Want to go racing professionally? Obviously, one way to go pro is to spend a ton of money buying a professional racing ride. However, like most amateur racers, you probably don’t have that kind of budget. So let me tell you how I got here, and the best way for you to make it: The Mazda Club Racer Shootout.
No other automaker gives aspiring racers the chance to go pro quite like Mazda. There are a number of classes and combinations within NASA to make it to the Mazda Shootout. Winning an Eastern or Western States Championship in a Mazda or Mazda-powered car will get you an invitation. New this year, winning a Championship in any NASA class makes you eligible to compete in the Mazda Race of NASA Champions, the winner of which gets invited to the Club Racer Shootout.
In your preseason, map out a path for yourself to win a Championship. I believe racing with NASA is the best way to get there. Why? NASA is affordable and offers the most ways to get to the Shootout. For example, you can run in the Teen Mazda Challenge up to age 22 and in Spec Miata, and Performance Touring E at any age. That gives you two or three opportunities to win a Championship while running the same Mazda Miata all year.
Now, in terms of how affordable it is to run with NASA, I spent less than $8,000 dollars last year on my racing budget. After buying a house, I knew I had to plan out my racing season as tight as possible in hope of winning a Spec Miata Championship. After finishing second in 2013 at the NASA National Championships at Miller Motorsports Park, I was more determined than ever to win the Spec Miata Championship in 2014. When I learned that the Western States Championships were going to be held at my home track, Sonoma Raceway, I knew this was going to be my best opportunity to attend the Shootout. I ran a total of four race weekends last year and made it work. Oh, and another reason to run with NASA is that four of the past five Shootout winners were NASA drivers. And now with the Mazda Race of NASA Champions, it is clear that racing with NASA is the best way to get to the Mazda Club Racer Shootout.
Now, once you have won an Championship and have become eligible to attend the Shootout, it doesn’t mean you’re headed to Bakersfield quite yet. Now the hard part begins. To become a semi-finalist, traditionally Mazda requires you to create a four-page racing business proposal — topics change each year — a four-minute video and a two-page bio. This process, in my opinion, was the hardest part of the Shootout, especially since I only had six days to complete all those tasks. One way to get yourself better prepared is to have your bio and some racing footage ready to go. This will give you more time to focus on the business proposal, which is the most important part to being named a finalist.
Last year, there were 22 semi-finalists and only eight drivers were chosen as finalists. Usually, it’s just five. Now, if creating a proposal weren’t tough enough, presenting it in front of a judging panel is even tougher. Practice as much as you can. If public speaking is an issue for you, take a speech class or join Toastmasters to get comfortable speaking in front of an audience. Even if your proposal isn’t the strongest, if you can present it well, this will help increase your chances of standing out. Keep in mind that the judges are looking for the driver with the “complete package.” So a great presentation will help your chances of winning, especially if competition on the track is close. The tie breaker could come down to who has the better proposal.
Once proposal day is over, the fun begins the following morning at Buttonwillow Raceway in California. Last year, Mazda had two Battery Tender MX-5 Cup cars that competitors spent an equal amount of time in. Typically a pro driver will lay down a baseline lap and the finalists will be compared to that lap throughout the day. There are several ways to stand out on track, other than being the fastest driver:
- One of the most important ways to stand out from other drivers is to run consistent laps. The judges aren’t looking for that one fast lap. They want to see who can run fast and consistent lap times.
- Drive faster in each session. The best driver should learn something new each session to pick up speed and run faster.
- Learn the AiM data system. Before I attended the Shootout, I had never used a data system before, but I did spend time with a local expert help me get familiar with the software and to analyze the data.
- Keep all four wheels on the track! This is probably one of the most important rules in the Shootout. The driver who has consistent “offs” throughout the day will not win the Shootout, no matter how fast he is.
- Have fun and be happy! Remember that you are judged the entire two days you are there. So your attitude will be taken into consideration when the judges choose a winner.
Even if you don’t make it to the Shootout or don’t win it, I would not consider your racing season a failure. I started my amateur racing career in 2008. There has not been one season or even a single race weekend I did not learn something I needed to improve on. Motorsports is all about learning from your mistakes and how you can better prepare yourself to win. Whether it’s working on your racecar, race craft or physical strength.
So what are you waiting for? Start planning your path to a professional ride. I hope to see you on track soon!