How to Become a Race Car Driver: Professional Advice
So, you’ve tried K1 Speed’s indoor electric go-karting and begin to wonder how you can become a professional race car driver. But what should you do next?
Well, over the course of 2018, we had the opportunity to ask professional racers what their advice would be to someone exactly like you. What follows is a list of advice from some big names that should hopefully steer you in the right direction towards professional driving stardom.
– IMSA Prototype Driver for Acura Team Penske
– Former IndyCar Driver: 3x Indy 500 Winner, 24 Wins, 81 Podiums, 50 Poles
“There’s several things (you need to become a race car driver). First a love for sport. You can’t do this just to try to achieve the glory. And I think all the recognition, the money, the glory, will come naturally if you do your homework before. I think passion for the sport, love for the sport, and hard work always pays off, not only in racing but in anything that you do.”
“I just tell people all the time, whether it’s in go-karts or in IndyCars, to take it seriously. If you want to go and have fun with it, just understand that there is no end-game to it, you know? If you want to make it a career (and become a professional race car driver), you’ve got to take it really seriously each and every weekend as a great opportunity.”
– Currently the only Porsche Factory Driver from North America, Races for Wright Motorsports in IMSA’s GT Daytona Class
– 2x 24 Hours of Le Mans Winner, 2x 24 Hours of Sebring Class Winner, 24 Hours of Daytona Winner, 3x Petit Le Mans Winner, Baja 1000 Winner, 2x World Challenge Champion, 3x American Le Mans Series Champion
“Focus on your mental (fitness) when you’re out there. Don’t only go for the best lap time, look at consistency. Can you bang off ten laps in a row within a tenth of a second? That’s what’s going to make the difference. Can you sustain pressure from behind? It’s easy to be fast, following somebody fast. But can you lead mistake-free with pressure: physical, mental, people on your bumper, people closing in on you, people quicker than you, can you keep them behind you without breaking the rules? Those types of mentalities are what separates the pros from the non-pros. Speed is like third in line. The racecraft, the mental stability, the willingness to prepare, the willingness to do your homework in the week when no one is watching, when there are no lap times, when there are no social media postings. Know that there are a lot of guys out there today that made a living in racing because they worked harder for it than the guys who were the most talented or were the fastest.”
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA
– Current IMSA Prototype Driver for Acura Team Penske
– Former IndyCar, F1, and NASCAR Driver: 2x Indy 500 Winner, Monaco GP Winner, 24 Hours of Daytona Winner, IndyCar Champion. 2019 IMSA Prototype Champion.
“Just have fun. When you’re young and just starting, if you like going to an indoor place – you know with tons of respect to the guys at K1 Speed – go outdoors. It would really surprise you how much quicker it is, and how much grip there is. You know, it’s a great atmosphere. We’re going through it right now with my family (his son Sebastian is currently moving through the karting ranks in his quest to become a race car driver himself) and it’s been a lot of fun.”
“I mean, it’s just become such a tough business (to become a race car driver), right? The biggest issue these days is obviously everything requires a lot of money, and that’s the hardest thing. And that’s the heartbreaking part; every time you get a very talented kid, they don’t necessarily have the (financial) support to be able to go through. But, you know, all you can do is just give your very best, make sure you always have fun and you’re serious about it if you really want to give yourself the chance. And sometimes the opportunities come out for you, and you have to be ready and be there to seize them.”
“I think just enjoy it, have fun, but at the same time use it as a training tool where you’re trying to maximize it. And understand all the fundamentals you’re going through with braking and cornering and understanding different lines, and how if you turn in early, how that’s going to affect your exit. If you turn in late, how it’s going to affect your exit. So, karting is the same thing we’re doing, it’s just on a different scale, but you can still learn the same exact things we’re doing out on the racetrack.”
