Lime Rock Park had the recent good fortune of being asked to attend a “Career Day” fair for a local high school. Local businesses and various industry associations set up booths in a big hall so that freshman and sophomore kids could find out more about career paths that they have an interest in. Lime Rock was there to answer questions about how to “get into the racing business.”
As part of the info we made available to the kids were quotes that we had solicited from our colleagues in racing. We got dozens and dozens of replies, from people involved in all aspects of the motorsport world.
So rather than have that information available only to those at the Career Fair, we thought these thoughtful comments should be something posted on the Lime Rock Park website.
The question we asked of our racing colleagues was, “What advice would you give a person who’s interested in a career in motor racing?”
Here are some of the replies. At the end is what Lime Rock Park has to say on the matter...
Bob Dickenson: American Le Mans Series vice president of public relations Show interest, listen and be willing to do anything thrown at you. Be the guy or gal who thinks through the situation before asking or doing something, but don’t be afraid to ask questions. Always ask, “what else can I do to help?” Don’t worry so much about what type of degree you have as much as how to make that first great impression. And realize that early on, you will work long hours for low pay but you can worry about the compensation once you’ve establish a reputation that everyone admires.
Lee Carpentier: driver, racing instructor The harsh reality is that as a driver you need to take everything that matters (aside from driving) and forget about it. The further you want to go in this sport, the more you need to sacrifice. Just like any other sport, it takes persistence and determination, whether you are just starting out or you are the most experienced driver on the track. As long as you keep an open mind and see every failure as a learning experience, then the heartache that comes with this sport won't seem as bad. For sure there will be heartache, more times then not, that makes success that much more worth it. And trust me, it’s worth it.
Murray Smith: driver, promoter, organizer First, decide what it is you may be good at. Do not try to force the issue of getting into racing via something you are not good at. That is, if you are not mechanically inclined don’t try to be a mechanic. Decide what you are good at, or what you think you would like to be good at: mechanic or engineer, promoter/manager/administration, photographer/journalist/writer, event or team manager.
Motorsport requires dedication and passion in order to do well. Successful people in motorsport are driven and prepared to work much harder than their counterparts in the “real” world... Try working in a local garage or dealership during school vacations... Offer to be an apprentice with a team or local enthusiast who races cars or a local track... Write a letter to the race teams/tracks in your area offering your services during school vacations... Get up to date with what is happening in motorsports by going to internet sites including Grand-Am, NASCAR, Americanlemans, Autosport, PlanetF1, Grandprix, etc.
You want an absolute sure-fire way of getting into racing? Think of a brilliant new way to develop a sponsor for a team or track – this will definitely get you a job!
Divina Galica: driver, racing instructor, event organizer, Olympic skier Offer to any team to be a “go-for” (unpaid help for race weekends); approach local teams at the race track (forget sending a letter). It’s important to get experience from a team, which might in the future recommend them... Get engineering experience both at school, university or by hands-on helping with a team... Another area is hospitality, again starting by offering services free or for minimal wage... Always appear neat and tidy...
Tommy Kendall: champion driver, TV commentator, racing instructor, entrepreneur, test driver My advice is always to follow your heart. Find a career you love, as you are a lot more likely to do the thousands of things it takes to be good if you love what you are doing. If that is racing, learn everything you can about it. Read, go to school, ask questions... then learn some more. The best at anything are those that understand it the best. Since racing is a fun, exciting field, there are lots of people that want to get into it, which makes it all the more difficult.
Another piece of advice is to be flexible about your desired role. Not everyone can be the owner, or driver. If that is your desire, go for it, but keep your eyes and ears open about other areas. Instead of being a PR person in a field that isn't exciting, be one in racing. The same goes for marketing, engineering, hospitality, etc.
The final step is getting your foot in the door. Get on with a team, a sponsor, a track as a volunteer or an intern before you even get out of school. Did I mention, learn, learn, learn about the business? :)
Rick Ratajczak, SPEED TV stage manager, race control official
Trying to make a career in professional motorsports, a person must have the true passion. One must strive to learn as much as possible about racing’s intricacies. To do that, one suggestion is to attend as many professional motorsports events as possible and spend as much time as possible speaking to those in the industry. Try to network in the paddock. Have conversations with respected people in the industry; team personal, owners, drivers, crew, media, managers, etc. Do your homework, read and research as much as possible about the industry – including its history. As with anything in life, always treat people like you want to be treated... and always with respect.
