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Passionate Pursuits: Shifting Gears

Writer: Eleanor Jeffers

“How do you make a small fortune racing? You start with a big one.”

This cynical comment is tossed around in the racing world frequently. Uttered mostly by mechanics and pit crew members in the midst of a sweltering day at the track, it holds less weight than one might think given its conversational prominence at the track.

The word “motorsports” automatically brings to mind the smell of oil and gasoline, the Doppler-effect whir of high-speed vehicles skidding around a corner, and images of NASCAR drivers overtaking one another on the final straightaway. But the reality of motorsports is that they are far more accessible than most people realize.

Despite its elite status in the mind of the general public, engaging in racing as a hobby is simple enough. The SCCA, or the Sports Car Club of America, allows competitors and audiences alike to engage in regional automobile sporting events. “Socializers” allow those new to the scene to interact with amateur racers, pit crew members, volunteers, and other fans of the sport. Locally, the Ohio Valley Region SCCA hosts events such as Autocross, Rallycross, and PDX, all of which only require a state-issued driver’s license to participate. Road racing, that stereotypical, high-adrenaline sport that Formula One fans lust over, requires a more intensive competition licensing process.

Though supercars dominate the imagination of many casual racing fans, in multiple SCCA events, you can drive your street car, provided it meets the standards and rules set out in the rule books for each event. Far from necessary are the carbon-fiber skeletons of the most expensive vehicles available. In fact, the Mazda Miata, relatively cheap and easy to maintain, is revered as a solid introductory amateur racing car, so much so that entire series are dedicated to MX-5s. It may not have quite the same sex appeal as a Ferrari 451, but for the weekend racer, any lightweight, maneuverable car will get the job done. And, of course, the best car to race is one you already own. Many tracks allow competitors to drive their street cars in some events, or on a test lap, for this very reason.

If you’re willing to shell out some cash to participate in a driving or racing school, cars will be provided for use and practice. The Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, located in Lexington, Ohio, offers a number of programs for beginning racers, including Defensive Driving and High Performance courses. In the High Performance course set, participants learn to better drive their own street car and spend time driving the Honda S2000 roadster. Alternatively, participants can rent an Acura ILX for use. A more expensive and more notorious option is the Skip Barber Racing School, running

programs in several states across the country. At Skip Barber, drivers can engage in the GT Racing School and operate a Mustang GT, or drive a lower, sleeker ride for the Formula Car Racing School. The first option costs a cool $5,795 for a three-day program, a far cry from the $865 price of the Mid-Ohio High Performance Course plus car rental. Each school will best service different kinds of customers: Mid-Ohio is an excellent option for car fans, young drivers, amateur and beginning racers, and those looking to test out the track in their spare time. Skip Barber, though famed and fascinating, is better for those wanting to make a career or long-term pastime out of racing.

To simply spend a day at the track and get to know the environment of a motorsports event, check out the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course calendar for upcoming events. Those interested can purchase tickets and spend the weekend getting up close and personal with a live race event. We’d recommend this as a first step; better to ensure you like the reality of racing before going all-out and buying your fire suit


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