It sounds a little crazy, but one thing I’ve always wanted to do is race cars.
I’m 51 now, my kids are grown up and moved out of home and now have the time and disposable income to do such a thing for fun.
I know that there are amateur racing series where you can race normal cars like Hyundai i30s, but what would be the steps required for an amateur to try for racing to see if I could actually do it, training, and then different relatively low-cost options to race as a hobby. Also, is 51 too old to start?
Jacquie, North Melbourne
Be warned – if you start down the path towards car racing, it will become an addiction… and like a lot of addictions, they can be bad for you!
First up, you’re never too old to have a crack. Motor racing favours the financially mobile, so if you have a few bob and a bit of time, then it’s a good combination.
First and foremost, though… safety, safety, safety. Buy the best gear you can afford and use it every time you go out on a track. This means a proper racing suit, good quality helmet with neck restraint fittings, boots, gloves and fireproof underwear. Not negotiable! If you baulk at the cost – budget two grand for new gear, though once-used second-hand stuff is pretty common – then rethink your aspirations. I’ve been going to tracks for 30 years, and I STILL see the damnedest things every time I go.
Supercars racer Simona de Silvestro wears the right gear
The very first step is to get along to an instruction day at a racing school. There are many scattered around the country, and if you’re in Victoria, then there are options at places like Phillip Island Raceway, Winton and Sandown.
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It’s the best way to lose your track virginity, as you’ll ride along with an instructor in a session that should be aimed specifically at rookies. If the school you’re looking at doesn’t offer one, ask them, or consider another school.
You can either take your own car along, or you can look at renting a school car for the day. There’s really no restriction on what you turn up at the track with, but I’d really recommend something cheap and low-powered. Taking your other half’s limited edition HSV along – don’t laugh, I’ve seen it happen – just adds a layer of stress and difficulty you don’t need.
In fact, the very best drivers in the world from F1 and other disciplines heads to the UK once a year, where one of the world’s best instructors, Rob Wilson, teaches them using their rental cars!
It’s best to have your car serviced before going along, and clean ALL of the junk out of your car – you don’t need a stray umbrella rolling around under your feet.
On your first day, the biggest piece I can give is to breathe, smile and keep your vision up. It’s stressful and exhilarating, but by giving yourself a bit of room out on track by casting your eyes up and forward, it slows things down a LOT.
After a few instructor days, I’d suggest you look at a supersprint event, where drivers do flying laps solo to record the best time. It steepens your learning curve without bringing in the element of having other drivers on track.
If you’re still keen to go door-to-door, and you have a bit of spare money, get along to an event where series like the Hyundai Excel Challenge or the Pulsar Challenge are being held. There you can talk to owners and drivers and get a sense of whether it’s something you want to do.
Hyundai Excel Cup in Queensland is very popular
These series use low-powered cars that are relatively affordable, but all motor racing costs money – tyres, entry fees and the like need to be budgeted for, but chatting with competitors at the track (or even online) will give you vision around this.
A lot of owners will look at leasing you a car for a weekend, so you can try before you buy. BIG caveat here, though – it’s usually a case of ‘if you crash it, you own it’! Do make sure you square things like tyre cost and damage liability first.
If you do go down the route of buying a car, take your time and make friends first. Buying a second-hand racing car is nothing like buying a road car; they are built to be worn out, and that’s usually why they’re up for sale!
I’d look for a car in the middle of the price bracket and get the owner to come to a track with you, so you can try before you buy. And don’t let them take it home after you’ve done the deal! What were new shocks might suddenly become old shocks…
Good luck with it all, and keep the rubber side down!