Casey Annis, publisher and editor, Vintage Racecar Magazine
As with any career choice, the key to a successful career in motorsport is dedication. Now some will tell you that it is talent or money or connections, but the truth is, if you are really and truly dedicated – with every fiber of your being – to making a career in motorsports, it will happen. If you are totally committed to your goal, you'll find the money, you'll make the connections and, with enough dedication, you'll even develop the talent. The bottom line is you just have to want it bad enough... and don't let anyone convince you otherwise!
Pat Daly, motivational trainer, voice-over talent, driver, racing instructor
Immerse yourself in your passion. Get all the formal education you can. You'll never have more energy than when you're pursuing something you love.
Ken Grammer, president of United States Endurance Racing Association (USERA)
Motorsports is a tough sport and an even tougher business. While some people are able to make a full time living working in motorsports, most people have primary “day jobs” and work in motorsports as a hobby or on the weekends. Making a career of motorsports requires a lot of sacrifice, hard work and long hours. It’s what I call a “passion-based business,” meaning that few people in motorsports work anywhere near a typical 40 hour work week. The up side is that you get to visit some great places and meet a lot of wonderful people.
As passé as it may sound, the best advice I can offer anyone considering a career in motorsports is to first focus on your education. You need to have a solid fallback position because motorsports, more so than traditional businesses, is far more susceptible to downturns in the economy.
My second piece of advice would be to join a club like the Sports Car Club of America and volunteer in the area that interests you the most. If you want to work on race cars, find a team that needs help and volunteer to work for, and learn from, them. If you like race operations, you have a lot of options. You can work track side as a flagger, you can work with computers in Timing and Scoring, or you can help in race operations organizing the event. Most of the people you see on TV at professional races started this way. Clubs like the SCCA provide invaluable training and racing experience.
And finally network, network, network. In racing, more often than not your ability to land that dream job with a race team, race series or race track depends on having strong experience AND a list of strong references. This is a team sport and people want to know you are committed to doing your best. Cultivate a strong network of peers and make sure they know your goals.
Larry Koch, BMW North America ‘M’ Brand Manager:
1. Find something you really enjoy that can help make the world a little better place
2. Get really good at it and be serious about learning a lot
3. Be open to new people, places, technologies
4. Remember your friends and be good to all
5. Be honest with yourself and others
6. Set your values and stick to them.
Gordon Kirby, racing journalist, writer, publisher, editor, former driver:
To be successful in motor racing requires the same essentials as any other walk of life. The most important requirements for finding success in life, I believe, are passion, motivation, the desire to learn and the personal discipline to perform whatever tasks are involved. Along with all those things it's important to keep a healthy, good-humored mind and to enjoy people and life's many pleasures.
David Brabham, professional driver:
First, if you have a passion for motorsport and are motivated to improve yourself, with a large degree of belief in yourself, then you will make a clear path to making a career in racing. Motorsport is a team sport and you will need to be able to work as one with the people around you. If you have a strong desire to be as good as you can be, you can be a leader and motivate people around you – but don't think you are better than them, this will bite you. Always look at how you can improve yourself as a person and your trade; the two go together. Be open and honest with yourself and others, this will be very useful for you. What goes around comes around and this is an industry that has a large community, but it is a small world. You will end up working with the same people in and out of your work places. If you see someone who needs help, help them, they will help you one day. If you think you can teach someone to do a job a different way that will work better for them, help them, because there is no better way to learn yourself, as when you are teaching others.
Jeremy Shaw, racing journalist, writer, editor, TV commentator, driver:
The best advice I have come across stems from a motto that is attributed to Roger Penske. I honestly don't know whether the practice is continued, but many years ago, a small coin was issued to every one of his employees. One side of the coin displayed the words: "Effort Equals Results." The slogan is applicable to all walks of life, but especially auto racing.
Randy Buck, driver, instructor, team manager:
I think the most important factor in "getting a job in motorsports" is determination. There are so many different ways to get into the business (driving side, mechanic's side, sales/marketing side, etc.) and so many hurdles for each that it is the most determined that usually succeed! I would say that for the most part people enter the motorsports arena looking for a career due to a passion for some part of the sport. It is frequently said that compared to other types of jobs, the potential return in salary is not necessarily equal, but the reward and enjoyment is often at the highest level! So decide where your passion lies, ask around for advice on where to try and "get in the door," and then NEVER GIVE UP!
