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When Am I Ready to Go Wheel to Wheel Racing?

John Ruther
Published: 2011-03-07 10:53:07
Last Updated: 2011-03-07 08:03:20

As the chief Driving Instructor of PCA Chicago Region I get asked this question a lot. There are actually two answers to this question:

I can only speak to the requirements of PCA Club Racing. If you intend to race with any other sanctioning body you should check their requirements, as most sanctioning bodies differ in terms of their experience requirements. But in PCA Club Racing the rules require that you have at least 12 days of race track driving experience and experience at Driver's Ed events, time trials, race schools or equivalent events within a 24 month period.  (Note: experience at Autocross events does not count.)

Having said this, I don't know of many people who are ready to go Wheel to Wheel Racing after just 12 days of race track driving experience. I have had many drivers who have any where from 50 or more days of track driving experience before they feel they are ready to take the plunge and go racing.
In PCA Club Racing, the application for a Novice License includes a Certification of Experience that must be completed by your region's Chief Driving Instructor.

The one thing to remember is that when you are racing much of what you learn while doing DE events will change. For example, in DE the one thing that is stressed is to always drive the proper line. However, in racing this is not always the case. When you are attempting to pass another car they are not going to move off-line so you can pass, so you are going to have to make the pass by going off-line yourself and still make the next corner.

My recommendation is that you should be completely comfortable in driving the proper line just like it is second nature. You should know the braking points that you need to use in order to get your car to the appropriate entry speed for all the corners. Remember, this changes when you have just completed a pass under braking and you are now off-line. In racing there are cars all over the place and you must be comfortable with your own driving skills so this is not disconcerting. When you first start racing, the most difficult part is the start when cars are all bunched up and everyone is trying to gain spots before Turn 1. Remember, just hold the line you want to take into Turn 1, whether it's on-line or off-line. But be Predictable. Proper racing etiquette is that cars trying to pass you need to give you racing room. Now in theory that sounds great, but in practice it doesn't always work out that way, so you need to be aware of all the cars around you and you need to be somewhat defensive in order to avoid contact with another car.

The bottom line is there really isn't any set number of days of track driving experience that will indicate your are qualified to go racing. We all learn at different rates and while some people who have had a lot of experience in karting ,for example, may be ready to go Wheel to Wheel racing after 12 - 25 days of experience, most people will NOT be ready with that amount of experience.

One other recommendation is do your first race at a track you are familiar with and also a track that has lots of run off room in case you (or the other guy) makes a mistake. I have lots of people who tell me that Road America is their home track and they want to do their first race at that track. My recommendation is to NOT do that since the PCA Club Race at Road America is a very big event with high levels of testosterone and race groups with up to 80 cars. And Road America is not only a very fast (read Scary) track but it has lots of concrete barriers. My recommendation for a first race would a track like GingerMan or Putnam Park or any track like these with plenty of run off room and not so many entries. Once you have a few races like this under your belt then you can try your hand at one of the faster tracks like Road America, Road Atlanta, Watkins Glen or Sebring.

If you have any questions about this just give me a call at the number below. Remember, you will also need lots of additional safety equipment items before your first race, that are not required when doing DE or Time Trials. These items include, but are not limited to, a current SA rated helmet; HANS device: FIA or SFI approved belts; approved fire retardant driving suit, shoes, gloves and underwear; roll cage; fire suppression system; approved race seat and mounting hardwareignition kill switch; and a  window net. You can check all of this equipment out on Northstar Motorsports website: If you have any questions, just give me a call at 847-304-5515 or send me an email at and I'll be happy to help you.