The first time you drive on a road course with NASA is one of the most unforgettable experiences of your life. You love the speed and the g forces. You can’t wait to do it again.
Some people get so enthusiastic they want to go racing. Well, NASA makes it easy. I’ll bet you didn’t know you’re just a few simple steps away from earning your racing license.
To go racing, you will need to jump through a few hoops. It can seem a little overwhelming at first, but it really isn’t, and racing is the most fun you can have with fire-resistant clothes on. Let’s break the process down and take it step by step, separating the process by car and driver. We’ll start with the driver.
The Driver and the HPDE Ladder
There are essentially two ways for a person who has never held a racing license to begin racing with NASA. The first way is to attend a racing school, such as Skip Barber or Bob Bondurant. That way involves a lot of expense up front. For example, a Skip Barber three-day racing school runs from $3,845 to nearly $6,000 depending on the track location. Granted, the cars are typically provided, but that’s a great deal of money up front.
The more fun and affordable way to get a racing license is to go through the NASA High Performance Driving Event ladder system. This is what makes NASA such a unique organization. You can get lots of track time, all the while learning to drive fast and progressing toward a racing license. And when you get your racing license, you can race with the same friends you came up through HPDE with! What’s more, while you’re in HPDE, you can check in and learn from drivers in the race groups you’ll be joining soon. Any of them will help if you ask. HPDE begins with HPDE1 and progresses through HPDE4.
To get involved with HPDE, you need a NASA membership, which is $45 a year. Once you’re a member, go to https://www.nasaproracing.com/regions and find a region that’s holding an event near you. Sign up and show up. The NASA website has a great primer on how to prepare for your first HPDE here: https://www.nasaproracing.com/hpde/preparing.html
When you get to the track and meet the HPDE1 leader, you’ll also be provided an instructor at no additional charge. The instructor will teach you the fundamentals in the car with you on track, and you’ll learn even more in the “download” meetings that HPDE students are required to attend after each on-track session. Once your instructor believes you are ready to drive by yourself, you can advance to HPDE2.
HPDE3 and HPDE4 come next and that’s where you begin to realize how much there is to know about driving fast and about car control. It’s also where you really begin to develop the on-track awareness you need to be prepared for racing. This experience and awareness is unique to the NASA HPDE program. You don’t develop these skills as fully over the course of a three-day racing school.
Once you’ve progressed through the HPDE ladder, you’re ready for Time Trial competition, or you can opt to go to competition school and go racing. Let’s go racing!
Your local NASA region offers a competition school a couple of times a year so people can earn their provisional licenses. The great thing about NASA’s competition school is you can still use the street car you used for HPDE.
Competition school will conduct drills on race conditions, flags, starts, driving side-by-side through corners, driving off line and lots of other on-track situations you will encounter in racing. Comp school is a blast! If you pass muster with your instructors, and pass a written open-book test based on the NASA rulebook — known as the CCR — you will be eligible for your provisional license, which means you get to go racing! The application for a provisional license has a handy checklist so you don’t miss any details: https://nasa-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/document/document/273/2015_provisional_license_app.pdf
You’ll also need a medical exam. Take this form to your doctor for him or her to fill out: https://nasa-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/document/document/275/Non-NASA_Medical_Declaration_Form–rev_2-25-15.pdf
Now you’ve got your provisional license. You must complete four races without incident and without violating NASA rules to earn your regular competition license. Relax, it’s easier than you think. The race director will sign your provisional booklet after each race for four races, at which point you can get your “hard card” competition license.
You can get the application for your competition license here: https://nasa-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/document/document/274/2015_comp_license_app.pdf
Now that you have your provisional license, you need to outfit the driver and a have a car that’s race ready.
Equipping the Driver
Racing involves risk, something that is minimized with proper safety equipment. The NASA CCR section 15.17 outlines the requirements for a driver’s safety attire. Essentially you need a helmet suitable for car racing, a balaclava if you have facial hair, a driver’s suit and fire resistant gloves, underwear, socks and shoes. You’ll also need an SFI 38.1- or FIA- compliant head and neck restraint.
The required safety equipment isn’t cheap, but don’t skimp or cut corners. You will be glad you have good gear if you ever need it.
Equipping the Car
You were allowed to use your street car for competition school, which is unique to NASA, but to go racing, you need a properly prepared racecar. We all have our favorite cars, and you’ve probably known all along what you want to race, so race what you want. Whatever you choose, NASA has a class for it.
The easiest path into racing is buying a car that’s already built and has passed tech and been raced before. It’s a larger sum of money up front, but it is usually cheaper overall.
One path a lot of NASA members take is building a car as they climb the HPDE ladder. A good rule of thumb is to have a roll cage installed by the time you get to HPDE4. Then when it comes time to get your provisional license, your car is nearly ready for racing too.
Section 15.0 of the CCR outlines what you need to build a car that will pass tech. Here again, this is no place to skimp or cut corners. Installing a roll cage is not a job for someone who is just learning to weld. Build the car properly because the required safety equipment can prevent serious injury and even save your life.
Once your “rookie book” is signed off, you can apply for a regular competition license. This application also has a handy checklist and you can get it here: https://nasa-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/document/document/274/2015_comp_license_app.pdf
Now Go Racing!
Sitting on grid before your first race will be one of the most exhilarating feelings you will ever know, and it’s an extension of that same feeling you had when you first joined HPDE1. Saddle up, strap in and hold on for the ride of your life. When that green flag drops for the first time, you’ll discover that you have never lived more fully than when driving a racecar. It’s a feeling few people get to experience, and now you’re now part of something special. You’re part of the NASA racing family.
Become a NASA Member
Preparing for Your First HPDE
NASA Medical Form
NASA Provisional License Application
NASA Competition License Application
NASA Time Trial License Application