How Long Does It Take To Become A NASCAR Driver? (Explained)

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Becoming a NASCAR driver is no mean feat, and it takes a long time to reach the top. Pursuing a career in the sport is a long-term process, and success does not occur overnight. Therefore, you may wonder how long it takes to become a NASCAR driver. 

It typically takes at least 10 years to become a NASCAR driver. Many aspiring drivers start young, sometimes as young as 4, and will tend to find themselves in the Cup Series between 10 and 15 years later. It is possible to become a driver in a shorter time frame, but it is rare. 

Below, we will reveal how old you need to be to become a NASCAR driver, before we elaborate further on how young most NASCAR drivers are when they start racing. We will also explain how you can get a NASCAR license, and dive into detail on how to become a NASCAR driver. 

The yellow number 20 Toyota Camry NASCAR car of Matt Kenseth driving for Joe Gibbs Racing leading drivers across the start/finish line at the Phoenix International Raceway, How Long Does It Take To Become A NASCAR Driver?

How Old Do You Need To Be To Get Into NASCAR? 

You must be at least 18 years old to get into the NASCAR Cup or Xfinity Series. You can start at age 16 for the Truck Series, but you may only race on tracks 1.25 miles (2 km) or shorter. In ARCA, Whelen Modified, or any regional series like ARCA Menards East and West, you can start as young as 15. 

However, the same rules apply for all drivers under 18 in these series. They may only race on short tracks 1.25 miles (2 km) long or less. NASCAR also hands out Learner’s Permits to aspiring drivers as young as 14. They may only compete in entry-level divisions, but it still gives them some very useful experience at an early age. 

How Young Do NASCAR Drivers Start Racing? 

NASCAR drivers generally start racing as young as 4. While uncommon, it is not unheard of for drivers to start racing in their teens or even their early twenties. But with NASCAR drivers getting younger, drivers who start racing later in life are generally outcompeted by those that start younger. 

Most drivers begin during childhood, some as young as age four. They won’t be racing a fully-fledged stock car any time soon, but you will see them take to the circuit in karts or quarter midgets. They often race in karting or midget divisions until they are old enough to operate a stock car, which often occurs when they reach high school age. 

Some will prove to be so successful at the karting or quarter midget level that they will move up into the NASCAR divisions faster, starting either in ARCA or Whelen. Others may work their way into racing Late Models or sprint cars

NOTE: The later you start racing, the less likely it is that you’ll reach the NASCAR Cup Series level

How Do You Get A NASCAR License?

If you want to compete in NASCAR, you must get a NASCAR license. This is not a driver’s license, but a license that proves you can handle a NASCAR car. NASCAR licenses are not just limited to the driver, but to every member on their team, including the team owner, pit crew, crew chief, and every mechanic working on the car behind the scenes. 

NASCAR license costs start at about $110, but for a NASCAR driver’s license, they will cost closer to $2,000. These licenses also give you $1 million of insurance at all NASCAR-sanctioned venues. Another fact to remember is that, even if you have experience racing in other series, like IndyCar or F1, you must still obtain a NASCAR license before operating a NASCAR car. 

To obtain a NASCAR license, you need to visit the closest NASCAR track to your home or visit NASCAR headquarters. While anyone can simply go and apply for a license, you would be wise to do your homework before you apply, because obtaining one is not an easy task, or else every aspiring driver and crew member would have one!

You must demonstrate sound knowledge of how a NASCAR car operates, and how to drive one. One way you can accomplish this is to attend a driving school that specializes in stock cars. Experience matters too, so while you learn the ins and outs of driving a NASCAR car, you should also be racing stock cars at local dirt and asphalt tracks. 

Think Of It Like A Job Application

From a certain point of view, a NASCAR license is like a job application – one that could change your life if you pass all the required tests. Therefore, you want to put yourself in the best possible position to ensure you get what you need to compete in NASCAR. 

Overall, the more credentials you have, from past achievements, to knowledge, experience, and references, the better your odds are at getting a license. But getting your NASCAR license is just one step to complete – you still need a race seat.

How To Become A NASCAR Driver

With the chartered system in NASCAR, making it through the ranks with your own team is a rarity, so your best bet is to impress an existing NASCAR team

Most drivers start racing karts and quarter midgets during childhood. Take Joey Logano, who started racing quarter midgets when he was six. You need to stay on the quarter midget or kart circuit consistently, racking up wins, sponsors, and contacts along the way. This means your best probability for success would be to find a mentor who can help you through these early years. 

Networking Is Key

Success breeds success, so you need to do all you can to be a winning kart and quarter midget driver. You also need to have good people skills, because networking is everything in NASCAR. If you can win races but you can’t introduce yourself to potential sponsors, then your chances of success dramatically decrease.

One reason you must prioritize networking is because racing, even at the kart and quarter midget level, is not cheap. Many of today’s NASCAR drivers come from well-off families, given the overall costs of racing, and they eventually needed to find sponsors to help cover the costs of their rides. 

Once you move up to full midgets, sprint cars, or stock cars on the local scene, those costs increase, so the more you network, the more sponsors you can expect if you prove yourself on the track. Assuming you were successful in quarter midgets and karts, and are seeing success on the local scene, this is when NASCAR teams start to generate interest. 

