I just finished 3 years of karting with reasonable success, and want to progress to cars. I have no idea where to start, so now what?
How do I get a license to go automobile racing?
Why should I look at F1600?
Why should I race in F2000?
What does it cost to drive a F2000 in the Series?
What are the costs for F1600?
What does the F1600 and F2000 Series offer in the way of press coverage and marketing?
I’m under 18 years old and I want to compete at Watkins Glen International. How do I go about it?
Q: I just finished 3 years of karting with reasonable success, and want to progress to cars. I have no idea where to start, so now what?
A: You have a number of choices, but I would probably first go to a professional driver school (look on http://scca.com web site for accredited Driver Schools). This accomplishes two things; gets you in the seat of a racecar on a racetrack and gives you credit towards a racing license (see FAQ below). You need nothing in the way of equipment at this stage. While expensive at first look, they really are very economical in the scheme of things for what they give you. If you have your own car, or access to a car, you can go to a SCCA driver’s school. Different regions of the club put on schools at different racetracks during the season. You will need at least one school, and probably two to get a regional license, which is not enough for our Series. You will then have to race in 4 regional races to qualify for a national license (what we require). This is fairly time consuming and why the professional school may be the best option. Once you’re successfully through the school and have the license, you have some decisions to make.
I should note that if you are very experienced in karting, and can prove you have enough hours driving a race car somewhere, we the Series can at our discretion issue you a provisional Pro license which will allow you to compete under our observation.
First, you have to buy your personal equipment; a driver’s suit, helmet with tear offs, gloves, shoes, HANS device, arm restraints, hood, long underwear. While you don’t have to buy the most expensive products out there, there are some minimums. Buy name brand products from a reputable supplier. The helmet has to be Snell rating SA 2010 or newer, but since the SA 2010’s are available, buy nothing less. Make sure it fits, and I recommend sticking with the most popular brands in case you have to go buy a visor or tear offs at a track somewhere. The HANS; while the Series only requires a ‘SFI rated head and neck device’, I know of nobody who has anything other than the HANS. Most modern formula cars favor the #30 model. The suit can be two or three layer but must meet SFI minimum ratings- no single layer suits meet the minimum. Again, stick with a recognized brand such as Sparco, Impact, OMP, Simpson (there are other good suits). I highly recommend long underwear, even with a suit that doesn’t require it- this is from a hot personal experience.
Next, you have to decide if you want to own your own car. Are you mechanically inclined? Do you have tools, a trailer capable of transporting the car and something to pull it? There is a host of equipment necessary to campaign a F1600 or F2000 at this, or really any level. If you don’t have any of the above, even if you are mechanically competent, I would strongly advise using a prep shop in some capacity the first year until you get a chance to see what its all about. The prep shop can help you buy the car, show you how to prep and maintain it, and give you invaluable information on the subtleties of these cars and the Series. The shop will have all the necessary tools and equipment, so you can see what you’ll have to buy in year two.
Third (or first!), and maybe something you think you know, but may reconsider with experience; what are your goals in racing? Are you planning to drive racecars for a living? How are you going to get to the Indianapolis 500, F1, whatever? Do you have a source of money? Racing is expensive and we have some hard numbers of what you’ll most likely have to spend to become a competent professional driver. Focus on the goal, map your path, and spend the money wisely. You have to start somewhere and F1600 or F2000 have been an early rung of many of the top drivers in motor sports, so we know it is a proven path.
In the early years you need seat time, seat time, seat time; and then you need competition, lots of it. A great statement I heard from an ex Formula One driver was that great talent will almost always rise to the top and be discovered, regardless of where it comes from. This means you do not have to spend huge amounts of money in the early years on marketing, public relations, and racing in the ‘right place’ to be seen. Spend it on seat time and the fiercest competition you can find. If you’re good, you’ll be noticed. Then you’ll have to follow it up with racing in the ‘right series’ and the surrounding high profile event circus; that’s where you will have to spend the real money, and that’s at least two years away, if not more.
Q: How do I get a license to go automobile racing?
A: While there are many types of car racing with many different requirements, I’ll limit my response here to road racing in the F1600 and F2000 Championship Series. Both Series are sanctioned by SCCA Pro Racing ( http://scca.com ) and require a Pro Competition license in order to participate. You should carefully read the relevant sections on the SCCA website. The Series can accept recognized licenses from other sanctioning bodies at their discretion, such as IMSA, Grand AM, FIA, IndyCar and NASA.
