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15 Easy Ways to Get Involved in Motorsports

For years you’ve watched cars circle the track. This year will be different, though: You’re going to go from spectator to participant.

Don’t worry, making that transition doesn’t require old family money or knowledge of some secret handshake. It just takes a little guidance and encouragement–and that’s where we come in.

We’ve been at this game for decades, and know that there are several ways to get involved. Here are some of our favorites: All you’ll need is the car you already own and maybe a couple of bucks.

Autocrosser

What do pro racing superstars Randy Pobst, Peter Cunningham, Andy Pilgrim and many others have in common? They all have autocross on their resumés. Why does this matter to you? Autocross has to be the easiest way to experience squealing tires while fine-tuning your driving skills.

The basics are simple: Drivers compete, one at a time, through a pylon-lined course. Each downed pylon adds a penalty to that run’s time, and most courses take about a minute to navigate. Top speeds are usually around 60 mph. Drivers are divided into classes depending on car type and modifications, and potential for damage is practically nil. Fastest run of the day wins each class.

Sounds easy, right? Events can easily be won–or lost–by a blink of an eye. You may think you’re a great driver, but autocross will truly make you one.

Required Gear
Just about any functioning, safe car can autocross. Obviously some makes and models are better suited to the sport, but a “run what ya brung” philosophy works here, too.

The most important factor is safety: Tires must have tread and be free of defects; the battery must be securely tied down; the throttle return spring must work as intended by the factory; lug nuts can’t be missing; and the original seat belts must be present. That’s not hard, is it?

You’re going to be outside all day, so come prepared: hat, sunblock, water and lunch. Entry fees can vary, but figure $25-$45 for the day. For those without their own Snell SA-rated helmet, loaners are usually available.

First Step
Show up at an event an hour before registration closes (event times can be found online). Occasionally you need to preregister, but not typically.

Walk up to the registration table, tell them it’s your first event, and someone will take you under their wing and get you pointed in the right direction. The joke is that the person at the site wearing the biggest hat will know what’s going on, and usually that’s a true statement.

Who to Call
The Sports Car Club of America (scca.com) hosts the lion’s share of autocross events in the U.S. They divide the country into about a hundred regions, and you can find your local group at their site. The Porsche Club of America (pca.org) and National Auto Sport Association (nasaproracing.com) also operate national autocross programs. Then there are tons of local autocross clubs; a few minutes with your favorite search engine will find them.

Track Day Driver

Road racing requires driver schools, a dedicated car, a truck and trailer, a willing crew, and the ability to navigate the rulebook. How about just running laps for fun–just you and your favorite car? That’s where track events come in.

Removing the competition element doesn’t mean we’re talking about second-rate tracks, either. Today’s track day scene visits some of the finest facilities in this land, from Daytona and Sebring to Watkins Glen and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Most groups offer sessions for beginners, intermediate and expert drivers. Classroom instruction takes place between the track work. Some groups also offer ride-along instruction.

The goal here: Have fun in a more relaxed environment. And should you decide to make the jump to road racing, you’ll already know an apex from a lug nut.

Required Gear
Remember that car you took to your first autocross? It’s probably suited for track days, too. Sure, plenty of people will have Porsches and Corvettes, but that seemingly humble Civic or MINI works just fine.

Track events place more of a load on the car, though. Are your brakes up to 30 minutes of nonstop pounding? How about the tires and the rest of the system? And note that convertibles will need some sort of approved rollover protection.

Since the wheel-to-wheel element has been removed, the car’s original equipment should be sufficient. You’ll need the proper Snell SA-rated helmet, and note that loaners most likely won’t be offered.

First Step
Most track events require preregistration, and at that step you’ll usually receive an inspection checklist. In most cases, the car owner or a certified shop will have to vouch for the car’s safety. Your preregistration info should also include a weekend schedule detailing specifically where and when to show up.

If you’re a novice, expect plenty of instruction at those first events. The main goal: Be safe and smooth.

Who to Call
Several groups offer nationwide track day programs, including the National Auto Sport Association (nasaproracing.com), Sports Car Club of America (scca.com), Porsche Club of America (pca.org), BMW Car Club of America (bmwcca.org) and the North American Road Racing Association (narraonline.com). But that’s not all: Many tracks and regional clubs host open lapping days.