You will be meeting with more than just sponsors, but also prospective teams willing to give you a ride at the higher levels. This could mean the Whelen Modified Series, the ARCA Menards Series, and ARCA Menards East and West. These are all stepping stones to racing in NASCAR’s national divisions. 

Making It To NASCAR’s National Divisions

As you move up the rungs, the competition gets tougher. You are now racing against drivers who have also won at the local level and have also demonstrated enough people skills to network and receive sponsors. This is no different than an aspiring NFL player who may have been a star in high school, but everyone on a Division 1 college team has about the same level of talent.

Therefore, you must continue that success in ARCA, Whelen, or Late Models if you plan on making it to the NASCAR Truck Series, which is the next level on the pyramid. These days, you can make it to the Truck Series as young as age 16 if you are good enough. However, you may need a few years in divisions like ARCA or Late Models first. 

With the average age of NASCAR Truck, Xfinity, and Cup Series drivers getting lower, you will need to have a sense of urgency. So, if you make it to ARCA by age 18, you’ll be looking to catch the eyes of big teams in the Truck, Xfinity and Cup Series by age 20. 

How Long Does It Take?

It often takes most drivers at least a decade to make it from racing quarter midgets and karts as kids to racing in the NASCAR Cup Series – if they are talented enough to get there. Suppose you start racing and succeeding at the kart level at age eight. The earliest you will get to the Cup Series is age 18, and the same occurs if you begin at six years of age. 

If your interest in becoming a NASCAR driver developed at age 12, for example, you can still make it to the Cup Series by age 18. However, since many aspiring drivers have at least twice as much experience as you do, you will need to play a lot of catch up, and that means you are more likely to find yourself in a Cup Series ride at around age 22 at the earliest – again, if you are good enough. 

Before the 2010s, it typically took much longer to race in NASCAR’s highest levels, and when you look back to 1980, when the average age of a Cup Series driver sat at 37, it could have taken 20+ years to make it into the Cup Series. These days, with the drivers getting younger, the average length of time is at least a decade, but often no more than 15 years. 


• Becoming a NASCAR driver typically requires 10-15 years of racing experience

• Some drivers will start racing in the Cup Series as young as 18 years old

• It’s not an easy process, and it takes years of hard work and dedication

How Long Is A NASCAR Driver’s Career?

Long Careers

NASCAR careers vary in length, just like they do in any other sport. However, one key difference is that most successful NASCAR drivers enjoy longer careers than their NFL, NHL, MLB, and NBA counterparts. For example, NASCAR drivers like Bobby Allison and Harry Gant were winning races into their early fifties. 

Other long-time drivers include Darrell Waltrip and Richard Petty. Petty’s career started in 1958 as a part-time driver when he was 21, and ended in 1992 at age 55, giving him 35 years of Cup Series experience. Waltrip ran his first Cup Series race in 1972 at age 25, and his career spanned 29 years, ending in 2000 when he was 53. 

Short Careers

Yet still others come and go after just a few seasons. Trevor Bayne arrived on the NASCAR Cup Series scene in 2010 at age 19, and he ran his last Cup Series race in 2018 when he was just 27. Kasey Kahne’s career lasted about as long as a typical athlete in the four major pro sports leagues, starting in 2004, and ending in 2018, spanning 15 seasons. 

One similarity you see among older NASCAR drivers is that they may switch to a part-time schedule later on. Terry Labonte’s career as a full-time driver started in 1979. In 2005, he raced part-time before he called it quits following the 2014 season. 

His brother, Bobby Labonte, followed a similar career path, racing full-time between 1993 and 2013, before he made sporadic appearances until 2016. We also saw this from drivers like Bill Elliott, Dale Jarrett, and Michael Waltrip, among others.. 

NASCAR Drivers With The Longest Full-Time Careers

DriverLength Of Full-Time Career
Richard Petty1960-1992 (33 seasons)
Darrell Waltrip1975-2000 (26 seasons)
Terry Labonte1979-2004 (26 seasons)
Ricky Rudd1981-2005 (25 seasons)
Jeff Gordon1993-2015 (23 seasons)
Kevin Harvick2001-2023 (23 seasons)

The drivers’ career spans listed above show you just how long a career can last for a full-time NASCAR driver. Not all of the above drivers had the highest number of starts, as those like Kyle Petty and Mark Martin logged more than a few of them, but they enjoyed the longest full-time careers without going part-time in between. 

For example, Kyle Petty took part in most NASCAR events between 1981 and 2008, for 28 seasons. However, he did not race full-time for part of the 2000 season, and he failed to qualify for several races in 2001. Petty’s example, and his father Richard’s, show how long a NASCAR driver’s career can last, either through a mixture of full-time and part-time, or exclusively full-time

Most people work in a career that spans between 30 and 40 years. And while most NASCAR careers do not last this long, the table above shows that they can come close to that of a typical career in something other than sports. When compared to the longest careers in other sports, the longest careers in NASCAR almost always come out on top. 

Final Thoughts

It typically takes at least 10 to 15 years to go from racing in karts as a kid to reaching the NASCAR Cup Series. Most NASCAR drivers today started racing when they were in grade school, and they were among the most successful in their chosen sport throughout their kart, local, and regional careers.