You too can become a race car driver – and it’s easier than you think.
If standing on a podium being cheered on by thousands of fans after a jaw-dropping final lap sounded like the coolest thing in the world to you as a kid – or still does – living out a racing dream doesn’t have to remain a fantasy. While many elite racers are groomed from a young age, usually beginning with karting, if a driving pedigree wasn’t in the cards for your younger self, don’t give up just yet. Through track days, racing events and clubs, and High Performance Driving Education (HPDE), the tricks of the world’s most adrenaline-pumping trade are well within reach – and, for the truly dedicated, a shot at going pro can happen.
Autocross at Boxerfest. Photo: Jeffrey Liu
Start It Up
It may come as a surprise to those who’ve never looked into it, but across the U.S., many motorsports events allow both novice and accomplished drivers to compete in time trials, drag racing, autocross and more. In some cases, it’s as easy as signing up. Most local tracks have closed sessions that let you drive your vehicle on the course – and get your feet wet in a controlled environment. You can also try autocross at Subaru enthusiast events like Boxerfest.
New racers often overthink their first track day, assuming their vehicle needs to be race-ready with roll cages, expensive fireproof gear and endless horsepower. All you really need, though, is a mechanically sound car, a qualified helmet and an open mind. The key to success is recognizing that speed is actually the last priority when the green flag waves. Instead, focus on preparation, developing skills, patience and enjoying yourself – speed will come.
Another great way to find racing events is to join a club. Two of the largest motorsport sanctioning bodies in the country are the National Auto Sports Association (NASA) and Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). Each offers similar events, from open track days to more competitive wheel-to-wheel racing, time trials
On track for time attack. Photo: Matthew Viramontes / MCV Imagery
For adrenaline junkies looking to take their skills to the next level, HPDE is a natural, giving participants seat time and a chance to learn how to approach a course. Although HPDE organizations at tracks across the country take different approaches, drivers are generally paired with instructors, with knowledge conveyed via a combination of classroom sessions and on-track driving. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a pro in the family, there aren’t many better ways to learn the sport than the one-on-one instruction offered by HPDE.
HPDE student Matt Bradley in his 2002 WRX. Photo: KW-CaliPhoto
Advancing through the ranks is about more than being the fastest driver. Ultimately, speed should be a byproduct of weekends spent learning car control and eliminating bad habits. And remember: A driver who shows up with 800 hp can easily be overtaken by a 165-hp Impreza RS that corners well and has tight lines.
“Take it slow – it’s not a competition, and no one will be impressed by speed,” says Matt Bradley, an up-and-coming HPDE driver who races his 2002 Subaru WRX. “What your instructors and classmates will be impressed by is smooth driving, consistent control, situational awareness and showing courtesy on the track.” Bradley has recently been promoted to the more advanced HPDE3 group. Preparation, he says, is key to a successful track day. Make sure to carefully study rules, monitor vehicle fluids and have a maintenance checklist. And remember to bring plenty of sunblock, water and energizing snacks. A fatigued driver is dangerous to himself and others.
Thomas Smith on track in his 2005 WRX STI. Photo: White Rice Photography
Always learn the proper driving fundamentals and racing lines first, then build speed.
For those with the motivation and talent, going pro is possible. Thomas Smith is a well-known driver in the Subaru community who started out in HPDE and advanced to time trials, time attack and autocross. “Keep an open mind to learn new techniques,” says the pro. “Have patience with yourself and others around you. Remember that your and others’ safety should be your No. 1 priority. Always learn the proper driving fundamentals and racing lines first, then build speed.”
The ultimate lesson? Whether you plan to go all the way or just enjoy learning the art of high-performance driving as an incredible weekend hobby, racing dreams really can come true.
Not many things in life are as thrilling as putting the pedal to the metal in a high-performance machine. Feel the need for speed? You’re in luck: Whether you’re a novice or near-pro, there are countless schools, clubs and tracks across the country that can help you develop your skills and crank up the adrenaline. Read on for a primer on the many ways you can participate in the world’s most exciting sport.
Drag racing at the Subaru Shootout. Photo: D. Chase Photography
For those just starting out, the first step is to decide which discipline, or disciplines, you want to invest your time, energy and resources in. Choose carefully – each offers its own set of thrills and challenges!
Autocross is a great way to get started. Courses are set up in a paved lot with a series of cones marking the course, designating apexes and direction of turns. Autocross can often be found at Subaru events, and instructors are frequently available for ride-alongs. You don’t need to mod your car to participate, but you may want an extra set of tires. You’ll also need a certified helmet.
Rallycross, also known as RallyX or “autocross on dirt,” is a solo event on grass and/or dirt. At the amateur level, no roll cage or car safety equipment is required, with each vehicle taking a series of timed runs on a coned course. This differs substantially from professional rallycross events that feature numerous cars and door-to-door racing.
Drifting requires deep skills to keep the car in oversteer as you maneuver from turn to turn. Courses are marked with clipping points, clipping zones and touch-and-go areas. Driver scores can vary by event but are usually based on entry speed, line clipping, angle, counter steering and presentation.
Endurance racing puts the durability of the car and stamina of participants to the test, with teams of drivers covering long distances. Most races last a grueling 24 hours with several driver changes. While some series offer the chance to try out test driving and team skills at an elite level, others – like LeMONS – also give teams the chance to compete for the sheer fun of it in inexpensive cars.