Team Member

You think those cars circling the track fix and fuel themselves? The drivers may get most of the glory, but a small army backs each one–and there could be a spot for you.

What tasks need to be handled? Someone has to build and prep the cars, drive the truck, fix broken stuff, add and manage fuel, change and wrangle tires, set up the equipment, and plan and execute a race strategy. Then there’s the logistics: Who’s going to herd all of the cats and keep them fed?

Most endurance teams mix full-time employees with part-timers–also known as weekend warriors. Have a skill you’d like to share? Like to be part of a team? You see where we’re going, right?

Required Gear
Most established outfits will have all of the gear you need, including a cool team uniform. Expect to be fed and housed, too.

What should you bring? A willingness to roll up your sleeves and dive in to solve problems. A smile helps, too.

First Step
Plan on beginning your team member experience at the club level. “I would say the best way is to show up at a club event, introduce yourself around, and offer to lend a hand for free–not while the racer is putting out a fire, but in a calm environment,” explains James Clay, owner of the BimmerWorld race team.

Clay suggests this icebreaker: “I have always wanted to help a race team. Can I offer my help for free for a weekend to learn more about how I can assist?” With experience can come payment, and the connections you make can lead to a gig at the pro ranks.

Who to Call
As Clay notes, start at the local level. Get to your local tracks, check out the paddocks, and start talking to teams. The country is dotted with race teams contesting in so many different venues, so don’t forget that oval track and drag racing teams need help, too.

Race Worker

Every sport needs people to keep the action on track–someone to maintain order, keep score and, should something bad happen, render assistance. Motorsports events happen thanks to a legion of workers, and they’re always looking for a few good men and women.

These workers tackle a wide range of jobs, starting with the registrars who register the teams and welcome their crews. As the event goes on, teams encounter other workers, like the pace car drivers and the scrutineers manning the tech shed. Timing and scoring officials track each car’s position, and emergency crews wait at the ready.

The most visible workers may be the flagging and communication crewmembers–the men and women in white who position themselves around the track. They’re the event’s extra eyes and ears: They use flags to communicate with the drivers, and they stay in constant contact with the home base via radio. If there’s an incident, they’re also first on the scene.

Being a worker has its perks: These guys always seem to have the best parties at the track. Some groups pass along benefits to their workers, too: NASA, for example, offers a system that rewards corner workers with free track time.

Required Gear
The group running the show usually provides the major equipment, meaning you don’t need to bring your own flags, radio or tow truck. You’ll need some personal gear, though, like earplugs and a hat. “Oh, invest in a really comfortable pair of shoes!” Florida Region SCCA worker Kevin Abel adds.

First Step Most of the country’s road race events take place under the eye of SCCA or NASA workers, so we’d start by contacting their local regions. Find their website and look for someone with the title of worker chief or something similar. Drop them a note explaining that you’d like to help.

Who to Call
Can’t find your local SCCA or NASA group? Start with their national sites: scca.com and nasaproracing.com.

Low-Buck Endurance Racer

For decades, much of road racing has been saddled with rulebooks that could rival the tomes you’d find in a law library. Now there’s an alternative: low-buck endurance racing. Instead of placing limits on camshaft lift or bushing durometer, these rules take a page from our $2000 Challenge and cap the amount of money that teams can spend.

In this case, we’re usually talking about a $500 budget–yep, approximately the cost of one of the tires used in professional road racing. However, certain items don’t count toward the budget–namely safety gear–so in reality teams can and will spend more than that. Even so, it’s still an easy, inexpensive way to go racing.

We’re talking endurance racing, too, so you can split operating costs with your teammates. These races also visit some of the country’s top tracks. You may be slumming it financially, but you’ll still be collecting many hours of track time on hallowed ground.

Required Gear
You’re probably not going to use your street car for this one; you’ll need to build or buy a dedicated vehicle that meets the rules. You’ll also need full personal safety gear: helmet, suit, gloves, head-and-neck restraint and the like. Don’t forget all of your pit equipment, either.

First Step
There are a few ways to get involved here. You could build a car from scratch, which is going to mean some time in the garage plus a truck, trailer, tools and support staff. Or you could rent a seat with an established team and arrive and drive like a true rock star–or at least like the lead singer of a forgotten hair metal band.

