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 how to get into road racing, 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. The other two national groups are the BMW Car Club of America and the Porsche Club of America. If you are interested in vintage racing (generally cars from the 1970s or earlier), you'll want to check out the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA). There are also many regional clubs like the Midwestern Council of Sports Car Clubs (Chicago area) or the Porsche Owners Club (Southern California).

Tip #1: One very useful thing to be aware of - one that isn't explicit on most of the websites - is that acquiring your license from one of these sanctioning bodies in essence certifies you with all 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. You may have to get a physical exam on the forms of the additional sanctioning body you're applying to. And you should plan in advance, because the paperwork has to be processed by headquarters, not at the track.

Tip #2: Because of Tip #1, if you are in a hurry to get your license, you can choose the school that is closest and/or best fits your schedule rather than waiting for your preferred sanctioning body to hold a convenient school.

We concentrate here on the SCCA and NASA because they are the largest sanctioning bodies and therefore are most likely to have something of interest to you.

Tip #3: To get your full competition license, you will have to do a few races with your initial sanctioning body, which is somewhat easier if you pick a group that has plenty of events near you. 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:

SCCA

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 on their site. If you already know that you want to go road racing, for now I would suggest scrolling past the links at the top of the page that point to Programs/Road Racing and head straight for the licensing steps listed here. I'd still encourage you to checkout the full site 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.

NASA

The National Auto Sport Association's system is different from the SCCA's, both in the process and in the complexity of finding the information you need in order to get licensed. But as with 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 need to understand that NASA uses an "HPDE Ladder" approach. Rather than going to school one time, you participate in various NASA HPDE events. Your instructor signs you off as you learn skills until eventually you get a provisional license. Then you can go racing. Here are details of the HPDE process.

Philosophy

It probably isn't obvious, but NASA and SCCA have completely different philosophies of licensing. In a nutshell, SCCA sends you to school to learn the procedural aspects of racing: how to recognize flags, how to do a race start, how to see the race line, what is a good or a bad pass, etc. In short, how to be safe. SCCA doesn't spend a lot of time on how to go faster; they let you work on that over time and in your own way once you have your provisional license. NASA on the other hand, puts you in a car and works on driving skills. In short, how to go fast. Then, once you have your license, you practice the procedural elements. Neither SCCA or NASA is as pure as we're making it sound, but there is a different order of learning in each sanctioning body. Both systems work, but you may have a preference.

National Schools

You also have the option of driving schools like Skip Barber and Bondurant. 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. And they have schools all the time, whereas local SCCA or BMWCCA schools may only occur once a year near you. The national schools also supply a car, although (Tip #4) you can rent a race car for an SCCA school and use your street car for NASA HPDE. The drawback here is that the cost of a national school is significantly higher than entering individual HPDEs through NASA or a local school with SCCA. But then again, if you're like me, you don't want to miss half of the 2014 season getting licensed either.

 

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.

TOTALS

$90.00
110.00
$440.00
$45.00
TOTAL
$685.00

 

In the next installment of this series, I'll walk you through my experience at school. 

 

+ The Guide to Road Racing Table of Contents