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How To Become A NASCAR Driver (Ultimate Guide)

You want to become a NASCAR driver, but you are wise enough to realize that it is not as easy as Career Mode in the old NASCAR video games will lead you to believe. It takes a long-term commitment, and you need to hone more than just your driving skills to become a NASCAR driver.

To become a NASCAR driver, you must build experience at the midget car level before you progress to racing stock cars. Between races, connect with influencers at the track and build long-term relationships with sponsors. These two key elements are paramount to making it in NASCAR.

Below, you will find the ultimate step-by-step guide on how to make it in NASCAR. You will also find a few unexpected skill sets that you will need to build if you want to set yourself apart from the tens of thousands of drivers who share your dream.

What Qualifications Do You Need To Be A NASCAR Driver?

You don’t need any special qualifications to be a NASCAR driver. Becoming a NASCAR driver is all about your driving skills, experience, and your network. There are no classes that will help you become a NASCAR driver, and there are no certifications required other than the NASCAR driving license.

When you watch NASCAR drivers race down the straightaways and break into turns at 180 miles per hour, you may have fantasized about getting behind the wheel of one of these machines. You and millions of others hold the same dream of one day becoming a NASCAR driver.

But with only 36 chartered race teams in NASCAR Cup and 36-40 drivers in the NASCAR Xfinity and Truck Series, you’re probably also wondering how you can gain an edge over the competition. The good news is, the more dedicated you are, the greater your chances of succeeding.

Sometimes, however, dedication is not enough. You need knowledge to become a NASCAR driver. And the best way to receive the proper credentials to make it in NASCAR is knowing where to start.

You won’t find NASCAR people in your hometown often. But if you know where these people hang out, you have taken the first step in your quest to build a NASCAR career. But just because you know where they hang out, it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t get some experience first.

Not Like Video Games

Unfortunately, in real life, things are not as easy as racing a driver during a chance encounter and winning a contract overnight, like you might do in a NASCAR video game. However, becoming a NASCAR driver is not impossible. It’s just going to take much longer than what the old video games implied.

How To Gain Driving Experience

Most NASCAR drivers did not start off in a stock car. They instead got their start racing quarter midgets or go-karts. These drivers started racing in their early childhood, some as early as age five. But if you didn’t race that early, don’t worry, it won’t disqualify you from a NASCAR career.

Once they gained experience, they moved to half-midgets, and eventually full-sized midgets. The tracks that these drivers raced on mainly comprised dirt, concrete, and asphalt, and they were often no longer than one-eighth of a mile. Short tracks, in other words.

While you may see people associated with NASCAR’s highest divisions at these races, at this stage you are only looking to gain experience. If you are under 16, then you would start in quarter midgets, and slowly work your way to full-sized midget car racing.

Notable drivers who started off at this level include Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Sarah Fisher, Jeff Gordon, and Kyle Larson. You may even spot some popular drivers at these events, but focus on gaining experience first.You can always impress them later.

Move To Cars

Some midget and kart competitors spend their entire careers racing them, mainly for enjoyment or something to do on a weeknight. But if you’re serious about becoming a NASCAR driver, then you need to move on to racing cars. You’ll probably start your journey in cars at your local track, meaning you will supply your own car and tailor it to your selected racing organization’s regulations.

Your team will comprise volunteers and those passionate about local stock car racing. The goal, as always, is to perform well. Prominent names in NASCAR also grace these tracks on weeknights. And the better you race, the more of an opportunity you have of catching their eye.

Move To Grassroots Organizations

Now, the good news is that even if you don’t get in contact with a popular driver or car owner, there are plenty of regional racing teams that need drivers at the lower, grassroots level. And these teams might just know somebody connected with a driver or owner that can mention your name.

However, you need to first prove yourself by racing for these grassroots racing teams. The best way to catch their attention is to perform well in go-karts, quarter-midgets, and midgets. Once someone offers you an opportunity to race for their local or regional race team, you take it.

The cars you want to drive for at the grassroots level include Legends cars, late models, and street stocks. NASCAR teams keep their eye on some of these grassroots divisions too. So even if no one on your team has a connection, you may still catch the attention of someone from NASCAR.

