Chances are, you live within 2 hours of an active track, that holds dozens of amateur events each year. Yes, you can participate in those events! This story is a guide to getting started.
The first step in getting into sports car racing here in the states is familiarizing yourself with the SCCA. The SCCA is either directly responsible (by promoting events) or indirectly responsible (by licensing drivers, providing safety and performance rules, and providing insurance to private promotors) for the vast majority of events being held.
The Sports Car Club of America is a 65 000-member, non-profit organization featuring the most active membership participation in American motorsports today, and promoting more than 2 000 amateur and professional events each year. (SCCA site)
The SCCA is a grassroots-centric organization. 109 regional chapters conduct almost all of the events, while the national club provides resources that make the chapters' operations possible: coordinated rules, licensing, insurance, etc..
The mainstay of the SCCA is its Club Racing program - more than 300 amateur road racing events are held at local and national levels through the year. (SCCA explains itself)
The second step is to decide just what you want to run. The SCCA promotes a variety of events in several broad catagories:
Club Racing includes the more than 300 road racing events each year. Club Racing is *not* geared toward circuit-chasing racers, but instead caters to those who want to test their skills on a part-time basis. As such, the champions (totalling 25 in as many classes) are decided through a seperate set of events: 65 National races, and the annual Valvoline Runoffs. Events are held on dedicated raceways, positioned all over the US.
Solos are single car speed competitions, ran against the clock. A Solo I event takes form of either a Hill Climb, Solo Trials, or Flat Track Trials. The nature of a Hill Climb is obvious - one car is sent up a hill at a time, and the shortest time wins. Solo Trials are held on marked (by cones, flexible pylons, maybe barrels, and other low-damage-potential marking devices) courses where speeds do not reach everyday highway speeds, but where the shape of the course induces a serious speed rush. Flat Track Trials are held on a dedicated raceway, and speeds reach those of any other event on that track.
Solo II, the American brand name of autocross, is the natural extension of Solo I. Events are held on marked courses, usually constructed on deserted parking lots or airstrips. Speeds are much higher than the similar Solo I Trials.
Road Rally Road Rallies are held on open public highways, at or below the legal speed limit. These types of rallies aren't races at all, but instead the point is to arrive at the destination exactly on-time (not early or late). The twist is, you aren't given the time up front - only the average speed required on each strech of road to the destination.
Most of you will be familar with Performance Rallies - cars barely squeek around turns on hazardous gravel or dirt roads, while hordes of spectators look on in the seemingly most dangerous possible positions. Every driver has a co-driver (navigator), and the racing sections (special stages) are connected by quick trips (transit sections) on open public highways where the participants must obey all traffic laws. Performance Rally is further divided into Club Rally and Pro Rally.
SCCA Pro Racing
The SCCA also organizes and officiates many professional racing series including the Trans-Am series, SPEED World Challange, and Spec Racer. They aren't covered here, but more infomation can be found on the SCCA Pro Racing website.
The third step is to become a member of the SCCA. The cost will be between 70 and 100 USD, depending upon the speed demands of your SO and/or children. (This includes both national and regional dues.)
You'll also need to order rulebooks. You'll certainly need the General Competition Rules (CGR), which will cost you 25 USD (30, for non-members), and maybe a rulebook specific to the events you participate in (15 USD for members, 20 for non-members).
When you look over the rules, you'll probably notice a few modifications you'll need to make on your car, and a few items you'll need to purchase. Most events require at least a helmet ($150-$250) (though some, like Road Rallies and Solo I Trials (except when driving a convertible) don't.) You may also need a fire and abraision resistant suit ($100-$250), a rollbar ($150-$400), compeition seats and harnesses ($200-$400), or other safety gear.
In general, racing in the SCCA starts cheap and gets more expensive as you get more experience. That's good.
The fourth step is to get licensed. For Club Racing, you'll need to first get a novice permit ($55). Almost everyone 16 years of age or older with a valid driver's license is eligible for a novice permit. With such a permit, you can attend SCCA competition driving schools.
After you've attended and completed two schools ($100-$200 each, and worth every penny) you are eligible to enter two regional races. Once you've done that, you're eligible for your regional competition license. For more information on Club Racing licensing, check out the SCCA's Club Racing licensing guide.
For information on getting a different competition license, check out the SCCA's site.
Sports car racing is indeed alive and well, and what's more, it's easy to participate in. I hope that you've found this article informative, and if you enjoy going fast and the thrill of competition, I hope you persue them in the form of racing in the SCCA.
The SCCA is not the only motor sports organization in the US, though. Others include:
Organizations similar in purpose to the SCCA exist in many countries, and a few are listed here:
MCSCC, or the Midwestern Council of Sports Car Clubs, is similar in structure and events to the SCCA.
The Grand American Road Racing Association is similar to the SCCA in many respects, but is only in its third season. If nothing else, they have already brought about changes in the way road races are conducted, and more organizations (and competition between them)
is usually a Good Thing.
SVRA, or the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association - "Some people collect art - we race it."
CART, which stands for Championship Auto Racing Teams, is active in the US. They sponsor the FedEx Championship Series, the Toyota Atlantic Championship, and the Barber Dodge Pro Series.
IMSA, or the International MotorSports Association, is active in the US. They sponsor the American LeMans series, as well as the Grand Prix American. As far as I am aware, this is a purely professional league.
In other countries, look at the FIA's list of affiliated member organizations, in 118 different countries.
There are more sports car racing clubs and organiztions in America and in the world than I could hope to list and describe, but a Google search on sports car racing can be fruitful.
Thanks for reading,