How to be a race car driver: F1, Indycar, Indy Lights, Nascar

A racing driver, hands on hips, shown alone in the pit lane waiting for his chance to race

“Before you make a dollar racing, you need to first spend a million practicing.” -Anon

This is a question I often see asked on internet message boards that is also posed to me by friends who are not as passionate about automobiles as I am: How do you become a professional racing driver?

Without wanting to get too in-depth on the subject, I will try to explain as succinctly as I can why it is neigh impossible to obtain employment as someone who races cars for living.

There is a widely cited study published by Dr. Anders Ericsson known as the ‘10,000 hour rule.’ Basically, he posits that if you practice something for at least 10,000 hours, you’ll be pretty fucking good at it. Although the quoted hour figure looks at first like an unachievable number, I agree with his reasoning. If you want to be good at something, just do it – a lot.

So now let’s compare say practicing the violin to practicing race car driving. To do the former, all you need is a violin, a bow and possibly an instructor when you first start out. The latter, you will need a race car, you will need spare parts for the race car, you will need a means to transport the race car and you will need access to a closed track at minimum.

A quick Google search reveals a decent violin for a student is around $500. That will probably not even cover one day of racing expenses even if you are on an extremely tight budget – keep in mind this is assuming you already have a race car and all the other necessary items.

If you haven’t ascertained where I’m going with this article I’ll spell it out for you: racing is bloody expensive (I lived in England for a year so I can use ‘bloody’ if I want). You ask your folks for a violin, they’d probably be more than ecstatic to provide you with one; ask ’em for a race car and they’d probably slap you into next Wednesday. Bottom line, it costs infinitely more to get 10,000 hours of practice in a race car than it does to shoot hoops or play an instrument.

Even at the highest level of racing, Formula 1, drivers spend a paltry amount of time behind the wheel in comparison to media obligations, physical fitness training and other stuff that doesn’t involve actually driving. The FIA used to allow if I’m not mistaken unlimited off-season testing but that has changed to just two pre-season tests per year now to cut costs. So yes, even in Formula fucking One, they can’t get their drivers seat time because the FIA says it’s too expensive.

Now the 10,000 hour rule isn’t a mathematical equation, and good practice will be that much more valuable than just going through the motions, but in the end, you need experience in a race car to be good enough to compete, even at an amateur level. Your going to need either your parent’s financial support or sponsor’s financial support.

The kicker is this – you may never actually get paid to drive a car professionally – even if you make it to the pinnacle of motorsport – F1.

How to actually go about pursuing a career as a racing driver I’ll hopefully cover in another article.

Featured Image – “Waiting Driver – driver at the 24 hour race of Zolder” by snorpey is licensed under CC BY 2.0

About the Author: Daniel Kim is a graduate of Coventry University’s Automotive Journalism Master’s program. He has worked at Ferrari North Europe, Evo magazine, Autocar and Formula Drift.



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