Learning Curve: The Attraction Of “Pro” Racing

By Tom Martin

April 21, 2016

Being a racecar driver presents many challenges, not the least of which is the difficulty of explaining it to others. My forthcoming foray into professional racing has been no different. If I tell people I’ll be running the Mazda Battery Tender MX-5 Cup Championship this year, the typical response is “so Spec Miata then? Isn’t that what you’ve been doing?” Well, yes, but mostly no.
Club racing (of which Spec Miata is a category) encompasses a huge number of races across the country. The average club racer can pick and choose any of these races to run with nearly any race-prepped car. Most club racers are pretty chill (there are exceptions) and have few racing ambitions beyond having fun weekends at the track or maybe winning a club championship. In general, club racing is an excellent format because nearly any racer with any car can build a race season around his other commitments. It’s the perfect place for a driver who has a demanding full-time job and for one who is a bit too old and slow to have any shot at making a career out of racing.
And yes, that last sentence describes, among others, me. I started karting about 15 years too late and my typical race result is something like 6th place--better than most people, but not exactly setting the world on fire. So why kid myself about becoming a “pro” racer? Well, let us look at it from a slightly different perspective: all racecar drivers want to win and, in order to do that, continual improvement and ambition are essential. Club racing is fun and there are many very skilled drivers to race with there, but it alone cannot satisfy my ambitions.
Being prone to bouts of silly optimism, I actually have some hefty ambitions. Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans are the greatest races in the world. Why not try to get there? Sure, it’s a long shot, but it’s not like it won’t be fun to try. Even if I don't believe I can be in the top 1% who can climb that ladder on merit alone, I need to be on the ladder, gaining the experience of racing alongside those chosen few.
The MX-5 Cup Championship is an established and proven first rung in that ladder. With sponsors, prize money on the line, legendary tracks, a new and exciting 4th generation MX-5 and the minor glamour of sharing a paddock with Bill Auberlen, Jan Magnussen and Jordan Taylor’s mullet, the pressure is on a whole new level. And all these factors conspire to create a championship that brims with dedicated, hard-working competitors, despite the humble origins of its sole car.
At least that’s what I hope. This is completely new to me, of course. So from this pulpit I intend to chronicle my learnings in the process of trying to be a pro driver. This is not likely to be the story of your hero battling for wins and triumphing over the less-worthy antagonists, but it should be fun.