Start Your Engines; How to Find Yourself in The Driver’s Seat

The questions have been asked by thousands of those watching stock car racing on television or upon a fan’s first visit to a race track. Hey, this looks easy. I could do that. How do I get started?!

by Tim Terry 

First of all, any driver will tell you it isn’t as easy as it looks but the thrill you get from being behind the wheel is something that cannot be duplicated. Take that feeling of the g forces pulling you around the corner and put dozens of other drivers out there against you with the same goal of putting their car in victory lane and it is a feeling that most will call indescribable.

So, how do you get started?

Let’s get one thing straight. Regardless how easy you think it is, you’re not going to strap into a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race car and go out and win races. This isn’t NASCAR Heat 4. Everyone in the top echelons of the sport has had years of experience, paid their dues or has sponsorship backing behind them to get to where they are. Not a single one of the 40 drivers in the Cup Series decided they wanted to go racing and slid in the window of one of these cars. Keep this in mind, there are thousands of race car drivers in the world, but only 40 of them get to be in NASCAR’s top series.

Again, the question is asked how do I get to that level?

If you are between the ages of eight and 16, you can bug your parents about getting into the Bandolero division within the region. A Bandolero is a spec, turnkey race car that comes out of US Legend Cars International (USLCI) in Harrisburg, North Carolina.

The car features a sealed Briggs and Stratton motor that cranks out around 30 horsepower and is the quintessential starting point for a child in racing. All the parts for these, along with their sister car the Legend, come from USLCI and are available through their network of dealers, which include R&D Performancentre in Lower Onslow, Nova Scotia and MNR Performance in Newfoundland in Atlantic Canada. Those dealers can get you started, from full cars to all the safety gear you would need and everything in between. Like any vehicle though, used cars are also available from those aging out of the program or end up going a different direction.

The Bandolero program came to Atlantic Canada in 2006 with its debut at Scotia Speedworld and has recently took off again within the Halifax area. Stock car racing seemingly ebbs and flows in popularity and car count and Scotia Speedworld is currently in a peak. Two dozen Bandolero teams are a part of the Weekly Racing Series with several of those youngsters having ties to others that have raced or have racing in their family lineage – but some have seen the product of racing at their local track, asked those questions and now find themselves within the sport.

Maybe you are in Atlantic Canada but not based in Halifax? No sweat. Several tracks have Bandolero divisions on their regular racing roster, including Petty International Raceway in River Glade, New Brunswick, Oyster Bed Speedway in Oyster Bed Bridge, Prince Edward Island and Sydney Speedway in Sydney, Nova Scotia. INEX, the global sanctioning body for Bandolero and Legend car competition, governs rules for these cars, meaning you can go to hundreds of tracks and race your Bandolero or Legend car without having to make significant changes to your race car. It is not uncommon to see teams from the Maritimes head south in the off-season to compete at major INEX events to help sharpen their skills to use at home.

Maybe you are over the age of 16 and want to race in Atlantic Canada, that’s great too. There are plenty of options to get your racing career started. We mentioned the Legend car, which is a great option. USLCI and INEX do a great job trying to keep the cost contained (did you know INEX is short for INEXpensive?) while keeping the sport fun. A Legend car is a handful if you’ve never driven one before. A Yamaha motorcycle engine combined with the light weight and short wheel base of the cars have the best of drivers on their toes as they navigate traffic. You can check out more information on these cars and how you can get a test drive in one by visiting your local dealer or checking out the USLCI website at USLegendCars.com.

You can also get your hands dirty if you want and build your own race car. Every race track in the region offers a four cylinder class of some sort to get your feet wet in racing. These divisions give you a chance to either build a car or buy a car and get a taste of the sport while also spending a fraction of the amount you would by racing a Late Model or a Legend car.

A four cylinder car is also easier to fix most times, both in knowledge and for your wallet, should you find yourself having to make repairs early in your racing career. While the front wheel drive racecars will drive and react incredibly different than a rear wheel drive car will, you will at least get the feel for racing and whether you want to pursue the sport further than just getting started.

If you have never owned your own race car before, two aspects will likely be stressed early in your racing career – your pocketbook and your patience. No hobby is cheap anymore but the thrill you’ll get by being behind the wheel is priceless. Most race teams, whether you are in the top levels of the sport or you are in the four cylinder ranks, rely on sponsorship and advertising to help off set the costs of going racing each week. Sure, most newcomers will think off the bat that you will go buy or build a car and then get paid each week and make money.

It isn’t that easy. Most tracks do not have big payouts, especially with weekly shows, and to be successful, you need to spend time working on your car. Like your street car, that preventative maintenance costs money.

Whether it is an oil change or preparing damage from the week prior, it costs money and takes time to prepare. The old adage that “races are won and lost in the shop” comes into play more times than not. Not to mention, it takes gas money to get a car to and from the track. Pit passes for a driver and a crew to get the car on the track can add up along with any registration fees associated with the car and driver. When it boils down to it, every sport has fees you need to pay, so it is really no different here, other than you’re dealing with a race car as your equipment instead of a stick and ball.

Some drivers and teams will spend their entire local racing career in the Four Cylinder class at their local track and there is nothing wrong with that. Some teams simply cannot afford to move up the ranks, it doesn’t fit their budget, and that’s fine. They get their need for speed while having fun and putting on a show for the fans and that is what this sport is all about. The foundation of a great weekly program at your favorite short track is based with the stars of the four cylinder classes, it makes the program strong and without them a racing card wouldn’t be the same at most venues.

Patience. You might think as a fan watching a race, some drivers might not have much patience – and that’s fine. Those drivers are the ones that put on a show and keep fans coming back every week. I’m talking about the patience you might not see from the grandstand.

Sure, some newcomers will hop into a quick race car and not miss a beat. In every crowd, there is bound to be one Sidney Crosby or Wayne Gretzky. A majority of new drivers will struggle early trying to not only get up to speed themselves but dialing in their racecars. Once you’ve adjusted your car to go fast, a driver will need to get the line down and get comfortable with their car.

Not to mention, once they are comfortable, they have to run in traffic and that traffic will have to get comfortable with the new driver. A driver will get frustrated when they cannot get the hang of it right away but those that stick with it and see it through are typically the ones that eventually start to see success. Just remember – don’t give up and hard work pays off.

Once you are established and running up near the front, beginning to start to feel invincible, something will likely end up knocking you down. You’ll have long nights, nights where things break which turn into long nights in the shop. That one long night that turns into a long week could turn into long weeks and last a full season. Like life in general, it is the ones that persevere that usually eventually come out on top at the end of the day. The same can be said about stock car racing.

How do you go about looking for a race car? Get out to your local track, get into the pits and start asking questions. Get a feel for how things work at your local track before diving in head first. Like everything, the internet and social media are great tools to help you out. Facebook has various racing related classified groups for Atlantic Canadians and can help you find what you need. If you are getting into four cylinder racing, you can also look for a used car, buy that and build a race car of your own. Of course, you should consult with your local race track for a building rules book so you can know what you can or can’t race at the track.

If you are stumped or perplexed, the best place to go is to your local track. Contact the technical director or the race operations crew and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ultimately, those folks are race fans and would love to see more people involved in the sport and more cars on the track. You’ll quickly find that the racing community is one big family. Sure, you might have a quarrel at times or disagree with things but at the end of the day, everyone comes to the track because they love the sport. You’ll create friendships that will last a lifetime and that is something you cannot put a price on.

Hopefully we could shed some light on this and hopefully we will see you at the track soon!

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