7 Things I Learned About Being a Pro Race Car Driver

By J.G. Pasterjak
Aug 9, 2013 | Ford | Posted in Columns | Never miss an article

I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to get myself behind the wheel of race cars competing in a few pro series before—Mustang Challenge, MX-5 Cup, Viper Cup—but this weekend I took on my most high-profile behind-the-wheel stint to date in the Pirelli World Challenge series driving our project Ford Fiesta Touring Car B Spec. I’ll be writing a full feature for an upcoming issue, but in the meantime, here are a few observations about being a pro driver after just one pre-weekend test day.

  1. Pro Racing is a show, not a race: This is not meant in any way to demean professional racing—quite the opposite, in fact. In the same way that an NFL game is more than simply a football game, pro racing is a fully realized event, of which an on-track contest of speed is but a single part.

  2. Because it’s a show, everything is done to a very high standard: Got one of last year’s decals on the car? Sorry, it’ll be coming off now. Got an ugly open trailer and a bunch of crew guys in mismatched wife-beaters and cut off jean shorts? You’ll be paddocking over by the porta-potties in the next county. There are no exceptions. Forgot to bring your socks to tech? No one cares if you’re the reigning class champion. Go get your damn socks.

  3. Because it’s done to a high standard, it takes a village: There were roughly 75 entrants in four World Challenge classes at mid Ohio this weekend, and there were probably 35 dedicated World Challenge staffers on-site to make sure the event goes off flawlessly. Everyone has a job, and everyone has an answer, so when you ask someone a question you aren’t confronted with a blank stare or a line of BS.

  4. You’re not the fast guy anymore: You may still be a fast guy, but you’re not the fast guy. You may have been the fastest guy in your local club or region, but so is everyone else out there. There are no tourists. Even the skills of the “gentleman” racers have been honed because of the increased level of competition. Likewise, there are no dud cars. The prep level of the worst car on the grid is not that much off of the best.

  5. It’s not really about the drivers: Drivers may get all the glory, but in professional racing, they’re simply the talking, sweaty part of the complex system of a race car.

  6. Because you are part of the complex system, you are expected to do your job: Think you’re helping by assisting with a brake pad change after that qualifying session? You’re not. That’s just a chance to burn your hands, then the talking, sweaty part of the system becomes the talking, sweaty, burned-his-hands-and-can’t-drive-as-fast part of the system.

  7. Because of all this stuff, you can’t do it alone: We have the luxury of being professionally managed and crewed by the amazing gang at Capaldi Racing this weekend. If you think you’re going to show up with your brother-in-law and your open trailer and a barbecue grill and go racing, you’re not going to have a great weekend. There are simply too many moving parts that go into the show to make that feasible.

If all this makes professional racing sound unappealing, that’s not our intent. Quite the opposite. It’s a rather singular experience being part of such a complex and impressive show. I’m looking forward to bringing you guys a full report from behind the wheel in an upcoming issue.

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View comments on the GRM forums
84FSP Reader
4/28/15 6:43 a.m.

Looking forward to the full article.

bmw88rider GRM+ Memberand Dork
4/28/15 7:02 a.m.

Having worked both SCCA, Nasa, and Pro events, That part about it being a show is so true.

The details of the show are down to the minute and everyone has a place. It's an incredible amount of details are put into every step. Nascar is a pro at this. It's very interesting to watch the motions that are put in place to pull it all off.

bravenrace MegaDork
4/28/15 8:30 a.m.

Zombie thread.

LuxInterior Reader
4/28/15 10:28 a.m.

For this one you'll want a subscription and a time machine

racerdave600 SuperDork
4/28/15 10:36 a.m.

I've crewed in IMSA, SCCA and NASCAR, and I will second everything you said. The amount of preparation before hand, and then the work load at the track (especially NASCAR) is something that most people cannot imagine. You have to have amazing attention to detail and be very organized. Not only does everyone need to know their tasks, but they have to work well together and not be in each other's way. We had lists for everything, and they were taped to the car, tool boxes, you name it. One small missed detail could be the difference between winning or simply finishing the race. You'd be shocked at how easy it is to miss even large items like changing the gear ratios or rebuilding the shocks between sessions.

And then there is the cleaning. We cleaned the car top to bottom, inside and out, between every session. No exception. It's shocking how dirty they can get and when you have sponsors, they expect it. And in our case, when it was Toyota, they have very high expectations. We coordinated crew attire before every event, and had uniforms for the track. But even afterwards at the hotel, we always had proper attire. A certain conduct was also expected.

trigun7469 Dork
4/28/15 11:37 a.m.

Run in a pro event has always been a dream of mine, not looking to do a full season, but one event would be cool.

Rusted_Busted_Spit GRM+ Memberand UberDork
4/28/15 12:12 p.m.

One of my favorite things to do at a Pro race is to walk the paddock and watch the crews work.

dean1484 GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
4/28/15 12:27 p.m.

I can not wait to read the article. We did the open trailer thing and took it about as far as we could with out having to get "more" professional. We thought it was a big deal when we all got matching team T-shirts. LOL. . .. . This was back in the late 90's early 2000's when there was still a remote chance a no name could show up with a pickup and a helper and get in the big show. Great memories!!!!

bravenrace MegaDork
4/28/15 12:34 p.m.

In reply to dean1484:


turboswede GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
4/28/15 12:51 p.m.

In reply to bravenrace:

Hey buddy! Its someone commenting on the ARTICLE, just as intended when GRM redesigned the site on the last go around, so when a comment is added it is posted to the message board. Just like when a new article is posted. This was to help generate traffic and discussion outside of the message board because so many visit the boards and not the rest of the site.

So this is working as intended and quite frankly it is an interesting subject to talk about, so maybe contribute to the discussion please?

As for the original discussion, I was able to volunteer as a "pit reporter" for Radio Le Mans when they came to Portland. It was impressive being that close to the action and especially the professional track crews. You could definitely see the professionalism, organization and work ethic in action. The amount of effort put forth was brief with periods of waiting and monitoring with only the tire gofers mostly staying busy, unless a repair was needed or a pit stop was getting close, then things got a bit more busy with tool prep, etc.

bravenrace MegaDork
4/28/15 1:03 p.m.

In reply to turboswede:

He said he cannot wait to read the article, as in it's coming in the future, and indicating that he missed that it was published a long time ago.

wbjones MegaDork
4/28/15 1:20 p.m.
LuxInterior wrote: For this one you'll want a subscription and a time machine

they also sell past issues

bmw88rider GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
4/28/15 1:46 p.m.

I know it's an old article now but it is a good conversation.

I second the cleaning part that Racerdave said.

Our Trucks at TMS are a rolling Chevy billboard. Not in a bad way just that you knew exactly what they were. Since our position is Pit out there, There is a lot of foot traffic with the people walking from the pits to the grandstands and back before the race. That truck is spotless after every session and it's parked in a way that It's a Chevy Ad as the fans walk by. We would spend at least 20-30 minutes a day cleaning it so that it shined under the lights and the folks at Chevy are happy.

The other observation is watching the F1 guys work at COTA. You would go into the pits after the fans leave and those garages are spotless. It would look like you can set your dinner down on the floor and just eat it off that surface. No oil spilled, no grease stains, jsut perfectly clean. The Mercedes garages looked more like operating rooms vs car workshops.

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