Skills and Knowledge
How to start racing cars
Our main goal is to teach you how to get into road racing quickly, cheaply, and accessibly. First, it’s important to understand that there are many different types of racing:
- Track days and High Performance Driver Education/Experience (HPDE)
- Kart racing
- Sim racing
- Time trials
- Wheel-to-wheel racing (e.g. Formula 1, NASCAR, 24 Hours of Le Mans)
- Rally (point-to-point all-terrain racing)
For beginners: track days/HPDEs, autocross, and kart racing are the best places to start.
Track Manual focuses primarily on track days/HPDEs, but almost everything we cover applies to all types of racing.
As you improve, you may apply for a racing license and start wheel-to-wheel racing, which pits you directly against other drivers on the same track. Alternatively, you can explore other types of racing or continue to improve in track days, autocross, or karting. The progression paths are endless.
How to get into motorsports as a beginner
Track Days / HPDEs
Track days are full day events where you drive on a purpose-built race track with your own car to improve your skills. If the event is more instructional, it’s called a High Performance Driver Education (HPDE). There will be other cars on the track, anywhere from 3 to 30, but track days are not wheel-to-wheel racing. The focus is on learning racing fundamentals and setting your fastest lap time, not racing against other drivers.
Track day events primarily span one full day or a weekend. A day is typically split up into a series of sessions, with breaks in between. Additionally, drivers are separated into classes, like novice, intermediate, advanced, and open. You will opt into a opt into a class when signing up for a track day. It's very important to run in the class that fits your skill level and speed for everyone's safety and enjoyment.
Autocross is a fast-paced event where drivers take turns navigating through a course of cones to try to set the fastest time. Hitting cones penalize lap times, so drivers are rewarded for their precision driving through the narrow course.
Autocross events typically happen in large paved areas like parking lots and airport strips. These events are more suitable for light, nimble cars than high top speed sports cars since there are lots of tight corners and few long straights. However, there are often different classes to provide a level playing field, so don’t be afraid to bring the car you already have.
People like autocross because it’s an affordable way to race competitively with your own car. You’re not racing wheel-to-wheel, but you are competing against other drivers for the fastest time.
Kart Racing / Go Karting
Kart racing is one the best entryways into full-fledged auto racing. In fact, almost all of the professional F1 drivers raced karts as children. Go kart tracks are easy to access for most people and generally pretty affordable, but it can get more expensive if you decide to buy and maintain your own kart.
Karting is the most accessible form of wheel to wheel racing. It's a great way to learn race strategy, overtaking, and how to defend your position.
Most people consider kart racing as a stepping stone to “real” auto racing, but for many, it’s the perfect destination.
Simulator racing is a very affordable way to experience the thrill of racing. Once you set up your rig, the cost of seat time is virtually negligible. With a few thousand dollars, you can create an immersive setup and participate in competitive events through racing simulator games.
Many professional drivers, including Max Verstappen and Lando Norris, do sim racing for practice and fun. If you're interested in setting up a racing sim, read:
How safe is track driving?
Contrary to what you may see or hear, motorsport is very safe in proper environments. Every responsible track organization places a special emphasis on safety. At any beginner track day/HPDE, you’ll spend a lot of time learning the rules and best practices to be as safe as possible on the track.
It's rare for accidents to occur, and when they do, it's usually due to someone driving beyond their capability. Remember, you're there to learn and to have fun, not to prove anything to anyone.
Even if you do lose control, most tracks have safety measures like plenty of run-off space and soft barriers to reduce the likelihood of injury.
As a beginner, as long as you properly prep your car, learn the rules of the track, and don't drive beyond your skill level, you will have a great time.
Sounds fun, how do I get started?
To sign up track days/HPDEs and autocross events, go to the websites of your local tracks and racing organizations.
Here’s a list of racing groups that operate in California →