6 Inside Tips on How to Become a Pro Driver
Trying to get to the next level? It’s a jungle out there. Sort through the mayhem with this how-to guide.
Racing might seem like a big world, but it’s actually on the smaller side by comparison to many other industries. Once you decide you want to step things up to a professional level, the circle becomes very small with many established drivers already occupying what good seats are available. Building a name for yourself at the club level is almost a prerequisite and you’ll likely be on the slower side of the field in the beginning. Networking makes the difference in everything from finding rides that are available to getting your name out online for others to see. Know what you bring to the table and get the right people around you. It can make all the difference when things don’t work out the way you planned. Imagine that.
PRO TIP: Your circle is everything. Having a skill you can offer teams is one way to get into the sport if you don’t have financial backing.
At the end of the day, the only reason you and I get to watch Formula 1, NASCAR, DTM, SCCA or any other racing on TV is because someone somewhere is making money. Make no mistake about it, racing is a business that people participate in to make money. Clearly, Bernie Ecclestone is not a billionaire by accident. Having said that, as much as you consider the driving side of professional racing, you need to be thinking about the financial aspect. Everything you can do to save a team money while bringing money to them will make you stand out over the rest. The higher up you go the bigger the numbers get, so be very realistic about the level of competition you can afford. Especially, if you can build your own car.
PRO TIP: The less raw capital you have to work with, the more your skills in business and networking will play into the equation. Use every resource at your disposal to capitalize on opportunities.
image courtesy of cdn.motor1.com
Bring the Bags
Networking aside, you need to have a substantial amount of money to go racing at any level. Ask any club racer how much they spend in a year to compete at their local track and you’ll quickly be met with the laughs of a person who could only burn money faster if it was dowsed with gasoline and lit with a blow torch. Tires, brake pads, unexpected mishaps and a slew of other things go wrong at the track which all require new parts and tinkering to fix. Even in a sport like Formula 1, reliability can bankrupt teams overnight. It happens all the time and is the number one reason why some fail. If you want to compete at any level, bring cash and bring lots of it. That’s just the reality of the sport.
PRO TIP: “Spec” classes are generally the cheapest way to go racing and have become highly respected with avenues for almost every manufacturer available. “Cheap” is all relative in the sport so find what works for your budget. Many spec series also offer an into the ladder system should you win a championship. This helps racers move up if they can prove their worth on the track.
Practice a Lot
Because of these ladder series and scholarships that are available you need to be able to take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way. Unfortunately, the only way to do this is to amass copious amounts of seat time and tuning where you can hone your skills. Knowing when to pull camber out of a car or when to add it can be the sole factor that wins you a race and there are hundreds of things to adjust on a race car. Driving talent alone rarely wins races. Rather, it’s a combination of knowing how to set the car up, being able to run close to other cars without crashing, and understanding strategy that takes the W home. Having a lot of seat time also makes it possible to have confidence going into a test session with a car you haven’t driven.
PRO TIP: Knowing how to communicate with race engineers is a valuable skill that not all drivers have. If you don’t understand mechanics and setup you won’t be able to effectively explain what’s happening with the car. This, in turn, makes it harder for your team to make improvements. Know your car like the back of your hand, but understand it takes time. None of this happens overnight.
image courtesy of imgur.com
Know Where to Compete
Generally speaking, if your goal is to get to Formula 1 you don’t start by driving in a spec sports car series—you start in karting, move to Formula Ford, then F3000 and so on until you reach the big time. The point is there are certain ways to maximize your chance of getting into a particular series if that is your goal. For example, if you want to go sports car racing, a strong background in karting is good with SCCA competition under your belt, but if you want to get into NASCAR you better know how to drive a dirt track or a paved oval. Setups change completely based on where you want to go so you need to clearly define what your end goal is to determine where to start. Making the wrong decision here can literally destroy your funding so be careful of this pitfall.
PRO TIP: Check out a lot of different racing and be aware that based on what country you live in the path can be fairly determined already. In America, we don’t dominate open wheel racing like they do in Europe. Here it’s Indy Car or NASCAR if you want to make it huge, but Global RallyCross and pro drifting are big as well. Both can get a driver paid on different levels, both are high levels of professional competition.
Play Video Games
Way back in 2008, Nissan and Sony did something that changed the world of motor racing as we know it: they launched a little program called GT Academy. In a groundbreaking statement, it was announced that the winner of this online virtual competition would be given a full paid ride to run with Nissan in a professional car. This was basically a short cut that allowed anyone with a PlayStation gaming console the ability to ignore all the money, all the business, all the networking, and all the hassle and go straight to the top, quite literally overnight. Professional gamers now make it all the way to the Race of Champions where they try their hand in real cars against the likes of Helio Castroneves and Tom Kristensen. It’s an opportunity that simply wasn’t there in the past and if you’re not taking advantage of the virtual world you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to turn pro.
PRO TIP: Jump online and start racing, it costs next to nothing and the rewards can be bigger than any club level championship or even SCCA runoffs championship. The competition here is just as fierce as the real thing though. So, if you think you’re going to have an easy walk to the top you’re mistaken. Practice setup and perfect your driving and you just might have a chance to be the next Le Mans champion.
Turning pro is one of the most difficult tasks any human being can try and obtain. There are very few people in the world who get paid to drive and as such the commitment required is massive. Professional racing driver Nicky Hayden’s parents once said in an interview that they had a leaking roof with buckets underneath them to collect water because they needed money to go racing as opposed to repairing their home. This is the level that people are willing to go to and these are the people you will be racing against as you rise to the top. Good luck, you’ll need it, but if you stay dedicated, work hard and focus you could be the next world champion. Now get to work.
image courtesy of flickr.com