Andrew Crask, racing journalist, writer, editor:
If you are interested in the technical side, there some universities now offering mechanical engineering degrees with an emphasis on motorsports (University of North Carolina/Charlotte is one). In terms of PR gigs, a lot migrate over from manufacturers, so seeking advertising agency internships with the likes of Saatchi and Saatchi might be a good place to start for advertising students. Also, it would help if you are willing to work for a smaller team. NASCAR Truck or Indy Lights teams, for example, are more likely to be willing to take a chance on young talent than a Cup team. You’ll be paid a lot less to start, but the possibilities for advancement would be good once you get your foot in the door.
Nick Harvey, race engineer, Newman Wachs Racing:
Like most entertainment/sports industries, motor racing is a tight-knit community with few obvious or advertised avenues into it. But that shouldn’t deter you; everyone starts somewhere and we’re not all Andrettis and Unsers that are born into the sport. The first key is to decide the aspect of racing that interests you or fits your career path. If you’re interested in driving and have the means (funds available), then start with karting and progress to Skip Barber and move on from there.
If the engineering, design or data side interests you, then choose your college based on their engineering departments strength and possibly an SAE program that can be useful if it’s a good one.
If you’re good with a wrench, then Skip Barber has a great training program; or, network your local area race track and offer yourself to a team for free just to get experience. Working on race cars is very different in a lot of ways from working on road cars, and the more sophisticated the car the more it differs in the precision, tolerances and finesse that’s required. Nothing beats experience so the sooner you start getting your hands dirty whether it’s a friend’s kart, helping at the local raceway or tuning your own stuff, the sooner you’ll have something on your resume that teams will look at.
Terry Earwood, champion driver, head instructor, stand-up comedian:
There are a couple of roads to take, all require “sweat equity.” Find a race team that will let you “hang around” and start volunteering for menial tasks such as sweeping the floor, cleaning parts, etc. I started by washing the tractor/trailer rig (it was smaller then!!). Show them your dedication by willing to learn and do anything...again... VOLUNTEERING, not waiting for someone to ask you to do something. Read up on every facet of your facet: road racing, NASCAR, NHRA, etc... There are a dozen "motorsports universities" you can Google. Start your research now... Beginning as a “trainee” mechanic for Skip Barber Racing School has launched several careers. Or at least convinced several to seek other lines of work. Never quit learning!!!
Gerardo Bonilla, champion driver, head instructor, driver coach:
“Working in Motorsports is mostly about a strong passion for the sport, showing up, and being good to people. Like other desirable jobs, there are many that want in, but few that get in. It takes attendance, hard work, perseverance, a positive attitude, and a deep love of the sport to find your way in.”
Steve Potter, i-Racing PR, former track manager, racing journalist, driver:
If you want to make a living in racing, you’ll probably have to do it the same way I (and a lot of others) did –working for free before anyone is going to pay you. I spent a dozen years working on the side as a motorsports photographer and journalist for little or nothing before a lucky break allowed me to leverage my experience and reputation into a real job in racing... motorsports writer for the “New York Times.”
Bob Ziegel, champion driver, head instructor, driver coach, magazine publisher, sales consultant:
Do what you love, not because it's cool, but because it's you... Racing, like any really desirable, exciting career, requires you to commit to it fully if you are to succeed.
Gil de Ferran, champion driver, Indy 500 winner, team owner:
We all have different qualities and shortcoming, as well as different circumstances. Understand what these are and work with the tools that are available to you to achieve your dreams. Remember also to enjoy the process, as you will eventually realize that most of the fun is in the pursuit!
Rebecca Hale Evans, co-director and founder of Historic Grand Prix (HGP) racing:
The world of motorsports demands hard work, perseverance, dedication and nerves of steel. You can expect to reach
the highest of highs and the lowest of lows within seconds. If you think you've got the "racing bug" and would like to pursue a career in motorsports, there are multiple avenues to think about:
Administrative: Heading the front office, managing logistics and data, travel itineraries, scheduling, etc., all need to be managed by someone with strong organizational and secretarial skills.
Mechanical: A good mechanic is always needed on a racing team. Having a strong background and LOVE of the basic operations of an automobile are necessary. From there, learning the specifics from chassis development, engine development, aerodynamics and engineering all come into play.
Public Relations & Marketing: If you are a people person and enjoy networking, this may be a great place to begin a career in motorsports. Obtaining sponsorship and maintaining the sponsor-race team relationship is paramount to a team owner. Marketing your team and driver are equally important as the on-track performance.
