

    If you're up for the challenge, you can pick up a relatively cheap used race car for not much more than a couple weekends worth of rental fees. Yeah, it will probably not be as nice as the BMW, and it will probably need some work, ongoing maintenance, storage, towing... but it will be yours.

    1. No absolutely, I completely agree with you that it is indeed worth it. But even if something is WORTH it, it's still not cheap or something you should do. It's like this: College is worth the money. True, but it's still not cheap!

      I''ve been trying to get a SCCA comp license, but I don't have the money for the attire, track ready car ( unless they accept minivans!), and money for the school. I'm not arguing that it's not money well spent. I'm just saying it's a lot of money no matter what way you look at it.

      I don't need a nice car to race. It goes back to that whole saying, "You shouldn't put a car on the track that you can't push off a cliff and walk away" regarding costs of a car. Still, I don't have the funds to get a $500 craiglists car that I can still spend another few grand to put it track ready, especially since I'm in college. Even if I could, I don't have a way of maintaining a car and getting it to the track (no truck or trailer in my case).

      One day perhaps but not now. I sure do wish now though!

    2. I certainly didn't race while I was in college... I put myself through school. I didn't get my Novice Permit until I was 42, unfortunately.

  5. I did the SCCA school in a Spec Miata last year in NorCal, and it was the best learning experience I've ever had. And that includes 3-day Skip Barber and 2-day Jim Russell (back when they had the Evo-engine F3 cars). The SCCA school is only $600, and it was the best $600 I've spent on a track, period.

    Yes, the costs are high ($1K for good gear, $10K-$20K for a competitive race car, $500 a weekend in entry fees, ~2 sets of tires a season.) But most of it is start-up cost, and the ongoing expense is much less if you race something reliable like a Miata. And the friendships I've made in just 1 year of racing have been priceless.

    1. Lucky for you that you live (?) in NorCal since apparently that's where everything mostly is for SCCA. Sure they got some things down in SoCal, but not like up north. I want to do the SCCA school, but I think it still requires a track ready car and attire.

      That's true about start up costs. I actually hadn't figured that. But then again with any company if the start up costs are too high, they won't start up! haha. I guess that's how it is in my case, I can't even afford start up costs. I'd love to meet some track folks. That's actually another reason why I want to get into racing too.

      I'll do my best to raise funds but that's a steep slope.

    2. > the costs are high ($1K for good gear, $10K-$20K for
      > a competitive race car, $500 a weekend in entry fees,
      > ~2 sets of tires a season.)

      I've just got my SCCA novice permit here in the midwest (go Midiv!), and wanted to say that I am getting into racing at much lower expense. I've got a Spec Miata I've worked on from a junker, and my all-in costs on the car (car purchase, roll cage, suspension and exhaust kit, engine rebuild, etc) was less than $7K. And right now you can get a used Spec Miata in the $5K to $6K range, prepped and ready to go.

      Also, race fees are in the $300 range in our area. And there's a metric tonne of tracks within a 6 hour radius. If you're in St Louis, Minneapolis, or Chicago, you've got a good 6 tracks to choose from.

      As far as getting the car to a track, I've got a cheap tow dolly I hook up to the family minivan, and I still get 20mpg on the freeway. A weekend for me (race fees, hotel, gas, race tire wear) is probably about $1K all told. And I split usage of the car with a friend so our costs are even lower. That certainly beats a $2400 rental.

  6. This is a great piece. I'd suggest some discussion of driving schools, though. The SB 3-day plus some paperwork and a check gets you an SCCA license.

    On an unrelated note, I saw you wrote about driving around the Monaco GP track in a Ferrari. I rented a 911 cab during my honeymoon in Monte Carlo in March 2010 - does that mean I drove a Porsche around the Monaco GP track?!

    1. Haha, yeah I used to do that on a scooter when I was a kid, for hours on end! :) No with the Ferrari it was during the Historic GP, the Local Ferrari dealer had arranged for one hour of track time during the lunch break. It was fun, If anything because there were marshals, TV cameras and all. A fond memory shared with the old man who was bravely in the right seat! :)

  7. AC, thanks for sharing. Such an awesome experience ! Drive Gear is a great crew to work with. Both of those guys are true enthusiasts and literally you just pay and show up. Might sound crazy but I went with Jon Allen on his first track day. He and my room mate in college are childhood friends. I think he was driving his dads Volkswagen Jetta back in 1996? I can't believe that was over 15 years ago. We didn't meet again until 2010 at NJMP. He caught the bug after that first day and never looked back !

  8. Awesome inspiration, been wanting to do this since my Teens and missed so many opportunities to follow suit at 38 now. On the Bucket list and within next 3-5years!

  9. For those with the racing bug and in college...try Formula SAE. It was the only way I could afford any type of racing (behind a serious high performance machine I might add), and still afford tuition. It was maybe just autocross and time trial stuff, but the only cost to me was the fee for an afternoon of fun ($~25-40 depending on membership), and helping out with the car prep time on select evenings. Plus it shows employers you have 'real world' experience working in a team!


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