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In order to be able to race in the spec series you will need a license with NASA. There are three ways to do this. First, you can go through NASA’s HPDE program. The HPDE program allows you to drive a street car with an instructor for most of our training. It’s a terrific way to get going inexpensively and quickly. (You can visit www.elams.org/toys/HPD.htm for more information about what to expect in an HPDE weekend.) Once you have demonstrated that you are ready to apply for your license, you will need to go through a NASA licensing school where you will need a full race car. The licensing schools usually involve a busy Friday of final training and evaluation and you are allowed to race as a novice for the Saturday and Sunday races. (Most NASA weekends have two races.) A typical NASA HPDE weekend costs about $300.

NASA also recognizes licenses from SCCA. That gives you two other choices: SCCA driver’s school or a professional school. There are many SCCA regions around the country and most hold driver’s schools in the Spring and Fall. Since an SCCA license requires you to successfully pass two schools it can take an entire year before you can get on the track. Many SCCA students use schools in different regions to get their two schools. For example, they will attend SCCA school with the Washington region at Summit Point and then go to the North Carolina region school at VIR a weekend or two later. A few SCCA regions have special “double schools” that take 4 days and get the schools done all at once. Roebling Road’s (near Savannah, GA) school is a popular example. You will need a fully prepared race car for both weekends. A typical SCCA driver’s school is about $375 per weekend.

Professional schools such as Skip Barber, Bondurant, and others also offer SCCA licensing schools. These 3-4 day schools have excellent instructors who will cover the basics. You’ll end up with your SCCA provisional license if you pass the school (and most everyone does). Costs vary, but expect to pay about $3,500. The school will provide the car and all safety equipment.

So which way should you go? There’s no right answer. The NASA schools take the longest (expect about a year or a little less), but you don’t have to have a race car to get started. The NASA schools also probably do the best job of teaching car control skills of all three options. That means that when you do hit the track, you’ll be more competitive, faster, and safer than the other approaches. SCCA can be the cheapest (not including car rental), but they only teach the minimums. For both the SCCA and professional schools a common mistake is for people to get their SCCA license and then not to do any more schools. This means you don’t have an instructor helping you get better. You’ll be on the track faster than with NASA, but it will be a while before you get a chance to win a race unless you spend some more time with an instructor.

One thing you don’t want to do is to take your challenge car to the SCCA driver’s school. These schools are notorious for “rookie” mistakes and plenty of bumping and car contact. Rent a car for the weekend. (You can rent cars for $1,200 to $2,000). It’s better to have someone else’s car hit than your challenge car. BTW, don’t worry about renting a fast car for SCCA driver’s school. While everyone wants to go fast, it’s important to remember your goal for the weekend is to get your license. Just stay out of trouble and draw no attention to yourself: Having an under-powered car that is easier to drive can go a long way to helping make sure you accomplish that goal. Just check your ego for the weekend. Once you have your license and your challenge car you can let your ego take off!

The pro schools have great instructors, but it is very hard to absorb as much as they can teach in the short time. One advantage is that you get to try all their safety gear before you buy yours. That might help you pick better gear than you would have normally. You also don’t have to worry about the cars. Because they are taking a lot more money, most professional schools are considered easier to pass. One note: when you get to your first weekend, the race officials are going to watch you *very* closely since they’ll assume that you have received the bare minimum training to be on the track. Your fellow competitors are also likely to be nervous around you until you prove that you aren’t going to wreck them. Try to make your first race not too long after your school: you’ll already have forgotten a lot when you walk out the door and it only gets worse the longer you wait.

CREDIT: Dan Elam

[ January 10, 2007, 11:39 AM: Message edited by: Dan Elam ]
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