The Guide To Road Racing, Part 3: Getting Started - Race School Preparation

By Bradley Iger

February 17, 2014

Now that we've acquired the necessary safety equipment, it's time to get ready for racing school. As you may recall from Part I, we're signed up for Cal Club Super School, a rigorous two-day course which, upon completion, makes us eligible to race the following day. If you're never raced before, you probably have some questions about how to best prepare yourself to be successful in the classroom and on the track. Let's take a look at some of the important steps to take before school starts, and in turn answer some of the questions you're likely to have before you even have to ask them.
How much does school cost?
There are a few components involved in getting to racing school. In the case of the SCCA, the first thing you will need is an SCCA membership, which costs $65 for national dues plus whatever your region's dues are, which range between $0 - $25. Next you will need a Novice Permit, and the fee for that is $110. Since you'll need a sports physical to get your permit, you should factor that into the equation also. Lastly, Cal Club Super School's fee is $440.
Depending on your vehicle situation, you may also need to factor in rental fees as well - we'll get to that next.
What do I need to do before the school begins?
Keep in mind that Cal Club Super School provides instruction and track time - everything else is up to you to get taken care of. This is typical of schools operated by sanctioning bodies like SCCA, NASA and others. If you want more of an “arrive and drive” experience, you should consider one of the racing schools provided by companies like Skip Barber, Bob Bondurant or Jim Russell and those offered by some club tracks like Motorsports Ranch and Autobahn.
So in the case of Cal Club Super School, beyond racing equipment - which we'll get to in a minute - simple logistics like lodging, food and transportation are your responsibility to get sorted out ahead of time. Book your hotel room as far ahead of time as you can to ensure you've got a place to stay, and make sure you book the room for the night before school starts, as well. Classes start early, and you'll still need to take care of a few administrative chores beforehand the morning of, so if you want to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for your first day of class, you don't want to be saddled with driving into town before the break of dawn on your first day.
Once you've got that squared away, it wouldn't hurt to familiarize yourself with the GCR (or CCR if you're running in NASA). If you're going to racing school through the SCCA like we are, you should receive a copy of the current General Competition Rulebook with your Novice Permit. Alternatively, and an electronic version of the GCR can also be found here, and the CCR for NASA can be found here. While there are no expectations that you'll memorize this book cover to cover before school starts, it certainly doesn't hurt to familiarize yourself with some of the procedures and codes of conduct when you have some time to kill in the weeks previous to the start of school.
Do I need to have previous track experience?
Although it is likely that there will be other students in class with previous track experience, either in another discipline or from another sanctioning body, you do not need to have any previous track experience to enroll in school. Understanding the general concept of driving on a track is helpful, and in the case of Spec Miata, you should know how to operate a manual transmission beforehand. Aside from that, the assumption at the start of school is that you have no previous track experience, and all skill levels are welcome.
Aside from safety gear, what other equipment do I need for racing school?
This may or may not be incredibly obvious, but if you don't already have a race-prepped car to use, you're going to need one. This highlights fundamental difference from track days you may have done, as you cannot use a street car for race school. The expectation for schools like the SCCA Cal Club Super School is that you are attending with a car that can pass technical inspection for racing and carries a logbook (from the SCCA in our case). That means you need a car with a roll cage, fire system, qualified seat and harness, safety nets, fuel sampling port, tow hooks, proper decals and transponder. Since you are working toward a license for wheel-to-wheel road racing in race cars this requirement is actually pretty sensible if you think about it.
If this comes as news to you, don't panic - you can rent a race car. There are many kinds of race cars available to rent. A logical move is to rent the kind of car you plan to race. If you are unsure of what that will be, then the easiest and probably least expensive approach is to rent a Spec Miata. SM cars are available just about everywhere and make for fantastic learning tools. A quick Google search of "Spec Miata rental" generates numerous options around the country, and in our case, Cal Club itself provides several options for rentals right here.
Do I need to get my license for each kind of car I plan to race?
If you have an SCCA Novice Permit (or Provisional License in NASA) or a full SCCA or NASA Competition License you can drive in any class. Be aware that other sanctioning bodies may have additional restrictions for certain classes.
However, you should be aware that this does not mean you can drive any car in any event. Some sanctioning bodies have some special events that require different licensing. For example, SCCA has some "pro" series like Pirelli World Challenge that require additional licensing. Also, if you are switching from closed wheel to open wheel competition you may wish to attend a class with specific emphasis on open wheel techniques.
Should I bring anyone else with me?
It's generally a good idea to bring at least one other person with you, so long as they're aware that there will be tasks that need to be accomplished both while you're in class and when you're getting ready to head out on track. Classes are scheduled such that you're given enough time to suit up and perhaps put some fuel in the car before each track session, and anything more elaborate is going to require someone else to service the car while you're in class. If your car didn't go through tech inspection before the start of the first day of class, someone will need to take it to tech before you get out of the first instruction session or you will run the risk of losing some track time.
If nothing else, having someone there to help you make sure everything is in order while you're getting yourself together for your first outing on the racetrack will relieve a significant amount of stress and allow you to focus on the task at hand, relax, and enjoy driving the race car.
If you do plan to roll solo and could use a little help prepping the car, many of the same companies that offer car rentals can also provide track side support. Cal Club's website has links to the companies that offer trackside support as well. Keep in mind that trackside support will not come cheap, so factor this into your expenses if you plan to go that route.
If they're not riding with me on track, is it still a good idea to bring someone with racing experience along?
It's immensely helpful to have an experienced racer on hand when getting ready to hit the track for the first time. Putting technique and driving tips aside for the moment, if racing is new to you, tasks like installing your HANS device on your helmet properly will be made infinitely easier if you have a knowledgeable individual on hand to provide some guidance. Understanding how to properly belt yourself into the car may seem simple, but when you're wearing full protective gear and a race helmet, simple undertakings become significantly more difficult to accomplish without some assistance. Beyond everything else, the built-in confidence that's inherent when you have an experienced driver on hand for any questions you might have or concerns that could arise is extremely useful. Anything that helps take your mind off of stress and distractions and allows you to focus on absorbing the classroom material and improving your ability to drive on the racetrack is worth its weight in gold.
Stay tuned for the next part of the guide, where we will cover the process of the school itself, and address some of the common questions and concerns that may arise during the program.
If you have any questions about preparing for race school that haven't covered here, feel free to shoot us your question in the comments section below.