If you dream of becoming a professional NASCAR driver, the path can seem complicated if you’re not in the racing world. We all know that professional American football players usually go to college to attract scouts, but there’s no college program for driving. Instead, race car drivers start training when they’re very young, getting experience through lower racing divisions until they earn enough experience for a professional NASCAR license.
So, how do you become a NASCAR driver? Here’s the path that most racers take to prepare themselves for racing on the biggest stage.
How Do You Get a Professional Racing License?
The first part of understanding how drivers make their way through the auto racing world is knowing how licensing works. To start, you need more than just your state driver’s license to race a car. Motorsports federations often have competition licenses to establish whether a driver has the experience necessary to operate a race car safely.
Applying for a professional NASCAR driver’s license is often a complicated process. NASCAR requires that drivers submit their racing resumes to show that they have the experience necessary to race safely and effectively.
Many drivers often start racing go-karts before moving into small cars, late-model vehicles, and trucks. All of that practice helps NASCAR officials decide whether someone qualifies for a specific division of NASCAR.
What is the Lower NASCAR Series?
Like many sports, NASCAR has a top series and several lower divisions that help develop talent and expand the sport. The premier NASCAR series that most people know about is the NASCAR Cup series (previously known as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.) The NASCAR Cup series features all the best racing talent that most fans watch on Sundays.
One step below the top series is the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Most fans and racing experts consider this series the “minor league” of stock car racing. Xfinity Series races often happen at the same track as NASCAR Cup Series races. These minor league races generally occur the day before the big event.
NASCAR also has the Camping World Truck Series, which uniquely features pickup trucks instead of classic stock cars. Finally, the ARCA Menards series fills out the top of the NASCAR professional racing portfolio.
Where Do Developing Racers Usually Begin their Professional Career?
NASCAR has a program that supports racing on the local level through NASCAR Roots. These races are at small and local race tracks where people can get close and personal with stock car racing.
NASCAR Roots programs usually feature two different series, the Whelen Modified Series and the NASCAR Advanced Autoparts Weekly series. If someone wants to get started in stock car racing, they’ll likely do it through one of these lower series at their local track.
How Do You Get a Race Car?
While learning how to drive is one thing, getting your own race car is entirely another. Auto racing is an expensive sport, and most people find it’s hard to fund themselves through the ranks. Some families will come together to support a young driver through their go-kart racing career and then see that to move through higher-level divisions, but you usually need more support.
One of the most notable things about professional race car drivers is how many advertisements are on their race suits and cars. The placement of those logos isn’t an accident. Many racing drivers rely on sponsorships to help pay for their vehicles and compensate their crew members.
Networking with sponsors is usually the job of a team owner, who might be the driver or a close family friend at the lower racing divisions. Often, negotiating with sponsors becomes a full-time job, which means that drivers may opt to sign with an established racing team to focus on building their racing skills.
Will Racing School Prepare You to Drive Professionally?
A variety of companies provide Learn to Race programs. They usually include everything from afternoon racing experiences to complete racing education curricula that teach drivers how to bring their car around a high-traffic track. Most people will start their journey with racing experiences, which pair individuals with a local driver to see if they’re cut out to drive around a track at high speeds. Then, new drivers can take NASCAR driving courses on how to operate on a track, including racing lines, bumping other cars, and safety procedures, so they have all the knowledge necessary to get on the track safely.
The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) sponsors many driving schools. They usually center a majority of the programs around driving specific cars, like BMWs or Corvettes. However, the SCCA also sponsors schools like the Skip Barber Racing School, which helps drivers learn open-wheeled racing like those in Indy Car and Formula 1.
Attending a racing school is a great way to get driving experience, but it won’t give you all the driving skills to be a successful racer. Education is not a replacement for experience, but it can be a great place to start your NASCAR racing journey.
Is There Such Thing as Being too Old to Race?
Since drivers typically work on their competition license at a young age, you might think you can’t become a professional driver if you’re older. However, NASCAR is one sport where older people are still competitive with young rookies on the track.
In 2014, Clayton Rogers became one of the oldest NASCAR rookies at 33 years old. However, many NASCAR racers are competitive as they age. Hershel McGriff holds the record for being the most senior driver in a NASCAR race, at over 90 years old.
Conclusion About How to Become a NASCAR Driver
In summary, becoming a NASCAR driver is challenging. However, getting to the top is rewarding for those who make it to the Cup Series. Drivers rely on hard work and good luck to work their way through the different racing series.
Finally, next time you watch a NASCAR race, pay attention to the records of the top drivers. You’ll see how their experience has helped them earn their competition license and get them to the finisher’s circle.