What Age Can You Become A NASCAR Driver? (Limits Explained)

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Every professional sport has an age requirement for its competitors, but NASCAR usually has a wide range of ages of drivers in each race. Because NASCAR has several levels of competition, you may wonder what age you must be to become a NASCAR driver. 

You must be at least 18 years old to compete in the NASCAR Cup or Xfinity Series. The Truck Series allows drivers to start at age 16, but only on tracks that are 1.25 miles (2 km) or shorter. For regional series like ARCA Menards and Whelen Modified, the minimum age is 15. 

Below, we will dive deeper into the minimum age limit for NASCAR, before we talk about age limits across the various series. We’ll also explore how long it takes to become a NASCAR driver, before we reveal whether there is an upper age limit for NASCAR drivers.

The number 16 chevrolet NASCAR car of Noah Gragson driving for Kaulig Racing at the 2022 Food City Bristol dirt race, What Age Can You Become A NASCAR Driver?

Is There A Minimum Age Limit For NASCAR? 

When you look through NASCAR’s long history, you may be shocked to find that some drivers that raced in what is today the NASCAR Cup Series started their NASCAR careers before they turned 18. Bobby Hillin Jr never made a name for himself on the NASCAR circuit, but he ran his first Cup Series race in 1982, about a month and a half before his 18th birthday. 

Donald Thomas, younger brother of former Cup Series champion Herb Thomas, also started his Cup Series career before age 18. Thomas was the youngest NASCAR driver to ever start a Cup Series race, and he was also the youngest driver to win a race in series when he took the checkered flag in the final race of the 1952 season at age 20. 

The latter record stood until 2005, when Kyle Busch took the win at the 2005 Auto Club Race (and Joey Logano now holds the record, winning at just 19 years old). While Thomas’ NASCAR career lasted just 79 races, Hillin made 334 starts in the Cup Series, logging a career-best finish of 9th place in 1986. He would race until the 2000 season before calling it quits. 

Since Hillin’s day, NASCAR has since raised the minimum age to 18 for the Cup Series and the Xfinity Series. However, the minimum age is lower in the Truck Series and ARCA Menards, and the various regional series that NASCAR sponsors. 

KEY FACT: The more difficult the series, the higher the age limit tends to be

NASCAR Age Limits Across The Series

SeriesAge Limit
Cup Series18
Xfinity Series18
Truck Series16 (18 for tracks longer than 1.25 miles)
ARCA Menards Series15
Whelen Modified Tour15
Pinty’s Series15

Age Limits Across The Series

The Cup Series and the Xfinity Series are the two highest levels of competition in NASCAR, and therefore, a driver must be at least 18 to compete in each one. In the lower rungs, such as the Truck, ARCA Menards, and NASCAR-sanctioned regional series, the age limit is much lower. This gives younger drivers a chance to compete and gain experience to get them ready for the higher levels. 

The NASCAR Truck Series allows drivers to begin as young as 16, but they can only compete on tracks that are at most 1.25 miles (2 km) in length until they turn 18. There are 7 races on the Truck Series schedule that a minor is eligible to compete in. If they are younger than 16, drivers may still participate in the ARCA Menards Series or one of NASCAR’s regional series, like the Whelen Modified Tour. 

The 5 Youngest NASCAR Drivers Ever

DriverAge At First Race
Donald Thomas17 years, 315 days
Bobby Hillin Jr17 years, 317 days
Kyle Busch18 years, 73 days
Joey Logano18 years, 113 days
Erik Jones18 years, 344 days

How Do You Become A NASCAR Driver?

In the old NASCAR video game NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup, you play a character who lands a one-year contract with a Whelen Modified ride after you beat Ryan Newman in a street race. Complete with an agent, you fight your way to the top in NASCAR. Unfortunately, in real life, becoming a NASCAR driver isn’t as easy as landing a contract during a chance encounter

Instead, most future NASCAR drivers start racing at a young age, often with quarter-midgets or go-karts. From there, they move up to local tracks, before ultimately racing in ARCA, Late Models, Whelen Modifieds, or Sprint Cars. As these drivers move up, they aren’t just winning races and catching the eye of prominent people who may have specific connections to team owners. 

They are often also spending time networking, making connections to attract sponsorships so they can run as many races as they can and meet prominent people in the industry. They are proactive people – go-getters who are constantly looking for ways to gain exposure.

Getting A NASCAR License 

To compete in NASCAR, you must obtain a NASCAR license. This is not a driver’s license, but instead one that shows you can handle a car designed to run on a NASCAR track. You can get your NASCAR license at the nearest NASCAR-sanctioned track, or at NASCAR’s headquarters. 