“Well, first of all I think K1 Speed’s a great option, because I remember the days of indoor (gas-powered) go-karting where you’d go, and you would reek, and you would hate being in there. You’d smell of fumes and fuel and that was my indoor karting experience. It was necessary to be able to have (indoor karting) in conjunction with karting in the outside. So, I love that K1 Speed has just as fast if not faster (electric) go-karts without any of that. But it’s an amazing thing, and for anybody who’s looking into that, it’s a great benchmark for a starting point. I mean, for sure the driving technique and style is different when you get into a racecar, but knowing how to race someone, and how to pass, and just thinking of a whole race as an event, trying to do the fastest laps possible – you learn all of that in karting. So, it’s a crucial step for people to be successful in motorsports.”
“Be real nice to your parents. Do all your chores, do your homework, make your bed in the morning, cos it’s going to come down to your parents making it happen for you.
It’s a great sport. For me, my best memories from when I first started racing go-karts was that it was a family sport. And we’d go every weekend with mum and dad, myself, my sister and we’d pack up the van and go racing, and we’d stay at the racetrack for the weekend, and it was just great family weekends. And we didn’t take it too seriously, it was all about having fun. My dad never put any pressure on me to go out and win or anything. It was just go out and have fun and enjoy it. And hey, if you’re good enough, you’re gonna win races.
Especially when you’re young, obviously you want to learn from older, more experienced guys that you’re racing with. But try to just keep it fun and enjoy it, that’s the most important thing.”
“Well, I think with racing you have to view it as a people sport, because, like anything, it takes people to make a career out of what you want to do. I mean, my career was built with a foundation of many, many people. It was people that I came across in karting, in my junior career in cars, and then all the way to the top in the IndyCar series. It’s the people that you meet that help get you a career. In my opinion, you’re not able to make a career out of racing by yourself. It’s never going to happen. So, the most important thing is to never stop seeking help and support from people around you and take care of the people around you, because the people that you surround yourself with, are the people that are going to help you make a career out of racing. And that’s the most important thing. So, it’s really the people that you meet within the sport. That’s going to be one of the most important ingredients for kids. If you don’t take care if those relationships that you build, it’s difficult to make a career out of it. And so that’s one of the most important things in my opinion.
But then also, I would say you have to have a tremendous drive for the sport. There’s going to be many moments in your life where you think you’re racing career is over and it’s not going to work out. There’s been two or three moments where I genuinely thought I was done racing. I didn’t have any support, I didn’t have any financial backing, and I thought I was going to go back to getting a degree in something in college; you know, maybe an engineering degree or a degree in marketing, I mean I didn’t know what I was going to go back and do. But, you’re going to have to many moments like that where you just have to keep pushing through and looking for a different way to make it happen because it just takes so much tenacity and drive to continue to do it. And you have to have that self-belief that you’re able to make that happen. If you don’t have that, just having one of those moments that’s going to knock you back, could be the end of everything for you. You have to be able to push through those and get to that next opportunity. And that next opportunity could be the one that gets you a professional drive.”
The problem with racing is there’s really no clear way, no clear path. But for sure these days you see a lot of people that are in a really big rush. There’s kind of the Verstappen thing where everybody thinks they need to be in Formula 1 by the age of 16 or whatever, you know. And some people are kind of supernaturally talented like that, and get all the right opportunities, they get there, and they’re ready for it.
And probably for most of us, I think it’s really important to take your time a little bit and build your craft, and make sure you’re winning at a level before you go to the next level, you know have some success there because it’s going to get harder and harder as you go up. So take your time, really learn your skills, try not to jump too many rungs on the totem pole if you can help it and that type of thing. Yeah, it’s going to be a lot of work, but if that’s the type of thing you really wanna do, then it’ll be worth it for sure.
Your Path Starts Here
Did you enjoy what you read here? Read the full interviews with most of these drivers right here on K1 Speed! Just click the button below to browse through all of our professional driver Q&A’s!
Whose advice did you like the most? Let us know in the comments section below!