These are just a few areas to think about when it comes to motorsports. There are many areas to consider. As in any industry, dedication, commitment and hard work will help you land and keep your job.
Scott Tapley, team aerodynamicist and spotter, NASCAR Camping World East #44 Mohegan Sun Chevy:
The number one thing to do to get started in motorsports is, listen. Volunteer on a race team at your local racetrack and listen and observe everything possible. Motorsports is a business in which you must work yourself up the ladder jobs in order to make it a viable career. Once you've established yourself as important part of any race team, all other teams will notice you as well. Making good team connections and hard work will reward you with a long and successful career in motorsports.
Roger Garbow, marketing director, Farnbacher Loles Motorsports:
Since motorsports can be such an exciting and high energy field, it's easy to understand why so many people are attracted to it as a potential career path. The important thing to remember though, is to first follow your passion. What do you love to do, or see yourself doing? Learn everything you can about the particular area, whether it is in engineering, marketing, broadcasting, design, public relations, whatever. Then, find a way to get the training you need to become an expert. There are great programs available in any field you choose. From a local technical college to nationally recognized programs such as Formula SAE. But it will take hard work. If you really want to achieve your dream, you must first make yourself the best candidate for the job. And you need to network along the way. Find a way to meet people in motorsports. Go to races. Volunteer with a local team. Write letters. And always keep learning. Like any successful racing team, there is no substitute for perfect preparation to achieve the career you want.
Jason Cunningham, media coordinator, NASCAR Touring Series East:
General advice that could apply to any sport... get the proper education, and make the most of your opportunities along the way by volunteering and showing initiative. I got involved in sports by volunteering to work football and basketball games in the press box and on press row when I was in undergrad. While my fellow students were tailgating and hanging out, I was laying the groundwork for a future in sports. That work earned me a graduate assistantship, which earned me earned me a post-graduate internship... and eventually a full-time job! I would not have gone anywhere without taking an initiative to get involved. The main thing you have to understand about sports – auto racing, basketball, whatever – is that there is a line of people for every job, so you have to make the most of your opportunities.
John Fitch, champion driver, safety engineering expert, first general manager of Lime Rock Park:
Get into the scene by taking any small job and get the feel of the business. This also gives the people in the business an opportunity to get to know you. The main idea: Get to be a part of the scene!
Skip Barber, champion driver, racing school founder, owner of Lime Rock Park:
Motorsports is hugely rewarding, but very hard to get into and succeed. If you’re passionate about racing, you should already have a feel for the multitude of ways you can get yourself involved. Expect to volunteer and help out for no pay (whether it’s a team, a track, a company that services the racing world, whatever), but if you make an impression by being smart and hard-working, your name will eventually “get around.” Having an education will give you a leg-up on other people hoping to do the same thing. The bottom line: if you really want it, you can make it happen.
Rick Roso, media liaison, Lime Rock Park:
Unlike many careers, where there are fairly well-defined paths to end up working in said industry, the world of motorsport is a bit different. There are no colleges offering degrees in “Race Car Driving” or “Racing Crew Chief.”
But there are now many colleges and universities offering degrees related to racing in the technical and engineering needs – and even a few that offer four-year degrees in motorsports management, such as Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, N.C.
Regardless, getting into the racing business is mostly about leveraging your own passion for the sport.
There are hundreds of paid “positions” in racing. For instance, one could major in broadcasting with designs of working for a production company that produces races for ESPN, SPEED, Versus, etc; big tracks have staffs numbering in the hundreds, from maintenance, catering and engineering to public relations and guest services; there are many advertising and promotion companies that have motorsport clients; and there are a huge amount of suppliers to the racing industry, from parts and service to consultants.
In other words, virtually every career you can think of has its specialists that work in the racing world. People who really “want in” almost always begin by volunteering or interning, and from there, make the contacts that eventually result in jobs.
An important key to finding a position in any job or discipline is (yes, you’ve heard this before) is getting a college degree. Motorsports employers are not much different from the rest of the working world in that their preference is in having college-educated employees.The bottom line: Find ways to involve yourself with a track, a team or a racing publication. You might not get paid, but the “field” experience and contacts you can make are invaluable. Get a college degree – it doesn’t really matter the precise major – and always keep your eyes open for “racing” opportunities.
In the end, getting into the racing business is about how much you want to do it...
“Good advice if you want to be happy in life... Discover in yourself what you really like to do – then figure out a way to get paid for it.”