Connect With Local Businesses

Did you know NASCAR drivers at every level make appearances and conduct interviews on their sponsors’ behalf? The final qualification at the grassroots level is to connect with local businesses and reach out to attain a sponsorship through them.

This might sound intimidating at first. But you need to engage in sound public relations if you want to gain the edge over your competitors who focus solely on racing. The better you perform on the track, the more attention you will draw to yourself.

But there are hundreds of thousands of drivers at the grassroots level. Tens of thousands will catch NASCAR’s attention. You need to set yourself apart from those other 10,000 drivers. And the best way to do that is to interact with, sign, and engage with sponsors at the local level.

What Skills Do You Need To Be A NASCAR Driver?

To be a NASCAR driver, you need skills including:

  1. Car tuning
  2. In-race adjustments
  3. Pushing and drafting
  4. Quick reflexes
  5. Ability to trust your spotter

There are two types of skill sets that you need to excel in NASCAR. The first skill set will help you reach the NASCAR level. This is a basic skill set that every NASCAR driver racing at the top three levels of the sport (Cup Series, Xfinity, Truck) possesses.

Once you make it in NASCAR, the second skill set involved will set you apart from the other drivers. But for this article, we will focus on the skills you need to develop to reach NASCAR’s lower levels like the ARCA Series, which NASCAR acquired in 2018.

1. Car-Tuning

NASCAR cars contain closed cockpits, heavier vehicles weighing at least 3,200 pounds, and significant differences between their passenger vehicle counterparts. While you don’t need to familiarize yourself yet with NASCAR’s rides, you do need that familiarity with what you drive at the lower levels.Knowing your ride will help you communicate better with your team during the race.

It will also demonstrate your willingness to work with your team in the shop in between races. This shows that you have the passion required to reach the next level. When you reach the NASCAR level, then go ahead and become familiar with the ARCA, Truck, Xfinity, and Cup Series cars. But at the grassroots level, stick with knowing the cars that you are racing.

2. In-Race Adjustments

This one comes with experience, and it helps to have an experienced team around you. But if you are a rookie driver who is racing for a new team, don’t sweat. You and your team will just be learning on the fly. At all levels, stock car racing requires a sound strategy. This strategy differs between venues because no two tracks are alike.

You will learn quickly that your strategy can go awry at any time during a race, and you need to come up with an answer to unforeseen circumstances on the track. Communication with your team is key, and interdependency and trust are also paramount. Both with your team members and the other drivers. You may have a driver you work well with, but if they crash out of the race, you need a Plan B.

Or suppose something occurred that caused you to lose track position. You need a strategy that will help you regain that position. These are just a few of many examples. And as you face more on-track situations, the better you will become at adjusting.

3. Pushing And Drafting

Pushing and drafting are interchangeable terms for when cars line up directly in front of and behind one another. This is a skill that will set you apart from other drivers in the lower levels that NASCAR watches. Drafting will speed up your car and it will help you conserve tires and fuel.

It is a sign of a great driver because it will also help you weave through the field if you fall behind. It goes right back into the ability to an in-race adjustment. Pushing and drafting is one way to respond to an unfortunate event happening to you during an event.

4. Quick Reflexes

Every NASCAR driver must have quick reflexes. When you race at any level, on-track incidents are inevitable, and they will often occur right in front of you. Although you will have a spotter telling you about and walking you through these incidents as they occur in front of you, you must react quickly.

Improve your reflexes. This is something you must do on and off the track. Off the track, you can engage in athletic workouts such as having someone throw color-coded tennis balls your way. You would yell out the color before you catch them.

Simple exercises like the ball drill will train your reflexes, but you need to translate that reflex ability you acquire to the racetrack. The more time you dedicate to building your reflexes off the track, the better you will be able to avoid an incident even if it occurs right in front of you.

5. Ability To Trust Your Spotter

This is an underrated but important skill that NASCAR drivers need because they do not have time to check and see if what their spotter is relaying to them is true. You need to build trust with a spotter telling you who is high, who is low, and most importantly, how to avoid on-track collisions.

