National Motorsport Academy

Getting Started in Motorsport: So You Wanna Be a Race Car Driver?

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The most common questions we’re asked here at the NMA are from absolute beginners. The newbies, the young lads and lasses, the parents of the keen and the ambitious. Getting started in motorsport can be tough and there are no quick fixes and easy ways in. Carving out a career in motorsport takes hard work, determination and a whole lot of sacrifice. Depending on your chosen field or career aspirations, it can also cost money, a lot of money!

So, here’s our quick guide to Getting Started in Motorsport. Starting with how to become a racecar driver. Beware, it may burst a few bubbles!

So, You Wanna Be a Racecar Driver?

Most of the questions we get from parents are to ask for help and advice in furthering their child’s aspirations of becoming a racing driver. Only a small smattering of people ever reach the top echelons of motorsport, especially drivers. It’s possibly an even more competitive career path than that of a professional footballer.

Let’s face it. We’d all love to be paid millions, travelling first class around the world, hoards of adoring fans – all for doing what most of us love – driving! Whether you have your sights set on F1 or you’re more of an off-road addict, the one thing you can be sure of is that you’re in for some stiff competition. But that’s what it’s all about, right?

Dig Deep

Becoming a successful race car driver takes more than just skill. It also takes more than hard work and determination. It takes money! It’s possibly the most expensive path you could choose if you’re looking to get started in motorsport. Yes, you/your son/your daughter may be the best driver in the world but without some serious financial backing, chances are, the dream will not transform into reality.

We’re not saying that all aspiring Lewis/Lando/Jamie Chadwick’s should give up before they’ve started, but if you’re the parent of an amateur driver, or are looking to fund your own ambitions, be prepared to dig deep – financially and emotionally. The stories of sacrifice when drivers and riders are getting started in motorsport are legendary. Don’t believe us? Here are some family tales from the top drivers in the world –

Then there are the parents who spend every weekend trackside – prepping and fixing cars and egos, volunteering as marshals in all weathers. The endless emails and networking for sponsorship, the hours spent driving up and down the country or even continent. The love of a parent knows no bounds!

Show Me the Money

Money talks in motorsport, there’s no way around it. Many top drivers were lucky enough to have the level of financial backing needed to get started in motorsport without the constant drive for sponsorship. We’re not saying that these drivers didn’t have to skill to succeed but money helped too.

Don’t forget nepotism as a way of getting into motorsport. We’re sure you’re statistically more likely to get a top-level drive or ride if your family’s history is rooted in the sport. We’re not naming any names, obviously!

DIY in Motorsport

There are also some success stories where people funded their own success in motorsport. Sébastien Loeb qualified as an electrician and spent every penny he earnt on his career choice, as much out of love as out of ambition. This is more often the case with off-road drivers, where getting started is generally cheaper because the cars are usually modified road cars.

If you’re not made of money, don’t have a rich mum and dad or a multinational conglomerate at your disposal, you’re going to need sponsorship! Getting started in motorsport means building a team around you of advocates, people who have a vested interest in seeing you succeed. This is where you need to consider PR & Marketing.

Creating a Value Proposition

Many professional racing drivers are not commercial people. There are some exceptions, but this is a skill learnt over years of hawking for sponsorship, of networking with industry bigwigs to get what they want – money to race. For this you need to create your brand, your USP, your value proposition.

No one really gives anything away for free. Most business owners have worked very hard to get to where they are and they aren’t going to support your/your child’s ambitions if there isn’t anything in it for them. Having their name emblazoned on the side of a car or bike isn’t usually enough to get people to part with their cash, especially in today’s difficult business climate.

The most common train of thought when looking for sponsorship is to look close to home. But does your local animal feed shop or electrical components manufacturer really care about your dream to race? Probably not. The world has changed. Getting sponsorship as a racing driver used to be about mobbing local companies or anyone who would benefit from advertising to the motorsport audience on track and on TV. Nowadays, you need to find a way to tap into companies who can benefit from an association with you.

Start your own You Tube channel giving advice to other budding drivers. Look for brand specific companies who would grow a qualified and like-minded audience. If you’re racing MX-5s, look at parts suppliers, specialist garages, any company who would benefit from advertising to other MX-5 nuts. Style yourself as an expert in your field. Blog. Share your stories on Instagram using all the right hashtags and tagging your suppliers in your posts. Above all don’t ask for something for nothing. People hate it. Create a proposition that businesspeople will respect. Show them that they will benefit from their ‘investment’ in you and your brand.

There are lots of guides out there for help securing sponsorship as a racing driver. We’re not going to recommend anyone specific as many are paid-for books or part of a driver-coaching proposition. You may be better putting a business plan together or asking for help from a local marketing agency. Think outside of the box. And don’t give up. There will be more no’s than yes’s but if your commitment is there, your passion shows through and you can give your sponsors some bang for their buck, you will prevail.

Be Realistic

To wrap this up – most drivers don’t ever make it in the sport as a professional. Sorry but it’s a sad fact. Being realistic is crucial. Draw a line in the sand. If you’re in your late 20’s or older, your chances of making it are slim. Don’t pin all of your hopes on one dream when actually you could get as much enjoyment and competitive satisfaction working in other areas of motorsport.

Getting started in motorsport can mean many things. You can look for work with a local team or track. Volunteer as a scrutineer or marshal on weekends. Look to support your driving ambitions by immersing yourself in the industry that you love. Already work with cars? Consider upskilling with a motorsport specific degree. Have a back-up plan.

Even if you do make it as a professional racing driver, careers can be short-lived. Consider what you will do at the end or when the young upstarts are snapping at your heels. Pro-racing driver Martin Plowman considered just this when he decided to study with the NMA. Conscious that he wouldn’t be a top-level driver forever, Martin has found a way to stay within the sport he loves and give himself a career when he hangs up his helmet. You can read Martin’s story here.

Our Top Resources for Wannabe Drivers

For those of you finally admitting to yourselves that you’ll never be behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car but still want to race, Red Bull have put together a handy list of the cheapest ways to get into motorsport without breaking the bank. Take a look.

Motorsport UK have also created a guide to Getting Started in Motorsport.

Car Throttle have assembled 10 Top Tips for becoming a racing driver.

Here’s Top Gear’s Guide.

And finally, the Guardian warn it’ll be years until you make any money but their guide is well worth the read. 

Next week’s blog will look at the best ways to get into motorsport engineering. So if you’re weekend warrior looking for that first big job, or an automotive mechanic who wants to cross over into motorsport, keep your eyes peeled for the next instalment.

Get Your Career Back On-Track

Gaining a motorsport engineering degree can be the difference between that next promotion or learning the up-to-date skills needed to apply for that new job. Study part-time, from anywhere, with our online motorsport engineering degrees.

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