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How to start racing cars

It's more accessible than ever with arrive-and-drive options for novice racers.

How do I get into racing?

Do you dream of getting behind the wheel of an exotic vehicle on an open track? Explore the world of car racing from styles to costs to insurance options. Consider this your starting line:

  1. Start with go-karts. A large number of professional racers get their start racing go-karts. Go-karts can help familiarize you with many of the driving mechanics and techniques you’ll use on the track.
  2. Research racing styles. What sort of racing are you interested in? From top-tier Formula One race cars to rugged off-road rally cars, research your options when it comes to high-speed racing.
  3. Join the SCCA. The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) runs nationwide programs across the US for both amateur and professional racers. Individual memberships cost between $70 to $100 annually and include eligibility for all SCCA participation licenses, insurance benefits and discounts on SCCA products and services.
  4. Take a driving course. The SCCA runs a number of programs designed to introduce you to the world of racing. One- and three-day driving courses can teach you the rules of the track and the basics of operating a race car. You can also obtain your Novice Permit, which allows you to enter an official SCCA driving school.
  5. Get licensed. Some forms of racing require you to hold a SCCA Competition License. You can obtain one from an SCCA regional driving school. To enter an SCCA driving school, you must have a race-ready car. If you don’t own a race car, you can rent one for $500 to $2,000, depending on the type of vehicle you select.
  6. Find a track. Once you’re licensed, you’re ready to go! Find local racing events in your area through the SCCA or by joining a local motor club.

What kind of insurance do I need for racing?

Many race cars are considered specialty vehicles and need motorsports car insurance coverage that extends above and beyond most standard policies. That’s because it’s expensive to repair race cars.

What else do I need to race?

Aside from your car, there are a number of other things you’ll need come race day:

  • Racing license. You’ll need a novice permit or competition racing license to participate in many local racing events.
  • Protective gear. For your own safety, invest in protective gear before you get behind the wheel. A helmet and driving suit are a good place to start, but also consider a restraint harness, roll cage, driving gloves, driving shoes, hearing protection and fire suppression systems.
  • Pit crew. Your pit crew consists of your crew chief, mechanics and tire specialists. Not all forms of racing require a pit crew, but having a team on-hand come race day can help give you the edge.
  • Spare parts. If something goes wrong on or off the track, you don’t want to be scrambling to find what you need. Bring along a spare set of tires, brake pads, fuses and light bulbs, radiator hoses and engine belts to be safe.
  • Fuel. Bring extra fuel and oil so you can top your vehicle off before the event.

What kinds of cars can I race?

The world of car racing has plenty of options to offer both the novice and professional:

  • Kart racing. Small, open-wheel karts are raced on enclosed circuits.
  • Rallying. A point-to-point race against the clock with custom-built, road-legal cars held on public or private roads.
  • Formula racing. One of the most recognized forms of professional racing that features custom-built, single-seater cars driven on circuit tracks.
  • Drag racing. A straight line race held on a street or track designed to test acceleration over short distances.
  • Off-road racing. Buggies, cars, trucks and motorcycles are used to navigate rugged off-road terrain such as sand, snow and mud.
  • Touring car racing. Heavily modified road vehicles are raced on circuits or road courses for endurance races that last between two and four hours.
  • Production car racing. Also called showroom stock racing, this style of race is restricted to unmodified production cars and is considered one of the most economical forms of car racing.
  • Brand racing. All drivers race with a vehicle from a single manufacturer, such as BMW or Porsche, often with the same model to emphasize driver skill.

Private vs public race tracks

If you’re looking to enjoy a day at the track, you can choose from a public or private track.

Public tracks, like the Virginia International Raceway, are open to the general public as both spectators and drivers. A number of public events are offered, including karting, charity laps, open test days and VIR Club exclusive driving days.

Getting your car onto a public track can still be costly. For example, accessing the Virginia International Raceway requires a club membership. It requires a $3,500 one-time initiation fee upfront alongside monthly membership dues of $175. And any VIR Club member driving day you choose to participate in will cost you an additional $175 per day.

Private tracks like the Monticello Motor Club are open to registered members only and are even more expensive. The Monticello Motor Club offers 4.1 miles of race-grade terrain alongside country club amenities such as trackside support, car storage, car rentals, a private race school and fine dining.

Initiation fees for the Monticello Motor Club start at $60,000 and annual dues start $5,900.

How much does it cost to race cars?

There are a number of costs associated with racing, but these are the big expenses you’ll need to account for:

  • Vehicle. The price of your race car depends on the class of vehicle and type of racing you’re interested in. But be prepared for an upfront cost of at least $10,000 for a used racing vehicle.
  • Vehicle parts. For an eight-race season that includes three sets of tires, two sets of brake pads and extra gas and oil for the car, racers ballpark their parts expenses around $4,000 per season.
  • Protective gear. Racing suits range between $150 and $2,000. Expect to pay at least $500 for a quality racing helmet. Shoes can typically be bought for less than $200.
  • Driving school and license. A novice competition license from the SCCA is $120 and driving courses range in price from $500 to $5,000.
  • Race days and events. Whether you’re racing at a public or private track, you’ll need to pay to use it. Public tracks like Lime Rock Park in Connecticut offer limited access to the track in your own car for $250 a season. Private tracks charge membership fees, some offering unlimited access to the track, but dues typically start at $6,000 annually.

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Bottom line

The world of car racing can get expensive. But If you have the means, testing your skills on the track could bring you thrills.

Find a style of racing that appeals to you and explore your local tracks to get started. And whatever your ride, find the right car insurance to cover your time both on and off the track.

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