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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

Avoidable Contact #145: Are you ready to race? Do you want to be?

Jack, would you consider writing an article, a column, or even a two-sentence reply on how an inexperienced (performance) driver may reasonably progress to become a "club racer" and what a "club racer'"even means these days? A lot of guys seem to think that spending an afternoon on the Tail of the Dragon somehow qualifies them to be the next F1 World Champion.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/opinion/avoidable-contact/avoidable-contact-145-are-you-ready-to-race-...
40 REPLIES 40
Maestro1
Technician

Jack thanks for the informative no BS article on how to get started. I did not know Hagerty
had a bunch of racing nuts in the group; Blessings to all of you. I am your spectator, not
your competitor. I wish you all very well.
Tim321
New Driver

Hi, great article. But would ask you reconsider one point. Safety, I get your comment about fire-suit and such for HPDE events. But once your skills improve, and your in Intermediate, or advanced there some very fast street cars (1LE, GT350, any Porsche, etc). Many times (at least in Florida) these classes also have full on race cars which are even quicker. Daytona and Sebring it’s almost a given.

A good helmet, neck device like a Simpson Hybrid and maybe even a fire suit is not a bad idea.

Just takes a fast street car and a full on race car to tangle, might not be pretty, why not be ready if it does happen?

Even at Track night in America, I hit about 163, with some 170+ at Daytona front stretch coming into Rolex turn 1.

Again great article. I do wear all of the above, overkill… maybe. I do, my choice.

My point is for the new guys and gals, never fault or make someone feel “out of place” due to their safety protocol being stricter than the requirements. So do what works for you, just research and ask questions at these events

I do agree, beginner can get by with a solid ride, instructor and the best helmet you can afford.

Thanks,

Tim

WAKman
Intermediate Driver

I agree Tim, up to a point. I watched a Ferrari F40 burn before my very eyes at a DE many years ago (a fairly famous incident), and both instructors in it got out, but they both got burned. I bought a fire suit that weekend, and wore it for a season, but eventually stopped. I balanced the heat and dehydration against the risk of fire, and decided it was overkill. I absolutely agree on a HANS device though in a car with harnesses. One saved me in a nasty crash at a DE.
Jack_Hagerty
Moderator

I think you raise some valid points, but I think that wearing a Nomex suit in a street car is more of a distraction than a help nine out of ten times. Keep in mind, however, I ride a 186mph motorcycle in flip-flops, so I'm an idiot!
cwp
Pit Crew

Jack - what are your thoughts on getting started with a racing school, like Skip Barber or Bertil Roos, before participating in track days?
banditracing
Intermediate Driver

Hi cwp, I'm one of the folks Jack mentioned at the end of his piece. My first time on track was a Skip Barber three-day racing school in 2001. I found it incredibly valuable—there's so much to think about at once, and it was an effective forum to attempt to piece those things together because you have multiple instructors to guide you. I found myself much more prepared and situationally aware when I began doing track days.

The downside to this path is that it's a pretty expensive splash into racing. Besides that, I like the idea of a school being a first step. Jack or others may have their own takes.

Finally, I'd recommend looking into a book like "Going Faster" by Skip Barber. It's filled with the information Barber, the Mid O school, and others teach. It will help regardless of whether you go to a school, but it'll be extra good to be prepared going into your classes/track sessions.

banditracing
Intermediate Driver

Sorry, accidentally signed in with my personal account. This is Eddy Eckart
Jack_Hagerty
Moderator

It can't hurt you, but if you have a half-decent track car, you can get a season's worth of seat time for the same money. Nobody has ever gotten WORSE at Skip Barber.