Drag Racing is the perfect way to win bragging rights over friends, with two vehicles going head-to-head. Drag strips hold open events on a regular basis, allowing all comers to take a pass down the quarter mile. Insurance and identification are required prior to racing.
Subaru BRZ in action at Global Time Attack. Photo: Matthew Viramontes of MCV Imagery
Time Attack is a race against the clock, challenging drivers to push the limits of their concentration. During a session, drivers take turns on the circuit, each trying to clock the fastest lap. Class categories include street, modified and unlimited. Vehicles must pass inspection prior to events.
Rally is near and dear to the heart of Subaru. Harness your back-road spirit at events built around timed stage runs. In addition to national series, regional events are held across the country, offering drivers and co-drivers of all skill levels the chance to participate in open, production, 2WD and 4WD classes. Vehicles must pass inspection prior to each event.
Autocross at Rocky Mountain Subaru Festival. Photo: Jeffery Liu
SCHOOL’S IN SESSION!
High performance driver education (HPDE) offers entry-level drivers an intro to road racing at locations across the country, but rally education at the novice level is tougher to find. Love rally and want to get involved? Consider the following schools.
DirtFish Rally School
Subaru is the exclusive vehicle partner of DirtFish. The school uses Subaru models to teach control, confidence and safety behind the wheel, with classes ranging from two hours to three days for 2WD or 4WD vehicles. After completing the three-day program, students can opt for the three-day advanced course, where the focus is no longer on mastering the basics but on mastering advanced driving techniques.
The Florida International Rally & Motorsport Park (FIRM)
The FIRM is ideal for advanced driver education and vehicle test sessions. With European-style rally training, RallyPro Performance Driving School provides a full array of comprehensive, rally-based training courses for road course and low-traction driving conditions. Students can train in 2WD and 4WD rally cars, performance street cars and more.
In addition to HPDE and rally schools, a number of clubs host series across the country. They can also serve as sanctioning bodies for other organizations’ series.
Sports Car Club of America (SCCA)
The Sports Car Club of America has some of the deepest roots in professional and amateur motorsports in the country. Dating back to 1944, SCCA began as a group of enthusiasts, moved to organizing professional motorsports events and eventually opened up amateur drivers’ championships. Today the SCCA stages a wide range of events, from autocross to time trials to rally.
National Auto Sport Association (NASA)
The National Auto Sport Association was formed in 1991 to give drivers the opportunity to test their limits behind the wheel. NASA now offers a number of ways for drivers to take part in motorsports. From HPDE to advanced competition series, including road racing and rally sport, NASA has something for everyone.
Drag racing at the Subaru Shootout. Photo: D. Chase Photography
SERIES AND TRACKS
No matter where you are, series and tracks can help you develop your racing skills.
Redline Time Attack
Redline holds exciting sports car and tuner-based road racing events on the West Coast. Cars are classed based on their drive type (FWD, RWD, AWD) and level of modification.
Speed Ventures introduces drivers to road racing on California and Nevada’s top tracks. Explore your car’s performance potential and build your skills in a safe, controlled environment.
Speed District offers drivers the opportunity to hone their skills in an uncongested setting by limiting entries, allowing for smaller run groups and a wide-open track at sessions throughout the day.
Great Lakes Dragaway
This quarter-mile drag strip gives enthusiasts a chance to take in a show or test their launch at an open track day. Now celebrating its 62nd year, Great Lakes Dragaway hosts a wide variety of events every month, from fun runs open to all types of vehicles to street-style drags.
Spread out over 300 scenic acres, Gingerman Raceway prides itself on its dedication to driver safety, with a course layout designed to minimize potential damage to vehicles and racers. Nevertheless, the course’s 11 turns over 1.88 miles makes for a challenging and satisfying run.
The unique bracket-style racing at Stateline Rallycross substitutes a traditional orange cone course with rally-type route markers, resulting in fewer penalties and more seat time.
Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course has two challenging track configurations, a 2.25-mile track with 13 turns and a 2.4-mile configuration with 15 turns. Explore the possibilities with car club races, test days and driving school.
AZP Track Events
Designed for Subaru vehicles, this series of track days is ideal for drivers of all skill levels. Instructors are available for questions and ride-alongs.
New Jersey Motorsports Park
The New Jersey Motorsports Park offers two road courses, Thunderbolt and Lightning. Thunderbolt features 2.25 miles of asphalt with 12 challenging turns and a half-mile straightway, while the fast and challenging Lightning is 1.9 miles with 10 corners.
American Endurance Racing (AER)
Organized with simple rules, AER is suited for almost any production-based race car. Vehicles are classified by performance based on qualifying times posted in designated sessions.
Racing vehicles shown are driven by professionals on closed courses. Do not attempt. All Subaru vehicles sold by Subaru of America are designed and built for normal driving conditions. The Subaru Limited Warranty, as well as the Subaru Added Security program, may exclude damage or failure resulting from modifications or participation in competition or racing events. See the Subaru Warranty and Maintenance booklet for further details.
It is recommended to participate in a sanctioned racing event. Most events and series require a licensed and insured driver 18 years or older, a helmet and the vehicle to pass inspection. Some events may require a competition license and additional safety equipment. Details can be found on series websites.
Autocross event at Boxerfest. Photo: Jeffrey Liu