The Guide to Road Racing, Part 1: Getting Started - SCCA vs NASA

By Bradley Iger

December 19, 2013

So you want to get started in competitive road racing, but you don't know where to begin? Fret not, as this is the first chapter in our ongoing series chronicling my journey toward the goal of becoming a bonafide race car driver from a background devoid of previous motorsport experience. Accordingly, I'll be starting this process with nothing more than the desire to challenge my fellow man in the arena of amateur motorsport and a vehicle to do it with. So, where to begin? Well, above all else, I knew there was one simple question I needed to answer: What do I need to do in order to get involved? 

If you want get into amateur wheel-to-wheel racing in the United States, you'll need a racing license in order to enter events. While there are many different sanctioning bodies that offer licensing for specific types of racing, the Sports Car Club of America and the National Auto Sport Association are two of the most popular choices and offer a broad range of licensing options. One very useful tip to be aware of - one that isn't very explicit on either site - is that acquiring your license from one of these sanctioning bodies in essence certifies you with both organizations. To put it another way: aside of a bit of paperwork and a chat with an official or two, providing proof of a competition license from one of these sanctioning bodies eliminates the bulk of the tasks you'd need to do in order to get up and running with the other.
Additionally, SCCA and NASA racing licenses are recognized by a number of other specialized motorsport sanctioning bodies as proof of eligibility for licensing, so it makes sense to start here if you want to give yourself a wide range of options in terms of the types of the competitive racing you might want to pursue later on. With that in mind, I set out to determine whether I wanted an SCCA or a NASA racing license. Since either license is transferable to the other, I knew the decision would likely come down to which licensing process would be the most straightforward, useful, and economically feasible.
After spending some time on the SCCA and NASA sites, it became apparent that neither site is especially forthright about how to get your racing license when you have no previous experience. This may be by design or simply a side effect of a website that offers the sheer volume of motorsport information that these do, but regardless, it took a fair amount of digging to get to the pages that offered the specific steps needed to get licensed.
Since I'm interested in wheel-to-wheel spec Miata events, I'll be focusing here on information and links that are geared toward that kind of competition. Fortunately, at this stage in the game, the vast majority of this information is applicable across the board in terms of achieving the goal of getting your racing license and hitting the track. Here are the links you need to care about from each sanctioning body:
No matter what you choose to participate in through the Sports Car Club of America you'll need a membership, which you can sign up for here.
The steps concerning how to obtain your SCCA racing license can be found here. If you already know what kind of racing you want to compete in, for now I would suggest scrolling past the links at the top of the page that point to and head straight for the licensing steps below it. I'd still encourage you to checkout the site above later on though, as it offers some good info about the different types of racing you can get involved with, how much it will cost, and so on.
As you'll discover on the licensing page, after getting your SCCA membership you'll need to get your Examination and Medical History form filled out by your physician and apply for your Novice Permit as well. After that, driver's school is the next piece of the puzzle, and you can find out which schools' programs are accredited by the SCCA here.
The National Auto Sport Association's system is similar to the SCCA's, both in the process and in the complexity of finding the information you need in order to get licensed. Much like the SCCA, to get licensed through NASA, you'll need a NASA membership. You can sign up here.
Next you'll find the information about how to acquire your NASA racing license in this section of the NASA CCR. You'll also need to get your medical form signed off by your physician and you'll also need to fill out the NASA Provisional License application.
In terms of driving schools, you can fast-track the licensing process by attending NASA's official driving school or you can opt to do it piecemeal through a series of instructional events by way of the HPDE process.
Like the SCCA, here you also have the option of driving schools like Skip Barber and Bondurant. Much like NASA's official driving school, these are attractive options because you'll be ready to go wheel-to-wheel racing in just a few days instead of building up to it incrementally over a few weeks or months. The drawback here is that the cost is significantly higher than entering individual HPDEs through NASA. But then again, if you're like me, you don't want to miss half of the 2014 season getting licensed either. So what to do?
As luck would have it, on the SCCA's driver's school calendar I came across the Cal Club Super Driving School. At a fraction of the cost of the aforementioned racing schools, I can walk in on a Friday and have my provisional racing license by the end of the weekend. Since I have the good fortune of having our team's already-prepped spec Miata at my disposal, I realized that the added expense of schools that provided vehicles was totally unnecessary in my particular situation. And since that Miata happens to be parked in a paddock at Buttonwillow Raceway Park - the same location where the Cal Club Super Driving School is - my choice was abundantly clear.
So with my Novice Permit application and Examination and Medical History form in hand, I signed up for the Cal Club Super Driving school and began to prepare for the road ahead.