Bertil Roos, on the other hand... no comment for now.
oregonsrf
Pit Crew

Jack,

Great column and pretty much on the mark. Some folks are content to just drive on a track, some thrive on the actual competition in a close competitive racing series. In my personal case, once I started racing SRF, I lost all interest in track days. As an instructor at SCCA comp schools and (a somewhat) observant coach over the season, I can’t count the number of high dollar guys who bought into high horsepower cars who would then be “racing” in multi-class run groups but only 3 guys actually in their class (all of them about 20 sec apart on track.) The only time they went wheel to wheel was in impound or pre-grid. These guys would be mid-pack at best in an SRF or SM field because all they know to do is mash the throttle. This is a long way of saying, learn to race in a slow(er) class first with lots of competition. SRF3, SM, FV, Spec E30, E46, whatever, but you learn how to race best when in tight competition with momentum cars. That’s not to say that all momentum cars are slow. An SRF3 weighing in at 1570 lbs will be nudging 150 at Daytona.

Your discussion about costs and budgets are pretty much right on as well. I’d add a few caveats: 1) while you might have a budget, you will exceed it. Stuff happens eg accidents, crash repair, multiple sets of fresh tires, etc, 2) never ever add up all your costs for a racing season (or multiple seasons) , 3) as a general rule, if you can’t afford to buy a race car you probably don’t want to rent it either and finally 4) the first rule about building the race car of your dreams is don’t. Buy a used one instead. It’s cheaper by a long shot. I would note that with 25+ years and still continuing, a good drug habit might have been cheaper and perhaps more socially acceptable!

WRT Endurance racing, I would not completely dis enduros. While there is going to be a wild variation in driving abilities and car prep to ”less than SCCA or NASA rule sets” in enduro series that do not require licenses, there can still be some darn good drivers out there to learn from. And other enduro series NASA (license required) , and NASA’s 25 in particular I’ve actually been pretty impressed with overall driver quality. YMMV as they say.

Keep up the good work. Always enjoyable to read.
Jack_Hagerty
Moderator

For the record, I think the 25 Hours of T-Hill is as far away from a WRL or LeMons race as the WEC prototype classes are from the 25 Hours of T-Hill 🙂

My concerns are focused on the sanctions which don't require much of a license, don't have much in the way of stewardship, and whose competitors often drive very fast cars in very iffy fashion.
miata93
Instructor

Jack, Thanks for a very candid and comprehensive article regarding the realities of racing. Years ago I found the appropriate niche for myself i.e. club autocross which is inexpensive and fun. Your comments about seat time with a quality instructor are spot on. Working on the "gap" in lap times between what my instructor does vs. my own times proves to be much more valuable than tweaking sway bars and tire pressures. In addition to your sage advice I would only add one more thing to "Do". That is to learn the meaning of the phrase "That's racing." and learn at times to just move on and let it go
TheStick
Pit Crew

This is exactly the information I was looking for. Thank you for taking the time to answer my question and to do so very thoroughly. There are several points made here that I hadn't considered. Thanks again for the well written column.
fueledbymetal
Advanced Driver

Ditto this! 🍺
WAKman
Intermediate Driver

Great article, Jack. Hilarious depiction of your first track day. As a 20-year PCA driving I structor, I ran into more than a few of these types.

A couple thoughts--I started in SRF in 2000, ran part of one season in a leased car with a $10k budget, then ran out of money. After about 4 races, I was a mid-packer (I had already done 5 years of DEs and was an instructor), but was not having fun because SRF, due to its rugged (i.e., Rubbermaid) construction, seemed to be a bash-to-pass class. We'd race for 20 minutes, then spend the next 45 minutes in the paddock while the steward visited with folks who had had contact. I spent a fair chunk of my budget on repairs to the rental from incidents where I got punted. The kid whose dad spent $100K on his season won the regional championship. That's like $160k in today's dollars. I went back to DEs.

I went back to racing in a Spec Miata in 2005, this time in a car I owned, and went through the SCCA DC Region's driver's school and ran a couple races. In a typical race weekend, I'd arrive Friday night, go through tech, get a 20-minute practice and a 20-minute qualifier on Saturday, and get a 20-minute race on Sunday, much of which was spent doing parade laps under caution because somebody had crashed. Put 50 Spec Miatas on a track like Summit Point and you get carnage and then parade laps. So 60 minutes of track time in a three-day weekend, much of it at 30mph. I went back to DEs again, where I happily instructed for 15 more years at a dozen different tracks.