Who to Call
The two biggies in this world are the 24 Hours of LeMons (24hoursoflemons.com) and the Optima Batteries ChumpCar World Series (chumpcar.com). American Endurance Racing (americanenduranceracing.com) doesn’t place budget caps, but they have simplified endurance racing rules as well.

10 More Ways to Get Involved With Cars

1. Rallycross
Picture autocross on dirt, gravel, ice, grass or some other loose surface and you have rallycross. The SCCA is the big dog here. The thrills are big and the sport is very novice-friendly, but expect more wear and tear on your car.

2. Drag Racing
This one has been a staple for generations, and nearly any car can participate. Many tracks host test-and-tune nights, making it even easier to start. To make the first move, just find your local drag strip.

3. Car Clubs
In our book, there’s nothing wrong with a little socializing, and car clubs are a great way to get involved and engage with people. No matter what your poison–Porsches, BMW, stance, whatever–there’s a group of likeminded individuals out there eager to meet you.

4. Drifting
Some would rather do it sideways–and in a fog of tire smoke. Have a rear-drive car and enough money for a few sets of rear tires? Then drifting can also be an easy first step. Local and national groups run events across the country.

5. $2015 Callenge
For a decade and a half, our $2015 Challenge has been turning first-timers into achieved builders. The premise remains the same: Faced with the modest budget cap, what can you build for our autocross, drag race and concours judging. Interested? Bring your car to the Grassroots Motorsports $2015 Challenge Driven by General Tire and sponsored by CRC Industries in Gainesville, Florida, October 23-24.

6. Oval Track Racing
Think you’re the next Ricky Bobby? Your local oval track awaits. You’re going to need a car, a trailer and gear, but used setups offer tremendous bang for the buck. To keep it simple, see if your local track offers some kind of strictly stock class.

7. Smash-Up Stuff
Sometimes you need a little chaos in your life, and you can get it without having a ton of racing experience. What are we talking about? American staples like demo derby, figure-8 racing, skidplate racing, bus racing, camper trailer racing, train racing and the like.

8. Kart Racing
Today’s kart racing scene welcomes all kinds, from little kids to old guys. Plus, karts can be very inexpensive to buy and run. Want to make it even easier? Check out Endurance Karting’s schedule for the arrive-and-drive option.

9. Hillclimbs
The one-car-at-a-time format reduces the chances of damaged sheet metal, but obviously events are going to be limited to places that have hilly topography. Classes welcome street cars, but you’re probably going to have to add some basic safety equipment.

10. Time Trials
We recommend running track days before making the jump to timed competitions, but even so, these events can be relatively novice-friendly. NASA, SCCA, PCA, NARRA and other sports car clubs sanction such events.

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Comments

View comments on the GRM forums
iceracer
iceracer UltimaDork
9/28/17 1:07 p.m.

Through in ICE racing for those that are fortunate to live where there is ice.

All you need is a car, helmet and four winter tires.

WildScotsRacing
WildScotsRacing Dork
9/28/17 5:01 p.m.

And remember to always wave at the corner workers on the cool-down lap. No Wave, No Save cheeky

dxman92
dxman92 Reader
9/28/17 7:57 p.m.

If the Red Bull Global Rallycross comes anywhere near you, I'd recommend volunteering to work the event. Did it in August in Atlantic City and highly recommend it.

bmw88rider
bmw88rider SuperDork
9/28/17 9:13 p.m.

If you need any contacts for the local F&C or any other race workers PM me. It's a lot of fun with some really cool experiences like working the point at the top of the corkscrew at leguna seca or the top of the hill at COTA. Great way to learn lines and see pro races for free too. 

ckosacranoid
ckosacranoid Dork
9/29/17 4:19 p.m.

I would say work the local dirt track, there is one pretty much everywhere that always need help with stuff. cool to see some updates on this.

dannyzabolotny
dannyzabolotny Reader
9/29/17 5:43 p.m.

I'm kinda going through some of this now— I went drag racing last week, going drag racing next week. Then once I overhaul my brakes and buy a helmet I'll sign up for NASA and start doing some proper track days. Should be very entertaining to see how my 4000lb car handles it. I have no intention of making it lighter either, since it's my DD.

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