But don’t just go to your local track on any random weekend. Instead, visit the track during a weekend that there are NASCAR events going on. This gives you another opportunity to network and meet even more notable people involved with the sport. Buy a pit pass or a garage pass, network, watch a NASCAR event live (you might as well enjoy it!), then apply for your NASCAR license. 

How Old Do You Need To Be To Get A NASCAR License?

The minimum age to get a NASCAR license is 15, but as a minor, you will need parental consent to obtain one. If you would like to obtain a license on your own, you must be at least 18. Further, NASCAR also offers Learner’s Permits for drivers and crew members as young as 14. This permit allows young drivers and crew members to compete in entry-level divisions. 

By the time you apply for a NASCAR license, you should have had plenty of experience racing karts or quarter-midgets from a young age, often between ages four and eight. Ideally, you will also have experience racing stock cars at local tracks, and you should have a firm grasp on the ins and outs of how a stock car operates. 

Get Experience First

If you didn’t gain interest in racing until later, that’s okay, but make sure you compete on the local circuit, win races, and network before you think about getting a NASCAR license. This will build your credibility, so that when you apply to obtain a license, at least a few people in the industry already know your name. 

Once you have your NASCAR license in hand, you are eligible to compete at any NASCAR track assuming you have a ride. This is where the experience and networking come in. The more experience you have, the more successful you are on track, and the more people in the industry you meet, the likelier you are to land a ride. 

Your First NASCAR Races

You will likely begin your NASCAR career in ARCA, or perhaps the Whelen Modified Tour. Think of these lower divisions as your proving ground, and you must be successful here if you plan on moving to the next level. While the competition is tougher, the formula for success is the same: You must perform well, network with people and sponsors, and gain experience

You must also be very patient. Remember, there are only between 36 and 40 trucks, Xfinity cars, or Cup Series cars at the top levels racing on any given weekend. If you want to be one of those on track, you’re going to need to put in an incredible amount of effort – and likely get a bit of luck along the way.

KEY POINTS

• You can become a NASCAR Cup Series driver when you are at least 18 years old

• There are lower age limits for the lower levels of NASCAR 

• You need to be at least 15 years old to get a NASCAR license

How Long Does It Take To Become A NASCAR Driver? 

The length of time it takes to become a NASCAR driver varies, but you can expect to take 10-15 years from when you first start racing, whether that’s in karts or some other form of motorsport. Most NASCAR drivers will have at least a decade of racing experience before joining the Cup Series.

For drivers who start by racing quarter-midgets and karts at a young age, it usually takes at least a decade to get into NASCAR. Starting early is usually key in all motorsports, which is why you’ll also see F1 drivers start karting as young as 4 years old. But there will always be some exceptions.

Buckshot Jones

One example of someone starting fairly late is Roy Norris “Buckshot” Jones, who started racing as a hobby during his time at the University of Georgia when he was around 18 years old. By the time he was 25, Jones competed in the Xfinity Series, then called the Busch Series. Overall, it took him six years to reach the Busch Series, and just eight to get into the Cup Series

Jones was never a household name, having competed in just 56 Cup Series races and scoring a career-best 41st place finish in the standings. He did see some success in the Busch Series, scoring a seventh place finish in 1997. He also scored two wins, 33 top ten finishes, and he won the 1998 Busch Series Most Popular Driver Award. 

Joey Logano

As a counter example, 2022 NASCAR Champion Joey Logano started racing when he was just six years old, and he started competing in NASCAR-sanctioned events when he was 16 (Buckshot Jones hadn’t even started racing by 16). Since Logano started racing at such a young age, it took him 10 years to reach the NASCAR level, and 12 years before he started racing in NASCAR’s three largest divisions. 

Logano’s career has been more memorable than Jones’. He has won two Cup Series Championships, taken 31 wins, and scored 255 top tens. He also has 30 wins in the Xfinity Series. Overall, while it can take you just seven years to reach NASCAR’s pinnacle, it doesn’t mean you will be successful. The more racing experience you have, as in Logano’s case, the more likely you are to find success. 

How Old Is Too Old For NASCAR?

There is no upper age limit in NASCAR. However, drivers must be able to set a competitive lap time in order to be allowed to race. So, if a driver’s abilities have declined enough, they may not be allowed to race, due to their abilities rather than their age.

As we age, our reflexes and reaction times naturally suffer. And in NASCAR, having sound reflexes is everything, given the high speeds of the cars. However, there is no set age limit in NASCAR. Provided you can drive a car at a competitive speed (and you hold the relevant license and have a race seat), you can race it during a Cup Series race. 

Morgan Shepherd

This mentality came into question during a race in 2014 when 72-year-old Morgan Shepherd collided with Joey Logano. Shepherd, who on that day became the oldest driver to start a race in NASCAR Cup Series history, was not driving a car that would have been able to fight for the win. Logano, driving for Team Penske, was in contention to win or at least place highly. 