I guess the moral of my story is the same as yours: know what you want to do, and don't be ashamed if racing isn't for you. I did way more actual driving at DEs, and learned a bunch more than in my brief adventures in racing. It fit me just fine, and I have no regrets.
Jack_Hagerty
Moderator

Totally agree. I put more than TWELVE THOUSAND trouble-free track miles on a Boxster S with a Brey-Krause from 2004 to 2015, going through a few dozen Hoosiers around the country and usually clocking 6-7 hours of seat time per weekend.

By contrast, my Radical needs an hour of prep for every 5-10 minutes it spends on track. Your point about sitting in yellow flags is well-taken; it's one of the reasons I took a long vacation from my local NASA region during the Obama Administration.
9lbhammer
Advanced Driver

Is that the normal maintenance/prep schedule for a Radical or does it break a lot? Also, how do you pay a mechanic to work on them? I don't see a book time in prodemand for a Radical. Not trying to mind your business too much, just curious cause my budget is more on the 40 roll side of things.
Jack_Hagerty
Moderator

A four-cylinder Radical, like mine, needs a "nut and bolt" before every race. If you have a carbed car, as I do, getting it started and running is a two-person job. I have a crew chief who works on the car, but he is increasingly busy with LMP3 so I need to learn some of the more mundane tasks myself.

Now if I had an 8-cylinder Radical, and I'm not saying I do, then you're looking at frightening levels of maintenance before, after, and DURING the race. Before each race session, you have to start the engine, bring it to temp, then air-jack the car and run the transmission until it's warm. Then you shut everything down and do a quick nut/bolt on the running gear. Then you put it back in the air and bring it to temp again. THEN you can drive it to pit lane. 🙂
Jeffreythorton
Pit Crew

+1: Spec class racing vs enduro... admittedly not much enduro experience, but I found it was a lot of managing out-of-class traffic, and even "racing" class traffic you weren't sure if they were laps up or down... Conversely, Spec racing is a 30- to 45-min dogfight... it's intense, exhausting, brutal and you become really good. In a Spec class sprint race, you simply can't afford to leave anything on the table... it's 10/10, every second. Mistakes don't cost you tenths of a second, they cost you positions and it SUCKS watching P3, P4, and P5 go by - after you drove like mad to get past them - because of one mistake. This will teach you to not make that mistake again. When I was running with the top 5 guys in my Spec class, that's when I finally felt like a racer...

- 1: Wearing a suit on a track day. I do this all the time now. Instead of feeling like an idiot, I'm hanging around the paddock in shorts and t-shirt while the HPDE guys are in jeans and long-sleeves...
Jack_Hagerty
Moderator

Ah, but if you're slick enough you can go out and drive in shorts!
Jeffreythorton
Pit Crew

HA! That reminds me of an HPDE incident the newbies may need to hear, just to understand what might happen... I signed up for a Fri HPDE at Road Atlanta to test before the race that weekend. This track day org did things... differently. Anyway, the first session was an intermediate group and I remember seeing 3 Challenger Hellcats head out together. About 15 minutes later, there was an announcement for another driver's meeting, which was strange because they had just done a driver's meeting before the first session...

