While most people do HPDE as a hobby, some want to go further, pursuing a career in the racing industry. But the path from practicing on a skid pad to making it to the starting line of the Rolex 24 at Daytona isn’t always easy.
Even when you’re a driver who knows your way around the garage and the track, racing can seem mysterious. But getting more involved in motorsports doesn’t have to be intimidating. It turns out that there are lots of ways for racing fans to get more involved, and many don’t require the deep pocket resources or high stress of being a professional driver.
As Practice Leader at Lockton Motorsports, Ryan Staub knows a lot about insurance and a lot about motorsports—he’s a longtime HPDE participant and instructor, and he also co-authored the HPDE First-Timer’s Handbook with Ross Bentley, author of the best-selling Speed Secrets book series. As Staub explains it, you can find a lot of fulfillment in motorsports much closer to home than you think. Here’s what to know.
How Do You Get into Motorsports and Racing?
Just as there’s more than one way to get to the top of the racing industry, there’s more than one way to get started, too. “HPDE is the perfect way to get started,” says Staub. “You will learn the fundamentals of performance driving in a low-pressure, non-competitive environment. Plus, HPDE gives you the incredible opportunity to explore the performance potential of your car on many of the famous racetracks you see the professionals compete at on TV.”
While HPDE is Staub’s pick for motorsports first-timers, it’s not the only option. “For the person that is very competitive, but not ready to make the jump to wheel-to-wheel racing, Time Trial is a great option,” he says. “At Time Trial events, you get to drive on the same great tracks as HPDE events, but you are now competing with others for the best lap time.”
Another great option for getting started is autocross. This type of event is essentially a time trial competition for the best lap time that’s conducted on a large parking lot course outlined by pylon cones, instead of on a permanent road track. “Autocross also tends to be less expensive than the other options, and it offers some unique characteristics that can help drivers develop their skills,” explains Staub.
“The course is different at each event, which helps you develop the skills to learn a new course or track quickly. The speeds at autocross are also lower, which can be less intimidating and help drivers feel more comfortable exploring the limits of their car.” Staub says autocross also helps drivers develop quick reactions. “On a short, tight course, the turns come at you very quickly. But while you need to move fast, this kind of course rewards a really smooth driver.”
How Do You Get into Competitive Racing?
Motorsports events like HPDE, Time Trial and autocross can be a great introduction to high-performance driving. However, the focus is on education—the E in HPDE—and not on wheel-to-wheel competitive racing. But the options for competitive drivers aren’t all that different.
Staub says there are different roads to that kind of competition. “While some racers go straight from street driving to a racing school to earn their competition license, most will find that spending more time at some educational events to develop their driving skills helps them begin their racing adventure more successfully.”
“HPDE and autocross events are two great types of events to expose a new enthusiast to motorsport events, and develop the skills that will put them on the right path for success in car racing.”
What Is Competitive Racing Like?
There are almost as many different types of racing as there are cars, so you may find an opportunity to do not only IMSA racing, SRO racing or IndyCar racing, but also rally racing, drag racing, offroad racing, endurance racing and more.
“Your racing expectations can vary greatly depending on the type of competition,” says Staub. “For example, endurance races are typically longer than a traditional ‘sprint’ race, which might last 20–40 minutes. Most endurance races also involve one or more ‘pit stops’ to add fuel and may also include a driver change. That’s because endurance races are so different than sprints, with events that can last anywhere from one hour to 25 hours.”
There’s even more that can go into an endurance event, notes Staub. “Like any other type of racing event, it is critical to stay out of trouble—don’t break the car, don’t have contact with other cars. But it becomes a bigger priority in endurance racing since the potential for ‘trouble’ increases with the number of laps. To keep the drivers fresh and ready for competition, endurance racing teams may have as many as six drivers, and the team might need to change tires, brakes, or service other items of the car during the race.”
How Do You Attract Car Racing Sponsors?
“Finding sponsors is one of the biggest challenges in all of motorsports,” says Staub. He notes that, while everyone needs sponsors, they typically aren’t attracted to a driver or a race team. “Teams and drivers that are successful with gaining sponsors for their racing program are actively reaching out to businesses that they believe would benefit from exposure to spectators or other competitors at racing events.”
Drivers and teams will utilize different strategies to bring value to their sponsors. “Graphics promoting the brand on the car and the driver’s race suit, special promotional events where the driver and/or car make an appearance at the sponsor’s company events, and hospitality events where the sponsor (and invited guests) are given the opportunity to spend time in the pit lane and garages during a race event are just some of the things teams have tried.” Staub says, “More important than anything else, race teams and drivers must find ways to bring value to companies to gain and retain sponsors that support their racing program.”
How Do You Make It in the Racing Industry?
With the mystery surrounding it, the variety of paths drivers can take, and the trickiness of sponsorship support, making it in the racing industry looks tough even before you consider the driving skill needed. But Staub is optimistic.
“‘Making it’ in the racing industry can mean very different things for different people. For most car enthusiasts, ‘making it’ can be as simple as having fun participating in a handful of Autocross, HPDE, Time Trial, Club Racing or Endurance Racing events each year,” he notes.
“For others, the only way they feel they have ‘made it’ in racing is to have their life centered around this sport. However, while many want the glory of making it as a professional racing driver, there are many other ways to build a career in the racing industry. You can be a part of a race team’s crew, be an event official, build or prepare cars for competition, handle marketing and PR for a race team, or drive a race team’s truck and trailer to and from events.”