During the incident at the New Hampshire Speedway, Shepherd was already lapped and Logano was running in second. While the wreck angered Logano, his car owner, Roger Penske, who was 77 at the time, did not blame Shepherd, who passed all of NASCAR’s required tests that included a physical and obtaining a license to race in the series. 

The incident involving Shepherd and Logano was also no outlier, as they are something you see occur in almost every race. Shepherd lost control of his car, but other than his advanced age, the wreck was no different than those that occurred prior to or since the 2014 New Hampshire Race. 

Everyone ages differently, and in Shepherd’s case, he was driving at a speed fast enough to prevent NASCAR from black flagging him. NASCAR ensures drivers can at least reach the minimum speed at their tracks and can adequately operate a car designed for them, rather than attaching a maximum age for racers. 

Minimum Speed Rather Than Maximum Age

If the driver cannot maintain a minimum speed, NASCAR will black flag them, and they will eventually order the driver to park the car if that driver cannot return their car to the minimum speed. NASCAR considers no drivers too old to race, but if a driver does not pass a physical, they will forbid that driver from participating in all NASCAR-sanctioned events. 

The 5 Oldest NASCAR Drivers Ever

DriverAge
Morgan Shepherd72
Mark Thompson66
Hershel McGriff65
Derrike Cope62
Dick Trickle61

Why NASCAR Drivers Start Young & Stop Old

NASCAR was originally a sport where older, more experienced drivers were preferred over younger, upstart drivers. Between 1980 and 2022, the average age of NASCAR drivers hovered between 31 and 39, substantially older than the average age in the four major North American professional sports leagues. 

In recent seasons, the average age has steadily decreased toward 31, because drivers on the circuit these days are starting younger. Take Ty Gibbs, 2023’s youngest rookie. Gibbs started the 2023 season at just 20 years old, and he is the latest in a trend of drivers who, since the early 2000s, snagged their first Cup Series rides at 20 or younger. 

One major reason drivers are starting young is one we already talked about. NASCAR has lowered the minimum age limits to compete in its regional series and even the Truck Series. This allows younger aspiring NASCAR drivers to compete and gain up to six seasons of experience before they turn 20 if they start with a Learner’s Permit and compete in entry-level events. 

Racing Academies In High Demand 

Because NASCAR lowered the minimum age requirement, it also created more demand for racing academies. While we saw many racing academies before NASCAR lowered age limits, new ones were founded to meet that demand. Now that the minimum age for ARCA and Whelen is 15, and 14 in the latter for a Learner’s Permit, you will see even more academies spring up. 

These academies also aren’t just dedicated to aspiring drivers whose parents have money. They also offer single-day experiences for families on tighter budgets, allowing even more students to gain valuable racing experience. These academies also make it possible for more drivers to launch a successful career in NASCAR. 

At one time, many of your most successful drivers relied on their family’s background in the sport. This was the case with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty, whose dads had NASCAR experience. Many drivers also had family involved in NASCAR either as drivers, like Earnhardt and Petty, car owners, or mechanics. 

Societal Changes 

Finally, today’s society isn’t what it was in 1980, when the average age for a NASCAR driver hovered around 37. In the 1980s, it was common for people to get any job that came their way, work for roughly 35 years, and retire. And if they could afford it, college was an option that allowed for a potential expansion of career choices. 

In the 2020s, many young people do not choose the route that was common in the 1980s. Society encourages them to pursue something more if they choose to. This means you see more young people not only in NASCAR, but in many other parts of our society too. The New Age mentality increases the probability of younger drivers entering the sport. 

Why Drivers Stop Old

While there are outliers in other sports like Tom Brady in the NFL and Zdeno Chára in the NHL, it is common to see NASCAR drivers race well into their 40s. One main reason is that their bodies don’t take as much carnage as you see in the NFL and NHL, where players are constantly hitting one another. 

While it’s true that G-forces, dehydration, and crashes can hurt, hits in the NFL and NHL can be akin to a car crash in every game

Despite the dangers, this isn’t as common of a case in NASCAR. Further, with drivers working out and adhering to regular fitness regimens, they take better care of their bodies, allowing them to prolong their careers. This allows drivers to race into their late 40s and, in some cases, into their 50s and beyond. 

KEY POINTS

• There is no upper age limit in NASCAR

• As long as a driver is physically fit and can drive fast enough, they can race

• NASCAR drivers tend to start young, and many have very long careers

Final Thoughts

You must be at least 18 to race in the NASCAR Xfinity or Cup Series, but you can race at 16 in the Truck Series if the track is 1.25 miles (2 km) or shorter. You can also race as young as 15 at short tracks in ARCA, Whelen Modified, and Canadian Tire. Since NASCAR lowered age limits, it is common to see drivers start younger than they used to, and many will race well into their 40s.