To get a SCCA license you have to satisfy certain requirements. A background in Karting helps, but somewhere, you have to get in a car and demonstrate your ability to drive it on a racetrack. The SCCA website describes in detail how to get a license, and we, the Series will be happy to assist you once you become a registered entrant. As said in answer to another question, if you don’t have any experience in a car, I highly suggest you enroll in a SCCA approved professional driver school first. If you have some experience and can prove it, we can, at our discretion, issue a provisional Pro license. Call us, describe your experience; we’ll tell you if we think you’ll qualify and direct you to the right person at SCCA for help.
Q: Why should I look at F1600?
A: F1600, often called FF or Formula Ford, has a rich history in both the USA and around the world. The first F1600’s were introduced to the USA in 1969 and have been continuously raced ever since. It is a non-winged purpose built single seat race car which is well known to be a great training ground for career minded drivers, and a highly competitive class for all participants. It has a reputation for being one of the most economical classes, and with the addition of the FIT motor from Honda to the class, the cost saving just got better. Many of the top drivers in the world started in FF, including Aryton Senna in Europe and Michael Andretti in the USA.
Q: Why should I race in F2000?
A: F2000 is a formula that was developed in England in the mid 1970’s and has gone through a couple of evolutions to become one of the best rides for the money in road racing. It is a step up from F1600, with the addition of more horsepower, larger tires and aero considerations in the form of wings and diffusers. The suspension geometry of a modern F2000 is as sophisticated as anything out there, and offers great training for drivers, engineers and mechanics. It is a formula, not a spec car, so there are numerous chassis designs, multiple motors allowed, and room to make a better mouse trap.
At the same time, there are enough restrictions to keep costs in check. With all of that, the F2000 Series routinely has top ten qualifying time spreads measured in tenths of a second. The pedigree of top drivers who learned their trade in F2000 include Dan Weldon, Patrick Carpentier, Paul Tracy, Aryton Senna, Sam Hornish, Jr. among many others.
Q: What does it cost to drive a F2000 in the Series?
A: Racing is expensive and costs very widely, but the Series is always trying to contain them. A lot depends on whether you own your car, do your own mechanical work, or hire someone else. At one end of the spectrum is the ‘arrive and drive’ driver: You show up at the track with your suit and helmet and everything else is done for you by a professional ‘prep shop’. The other end is the competitor who transports his own car to the track, does all his own mechanical work with maybe a single volunteer friend to help, and sleeps in the trailer. Our Series has both types and both have had podium finishes.
While the Series does not dictate what a prep shop charges or what you can spend, we have some ideas of what it costs. A season of all the race weekends and some testing with everything in a package deal can probably be negotiated for under $130,000. We are aware of packages by championship winning prep shops for less than that. On the other end, we are aware that some privateer teams spend considerably less that $50,000 and consistently run in the top 10, often top 5. The one big unknown in these numbers is crash damage. You have to be prepared for it because these racecars are driven at the limit of their performance capabilities and there will be crashes. We have seen drivers never turn a wheel wrong and have no damage for an entire season, then crash out 3 races in a row the following season, through no fault of their own. Its just racing.
Q: What are the costs for F1600?
A: As above in F2000, many of the expenses are the same; tires, crew, transport. The big differences between the two are the lack of wings. The lack of wings and diffusers usually makes the crash damage bill far less, as those are what tend to get torn off in a shunt.
In both cases, The Series websites have lists of Prep Shops who already participate and would be happy to talk to you. The Series will answer questions about the various shops, but we don’t play favorites.
Q: What does the F1600 and F2000 Series offer in the way of press coverage and marketing?
A: The Series has a PR/Marketing person on staff (MathisenMedia). All races are covered with press releases to both formula car specific and general automotive publications and websites before, during and after each race weekend.
There are also human-interest stories about drivers and teams similarly distributed. Live timing, audio and twitter reporting covers the races. MathisenMedia is available for hire by any of the teams for more for expanded individual marketing efforts.
Q: I’m under 18 years old and I want to compete at Watkins Glen International. How do I go about it?
A: First, you have to have a valid, acceptable competition license. See the question about how to get your license. Watkins Glen (WGI) is unique among all the tracks we go to in that they require you to sign the liability waiver as an adult. In most states and New York where WGI is located, that is age 18. To do so under that age, you must become either partially or fully ‘emancipated’ or it’s equivalent, and prove it to WGI. A partial emancipation is granted for a specific purpose such as signing a lease or contract, exactly what WGI is looking for. A full emancipation makes you an adult in most activities (no, it does not include things like drinking alcohol or voting) with the attendant responsibilities.
We have a system set up to use the laws of Indiana where a partial emancipation is available for the specific purpose of motor racing. It requires some advance planning, paperwork, a video conference with an Indiana judge and about $3,000 or a little less. We have done this for many drivers; it’s routine and proven.
John LaRue’s contact information:
4910 North Wheeling Ave
Muncie, Indiana 47304