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Martin Truex Jr. sits in his car during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 8, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images
Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images

So, you think you have what it takes to launch that stock car racing career. Easier said than done.

Not just anyone can pull into the closest speedway and start racing. There’s a certain route that you’ll need to take in order to make becoming a professional race car driver much more attainable. So, where exactly do you start?

Normally, it’s pretty common for NASCAR drivers to start go-kart racing at a young age. In many instances, this racing experience from karting will give that driver the early edge that they need to stand out in motorsports. If you’re past that age point, don’t worry, because there are other ways to make that NASCAR racing dream a reality.

Now, this is by no means an all-encompassing, do-all-these-things-and-you’ll-make-it-in-NASCAR guide for success. But, with enough skill and wherewithal — and the right amount of luck — you could very well be the next Jimmie Johnson. It’s not likely, but hey, it never hurts to dream big, right?

How to Become a NASCAR Driver

Check Out Your Local Race Track

A track official works pit road at Langley Speedway on September 4, 2017 in Hampton, Virginia
Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images for NASCAR

Chances are, if your goal is to become a racer, you’ve probably already been to the local tracks in your area. If you haven’t, this should be your first step.

Attending racing events and purchasing something like a pit pass will be extremely beneficial in growing your knowledge of the sport. Not only will this present you with the opportunity to check out what goes on in the pits, but you’ll also potentially be able to chat with some of the drivers and racing team members, who should be able to give you helpful insight regarding next steps.

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If you get the opportunity to pick someone’s brain who’s in the know, ask about age requirements, licenses, and the best way to go about starting.

While these folks can be a great help, it’s important to always be respectful and courteous. These teams will very often be pressed for time on certain occasions, so make sure that they’re not in the middle of something before you go and bombard them with questions.

Get Involved With Lower Level Racing

Dirt Late Model cars drive through the pit road area during qualifying for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Pinty's Truck Race on Dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 27, 2021 in Bristol, Tennessee
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

If you’re too young to get behind the wheel of a race car (in which case, kudos to you for reading this article), you’ll need to get involved with go-karting, as mentioned above.

Alternatively, if you’re on the older side and looking to break into the sport, you’ll need to hop into a car and prove your talent in the lower level categories of racing. For NASCAR, there’s a ladder system that allows you to work your way up the ranks and into different racing series.

Whether you’re thinking of joining street stocks, late models, or modifieds, these national series divisions will show what you’re capable of on the race track. If you see some success, you may get the opportunity arise to move up in divisions. Practice makes perfect, so it’ll take lots of hard work to hone your driving skills in order to set yourself apart from the competition.

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Understand Your Race Car

nascar pit crew working on alex bowman's car
Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

A key factor in doing well on the race track is truly understanding what you’re working with.

Being a hard charger and a skilled driver will only get you so far, but you’ll also need to be able to communicate with your race team on issues that you’re feeling with the car, or adjustments that need to be made. Pit crews and race teams are extremely capable, but they must clearly understand what needs to be changed in order to put down faster lap times.

Putting in significant time behind the wheel puts you in the best position to notice when something feels off about your car. Being able to narrow these issues down will drastically cut down pit times, and hopefully lead to faster laps. Whether on the track or in your off-time, it’s good to always take the time to learn more about your race car’s technical aspects.

Attend Auto Racing School

Chris Erskine experiences a stock racing car at race driving school L.A. Racing located on Toyota Speedway race tracks in Irwindale
Photo by Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Keep in mind that if you’re looking to reach the top level in stock car racing, you’ll need a proper competition license. There are a handful of helpful professional racing schools that will help you truly hone in your racing abilities. It’s almost like a college degree, but for racing.

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These driving courses will get you much more comfortable with the high-speed challenges in NASCAR’s upper echelon. As you gain more experience, it will prove beneficial in the long run for rising up in the ranks.

There are multiple tiers to NASCAR, and getting involved with one of these driving schools will greatly increase your chances of reaching your desired level. On top of crafting your driving skill, you’ll need to spend significant time at each level to meet other requirements. For example, if your goal is to reach the NASCAR Cup Series, you’ll need a specific amount of laps completed in the ARCA racing series to qualify for the license.

Get Sponsorships

View of a trio of cars sponsored by Lowe's (among others) in Brett Bodine's garage, where they are housed during the NASCAR off-season, Charlotte, North Carolina, 1998
Photo by Bob Stowell/Getty Images

Attaining sponsorships and networking with the right people is half the battle.

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You can be a great driver, but if no one is willing to sponsor you, it’s going to be pretty difficult to get anywhere. Racing is extremely expensive, so lightening the financial load with the right sponsors is crucial to your success.

Whether you’re networking through social media or in-person at the tracks, it’s important to continually grow your brand, and develop a name for yourself. As you get more of a reputation, these offers will present themselves much more frequently. You’ll also need to be confident when talking to high-powered individuals, and in front of cameras or large audiences. Sponsors can sense when drivers in their own driving ability.

Once you land your sponsors, you’ll be in a very good position to advance, granted that you do equally as well on the track. Combining all these aspects together, this is what it takes to make it big as a NASCAR driver. It’s no easy task, but that’s why they have the best drivers in the top-level categories of racing. Put in the time, develop your talent, and the sky is the limit. Maybe one day, we’ll see you at Daytona.

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This post was originally published on April 2, 2021.

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