Our natural instincts tell us to turn our heads in the direction of something that is oncoming. In stock car racing, you will risk losing track position and you also run the risk of colliding with another car if you look anywhere except straight ahead.

Train your instincts to automatically conform to what your spotter is telling you. If they tell you to move high (closer to the wall), don’t look. Trust them enough that you can take the position without running into anyone. The same thing applies if they tell you to go low.

How Do You Apply To Become A NASCAR Driver?

You apply to become a NASCAR driver by first applying for your NASCAR racing license, which you can do at your local NASCAR track or their HQ. While you do need to fill out some paperwork, the best way to apply to become a driver is to connect with NASCAR teams and interact with them professionally.

However, you may notice that NASCAR does not hold an annual draft for prospects who race at grassroots levels, like some other sports do. Instead, your job applications involve driving well and remaining consistent, which is a given, but most importantly, you need to network.

Think about it in terms of someone applying for their dream job. While their qualifications speak wonders, ultimately the best networkers will get the job. Those who connect well in any industry, be it NASCAR or a Fortune 500 Company, will gain the edge in the application process.

When you race at the grassroots level, talk to people. Connect with those influencers, like the event promoters. Talk to people who represent the sponsors, especially those in the automotive industry, and you will eventually come across people who will give you access to expanding your network.

More Than Great Driving

While it is possible for big names in NASCAR to notice your success on the track, they may not approach you unless you are completely dominating races. That is a very small number of drivers. You can count on one hand the number of drivers who make it to NASCAR through sheer talent.

So, be a consistent performer and simultaneously master the art of networking. Once you expand your connection base beyond the people at the track, whether it is teams or event sponsors, new doors will open. You can do this through social media or email, but preferably in person. 

Why does this matter? Connecting with those involved in the industry gives you a presence. A platform that you can leverage to your advantage. NASCAR teams realize that if you have a platform, you have support, a fanbase, and even potential sponsors.

This makes life so much easier for NASCAR teams bringing on a new driver. Whether it is a regional series, ARCA, or even the Truck Series. NASCAR teams want to invest in drivers that give them the best chance to make a profit. Drivers with a platform give those teams a better chance of making money.

Where Do NASCAR Drivers Start Their Careers?

Many NASCAR drivers start their careers in midget racing or in go-karts, before then graduating to car racing. The lower levels of NASCAR, like the ARCA Menards series and even the Whelen Modified Tour, are other places NASCAR drivers may work up through before reaching the Cup Series.

If you follow all of the above information, there is no guarantee that you will get a start in NASCAR. However, it will at least help augment your chances of making a career in the sport. But suppose you follow the information given and you get an offer from a team to compete at the NASCAR level. Unfortunately, you are still a long way from competing in the Cup Series.

In fact, you are still going to race at the grassroots level, although you would now have a contract to compete in NASCAR. The difference, however, is that now you are racing in grassroots organizations that NASCAR sanctions.

Known until 2019 as the NASCAR Home Tracks Division, NASCAR Roots comprises leagues that you may have heard about. If you heard of the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA), it belongs under the NASCAR Roots umbrella. Other notable organizations include the Whelen Modified Tour, the NASCAR Pinty’s, Mexico, and Euro Series.

NASCAR’s Proving Ground

So, this is the proving ground for NASCAR. You still need to hone the skill set outlined in the above sections and you need to network better now than ever before. You also need to grow your presence in these lower NASCAR divisions.

Whether you race in ARCA, Whelen, or both, you need to prove yourself by remaining consistent with your finishes. Remember, you are competing against some of the best stock car drivers in the world, so continue to set yourself apart from the competition week in and week out.

Do You Need A License To Become A NASCAR Driver?

You do need a license to become a NASCAR driver. This is a special NASCAR license you can apply for at a NASCAR operated venue or their HQ. In order to drive in a NASCAR-sanctioned series, you need a license that proves you can operate these cars safely.

Since NASCAR is a prestigious racing organization, attaining a license to become a NASCAR driver is not easy. It is strenuous, but at the end of the day, you will become a more complete driver once you obtain a license.