...at driver's meeting Part 2, I found out why: the Hellcats - street cars, mind you - had apparently been racing each other, one guy lost it and put it on its roof. To top it off, the guy was wearing shorts and was barefoot.
ShortestCircuit
Intermediate Driver

Just a few thoughts... don't race a car you can't replace in a heartbeat, or have general feelings about. As Neil McCauley said "Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner." An Alfa Bertone 1750 makes a beautiful vintage track car, provided somebody can spend the 60-80k on it, but once you bin it, you're out of the fun ride for the few weeks (months) as it is getting rebuilt. Have some mechanical ability or get ready to spend a few grand every race on your mechanic. It is _not_ that hard to change/bleed brakes, or take rotors to a machine shop to have them turn your attempts of "bedding in" race pads down. Take a cheap and plentiful (japanese) car, I personally wouldn't shy away from an E90 3-Series but only because I already have Beemer exposure - maybe buy an E46, but be wary of rust in the rear axle carrier panel, also I wouldn't buy an E30, they are getting ridiculously expensive and truth be told, they are not that great handlers. Suspension, brakes and tires are your best helpers. The best companies making custom racecars almost never touch or tune the engine but will spend half a million in research just to raise the rear diff an inch. Spring for an adjustable suspension or you'll find out why there's a grand difference between the same company's unadjustable shock. No need for 5-way, remote reservoir spacecraft stuff, just a regular 3-way and you'll be flying over corners you previously had to lift for. Brake pads, what Jack wrote... there are more than a dozen companies making racing pads, Hawk, Pagid, Endless (if you can swing it - the MA45B is worth every damn penny) - these companies will help you choose a suitable combo, and always use new pads on a new/newly-turned rotor. Tires, again, like the brakes, these are wear items, you can literally buy anything with a semi-slick compound then hear somebody in the pitlane talk crap about them. Can't go too wrong with the ones the performance manufacturers like AMG or the M-Group are putting on their cars.
And try to have fun.
Davis_H
Pit Crew

What's wrong with my racing shoes 😞 I agree the full suit is cosplay but I do prefer having some thin shoes with flat soles.
AdrianClarke
Instructor

I am probably going to have to buy some, for the road. I'm 6'2" with size 11 feet, and my '83 Mondial QV (RHD) has an extremely tight footwell for me. Drove it in my go-to sneaker the other day, the evergreen Nike Air Max 90 and I was still catching pedals.
Tsaxman
Advanced Driver

Motorsport racing is very difficult. I have been smoked like a fat ham by better drivers in lesser cars, and I just shrug.

Racing, like any sporting competition, is humbling, particularly if you attempt to do it as a hobby and actually try to run with folks who have done it for a profession. To me, it is like trying to own the biggest boat in your local marina. As soon as you get to that point, an oil sheik arrives with a converted minesweeper and yells, "Get that dinghy out of my way!"

That said, there is a particular thrill of pushing a vehicle as fast as you dare, which is incomparable to any other visceral experience.
Tinkerah
Engineer

Years ago I was blessed to be part of a crew for a PCA team. It cured me of the attraction of being the owner/driver forever. I learned so much so fast and had many wild experiences without risking my own life or finances. Some of you may be able to guess why I would at one point be screaming at a helper, in the hot pit at Lime Rock with cars roaring by: "Air out of the tires!" "What??" "LET THE AIR OUT OF THE TIRES!" "How much??" "AS MUCH AS YOU CAN!!!" It's funny now....
OptimusPrime
Detailer

What about getting started in karts instead of cars? They're quick, servicing costs less than most cars and they're easily transported in the back of a truck or van so a trailer isn't even required.
win59
Advanced Driver

Find a racer near you and offer to help. For free. You might learn how the sausage is made, probably have fun, see first hand how much pure hard work (and $$$) it takes, and you might get lucky and find a mentor.
TonyT
Technician

You only used the word "fun" twice and it wasn't in the context of affordable racing. Speaking as someone that has spent a few years in both professional road and drag racing, the element of fun is very small in those categories due to manufacturer and sponsor expectations. Winning is the only thing. It wasn't a lot of fun (it was a job, after all) but it was hugely educational, and the lessons learned have helped me tremendously. Since I have stepped away from the big leagues, a day at Willow Springs or at Famoso with people that are just enjoying their toys is also educational and while going fast is always desirable, having a good time while attempting to do so is of more importance at these lower levels. We have enough stress in our lives these days. Shouldn't club racing be focused on having a safe, fun outlet to release that inner Walter Mitty? Be as good as you can be, but remember that there will always be someone faster.
Gary_Bechtold
Specialist

