In our previous article we discussed the costs to rent the ride, but expenses do not end there. To start with, the gentleman driver has to pay to get to the event, hotel accommodations, and the entry fees which start at $2,000 for the racing series we are discussing. On top of that, there’s the potentially large expense of damage incurred to the car while driving it. Actually, lets talk about crash damages and those costs. If a professional driver crashes the car, they are not held liable but it won’t take long before they lose their ride with that team and have no shot with any others. If a gentleman driver is involved in an incident, they are responsible to pay for damages. What’s worse is that someone else could make a really dumb move, slam into you and you will need to write the check for repairs even though you did absolutely nothing wrong. It’s tough to swallow but “that’s racing” as the saying goes and the team needs to repair the car regardless of whose fault it was.
How much these repairs total is dependent upon the amount of damage incurred, how expensive the car is, and the way in which the team handles repair bills. Especially in some of the less expensive rides, some teams don’t make money from renting but instead make it from crash damage repairs. You might be lucky and pay for raw costs. Or it’s possible that the team gets a discounted cost on parts, but you as the renter are charged based upon full retail OEM costs and the team nets the difference. There are also many which make their money off of their labor costs.
Especially driving a more expensive car, damage expenses add up quickly. Take for example a Daytona Prototype. The splitter on the car can easily be destroyed by going off track or hitting something. The typical cost for a replacement splitter? $8,000. Do a bit more damage? A replacement nose on the car runs between $10,000 – $12,000. The car itself costs around $400,000, so you can easily guess how expensive it can become when, not if, things go bad.
There are also instances where someone rents a ride but their co-driver who was driving the car first gets into an accident and they never even get to race the car. Teams are in no way obligated to provide any type of refund, and most don’t. Purchasing crash insurance is a possibility, but if done for a season it typically costs as much as the car itself. These insurance companies realize how much and how often damage occurs in pro racing, therefore they need to develop their policies accordingly.
The Ladder System
Another aspect that makes becoming a paid professional driver in today’s age so challenging is that there is no laid out path or ladder system. During a conversation with a friend who took a hard look into pro racing in the past, he really nailed this aspect.
“There’s no progressive ‘feeder’ system where people at the top are looking at the bottom for talent. It’s all an insulting myth. People are surprised when they learn that there’s really no ‘crossover’ from amateur to professional motorsports, they’re really two totally different animals. The reality of professional motorsports is that you’re going to use your own money to gain initial experience, you’re going to use your own money and marketing talent to gain even more experience, and then you’ll use your even-more-sharpened marketing skills to get the financial backing to buy a professional ride. Then, if you spend a lot of time at that last step, you might – might! – get free rides and possibly even ‘paid’. But what you spent to get there far exceeds what you will get ‘paid’ in the end. The amount of time, effort, and money spent to become The Professional Racer is an absolutely insulting waste of resources. You’ll be doing it because that’s what you want to do and because you can afford it, not to make a living at it.
I’m glad my Racing Cynicism came relatively early, and I decided it was far better to finish my education, get a career, and then go have fun on my own dime. You simply cannot imagine how much less expensive it is in the long run to pay for it all yourself!” Greg Amy
How Cash Changes the Game
If you don’t have a small fortune to spend, you will need to be willing to give up everything in pursuit of this dream and be prepared to walk away with nothing in the end. I’ve heard countless stories of drivers crashing on random people’s couches to cut costs down, relying on the charity of friends and family, and just scraping to get by to keep their pro racing dream alive. Trying to become a paid professional racer can easily take complete control over one’s life and will require huge sacrifices along the way. In many ways this is much like the struggling musician attempting to make it big, constantly being away from home, playing in dive bars or any other gig that opens up, and dealing with the realties of that industry. As someone trying to become a pro driver, you will face numerous potholes, detours, dead ends, and broken hearts. Your life will revolve around racing and will require many sacrifices. There is that slim chance though, that everything will align just right and you could make it. This glimmer of hope showing a flicker from time-to-time can often become a destructive drug.
The journey is going to be even more challenging without large sums of money (we’ll define this as $70,000 plus) as you’ll be fighting against many people who do. Some of these guys who have a large racing budget adopt a “screw you” attitude. What this means is they know that they can afford to wreck it, you can’t, and drive accordingly. I’m not saying that they necessarily try to take you out on purpose, but they can afford to take more risks. On the flip side, you will find some drivers who will push you off and when speaking with them after simply state “hey, it’s pro racing.” Unlike Club Racing where you both might have a chat with stewards or file a protest, professional sanctioning bodies do not handle it this way. There are most definitely politics involved. Think they’ll side with the privateer who is complaining about a major team bringing multiple cars (a.k.a. cash) to the series?
For the person who doesn’t have a healthy repair bill budget, it becomes necessary to be careful with the car. This can cause you to never be able to truly shine due to the necessity of managing risks. Having access to ample cash also means that a person will be able to obtain much more seat time, be able to attend various racing schools, hire private coaching, as well as have the chance to experience a variety of different types of cars while not being overly worried about wrecking them. Through having access to this, they’ll become faster much more quickly than someone who doesn’t have the financial means. So if you don’t, it’s critical that you be sure to make the most out of every single opportunity that presents itself.
Being a particularly fast driver is not enough in the racing industry. Networking, marketing yourself, and building relationships are the keys to your success. Keep in mind that there are hundreds of fast drivers around the country striving for this goal. You need to do things to make yourself stand out and be a commodity that teams will benefit from hiring. I know this might sound redundant, but you need to prove that one way or another you will generate money for the team. Do anything you can to network with people who might be able to help you.
“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” Roger Penske
While this information comes across as negative if you aspire to become a pro driver, it will help you understand what’s involved. Use this knowledge to your advantage. The sacrifices and risks you will need to take are large. A few paid pro racers said that if a person goes into this willing to do anything it takes, make racing the most important aspect of one’s life and be willing to give everything else up for it, they will find a way to make it. The way I look at it is there are only a few people who make it big in Hollywood, as music stars, or even become the President of a country, but some do. Adversity and extreme challenge does not mean something can’t be done. It is valuable to know what you’re up against and evaluate if it’s worth the risk and sacrifices.
We received a few messages from people new to this site hoping that this article will also discuss how they can begin participating in amateur motorsports. Great news! The primary focus of this online resource is to show how the average person can begin participating in motorsports on a modest budget, provide step-by-step directions on how to make it happen, and the costs associated. On the site we discuss various options such as autocross where you can use your street car as-is and enter events for as little as $25, high performance driving events, time trials, and wheel-to-wheel Club Racing. We hope you will take a look around the website. A good starting point is to go to the home pageand then the Racing Info navigation tab to begin your journey.
Our next article discusses finding sponsorships in pro racing, the levels of talent in the pro ranks, and driver salaries. In subsequent articles we discuss how Eric Curran became a paid pro driver without a large sum of money; other potential careers within the racing industry as well as many other great topics.