How To Get A NASCAR License

Once you make the appropriate connections and gain serious recognition from NASCAR teams, go to your nearest NASCAR-sanctioned track and apply for a license. You can also go to NASCAR headquarters and the people there will be glad to help you out.

While it is possible to get a NASCAR license with no prior experience or connections, chances are you probably won’t get approved. So don’t even attempt it. NASCAR is particular about who they approve for a racing license, or else hundreds of thousands of drivers would have one.

Before you go apply for a license, hone your resume. Include your usual personal information and previous accomplishments. You can list prior racing experience, but it is best to stick to your most notable experiences to come across more as an achiever and not so much as a doer.

Finally, you need references. This is where all that networking comes in. Your references should be the primary decision-makers of your sponsors and those who you networked with in the past.Only place your initial connections on your resume if they are those big decision-makers.

No Racing Team, No Problem

Some prospective NASCAR drivers will apply for a NASCAR license without the backing of any team. So say if you made your connections, gained sponsorship, won races, and drove for teams (or yourself) who did not have any connection to NASCAR, don’t worry. You don’tneed to belong to the NASCAR hierarchy in any capacity to obtain a NASCAR license. You just need experience and a sound resume.

So, if no NASCAR team has heard your name, but they like what they see on your resume, they may come to you. Now, while this is fantastic, you should also reach out to them. NASCAR teams, at any given moment, are always looking to expand their talent pool and there are thousands of drivers with NASCAR licenses that they can hire to race in the Roots Divisions.

To set yourself apart, introduce yourself to them via email or if you can, meet them in person. The latter is the preferred method, just as we talked about earlier with obtaining sponsors. But as their team headquarters may not be in proximity, appearing in person is not always feasible.

Do Some Drivers Have Unfair Advantages?

The answer is yes and no. We can all name NASCAR drivers at any given time during the sport’s history who followed the footsteps of their fathers. Lee Petty, Richard Petty, and Kyle Petty are great examples. As are Bobby and Davey Allison, and Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jr.

But when you research these families, you will notice that, even if they came from the NASCAR hierarchy, most never succeeded beyond a certain level. Look at how many Earnhardts did not make it in NASCAR. And you can point to other drivers who came from successful families and didn’t make it.

Terry Labonte had a son who didn’t last. Ditto for Rusty Wallace. So, there is no golden ticket for any driver at any level in NASCAR that they will race someday in the Cup Series for a prolonged period. Regardless of what their last name is.

They may have the connections to get them to the NASCAR level. But these drivers still started racing karts or quarter-midgets. They raced in grassroots organizations. No one handed them keys to the ignition of even a Truck Series ride. They still had to prove themselves at the lower levels.

How Long Does It Take To Become A NASCAR Driver?

When you commit to becoming a NASCAR driver, you are making a commitment that may last at least a decade. Now, for some drivers, it may not last as long. It might only take them five years instead of 10-plus years.

Suppose a prospective driver starts racing when they are eight. It will take them between eight and ten years to even get to the grassroots levels of NASCAR. But, if you started at fourteen and you researched the steps carefully, you may get there sooner, perhaps closer to five years.

The Fast Track To Joining NASCAR

It is understandable that you want to get into NASCAR as soon as you can. The first step to the fast is to attend local racing events and get involved as a driver. Start with the midgets and build as many connections as you can. Start racing at as young of an age as you can. The sooner you begin, the faster you will gain experience and start winning races.

Put all those wins on the resume and any connection you build, add them as references. Learn to work with your respective teams and work with the drivers you are competing against. Spend time in the shop, get to know your team, and get to know your car. Gain valuable experience wherever you can.

Be extroverted, talk with people, and continually refine your resume with the most relevant wins and add the most relevant references. The faster you build a resume with solid finishes while adding appropriate connections, the faster your NASCAR career will take off.

Final Thoughts

It takes time, skill and perseverance to become a NASCAR driver. But many prospective drivers believe that they can make it on talent alone. You need talent, but you also need to connect with people and sponsors who will join you on your journey from the local dirt track to the NASCAR circuit.