Great article. I can't race because I don't have a budget to do that. I agree I would want a car for that purpose if I can. For now I'll enjoy HPDE's and a good curvy road.
Stradakat
Intermediate Driver

Great, informative article. You mention Karting as an alternative and I highly recommend it. You’ll be driving a real racing machine, wheel to wheel, against tenacious competitors and get one heck of a physical workout. No belts holding you in these babies that are pulling some serious Gs. Plus, the price of entry and maintenance is affordable for lots of folks. And it doesn’t hurt that your tow vehicle can be the pickup bed of a pickup you may already own. Karts also tend to promote clean driving, as other forms of open wheel racing do. No “rubbing is racing” BS, unless you enjoy flipping your kart and skidding down the track on your head, with no roll bar. Which I don’t recommend.
SAG
Technician

looks like a
'sports Renault'
re-do to me
SAG
Technician

Go SCCA
SAG
Technician

you "newbe's"
are funny
86Zed
Pit Crew

I sidelined my more prestigious German street car from HPDE days and built a cheaper Miata following the well blazed path - blackbird roll bar and all. What a riot! Having more fun than ever, turning faster laps (initially an embarrassment, now a badge of honor) and spending less $$ doing it.
el_zato
Intermediate Driver

I'd like to ride a serious guide into Karting, I'm fascinated by Shifter Karts and Super Karts, they're awesome.
Jfslater98
Intermediate Driver

Yeah. Race shoes. I have size 14s. No way anything but that or tassle loafers are fitting in the foot box of Formula Ford.
PT36
Pit Crew

Without a doubt one of the best articles ever written this comes from a guy who started SCCA in 1974 in. Yenko Stinger (Corvair) for those who don’t know

Went to Fomulas Ford Continental Atlantic Indy Lights IMSA endurance and now at 75 run a1958 Austin Healey Sprite in SCCA Vintage and HSR

Speed is relative to your own brain 150 in FA is no faster than 90 in a Sprite as far as appreciation of executing that 110 degree off camber turn at Hallet

Learn get it right and drive the Corkscrew but wear your diaper

God Speed to all you racers out there
brb
Instructor

Thanks for an informative article sans any rants. Good luck on the track.
RallyRaid
Detailer

This article reminded me that I’d been mulling over - and ultimately decided to disagree on - a point made in an ‘Avoidable Contact’ a year ago:
“Who’s the best driver in the world? It isn’t Lewis Hamilton, or Max Verstappen, or anyone who ever won Le Mans. It’s some 17 year old you’ve never heard of, racing karts or open-wheel somewhere.”
The problem I have with this statement is that it flies in the face of the advantages provided by quality practice and advanced training - some outlined in the above article.
Drivers who reach the upper echelons of Motorsport are dragged up in skill - they are surrounded by entire fields of high quality drivers. They also receive the volume and quality of feedback of a 17 year old kart driver’s wildest dreams (well, probably tangential to any 17 year old’s wildest dreams).

I also thought that article had an unfair knock on Chris Harris (when I see someone capable of drifting a LaFerrari beside Marino Franchitti’s P1, then scoring a podium at Goodwood in a Lightweight E-Type, I get a little protective) but more recent columns clarified Harris probably wasn’t even being considered as a target…
hyperv6
Racer

As they say opinions are like well you fill it in but everyone has one. 

There are various forms of compilation today and levels with varying cost. 

Access you budget, skill level and match it to what you can afford or do.  

Being honest with your skills is the key as anyone can buy a car but few can extract what is needed to drive them. 

As they say Fast guys, Rich guys and idiots. 

My buddy a good drive often is fixing damage by someone that is over their head. 

Computer racing today is where many drivers are coming from. They have mastered the skill less the seat of the pants feeling. It is cheaper and safer to see where you stand. 

Racing is a different world today and with the poor economy it is in for trying times.