FAQs – Formula Ford Driving

Q. What is the best way to learn to drive a race car?
A. There are several options out there and some will be better for you than others. First, you can buy your own race car or rent one and sign up for a couple of SCCA school weekends. There are probably thirty or forty such school weekends at various road courses each year across the country. The instructors are SCCA members and drivers who have proven themselves on track and have obtained their National licenses. You will have on-track instruction as well as a considerable amount of classroom instruction. The school entry fee will be between $300 and $500 each. After two such schools and about six hours of on-track time, you will be signed off for a Novice Permit and you can enter Regional races. After you complete two Regionals satisfactorily – you will be observed by the Stewards and flaggers – you will receive your Regional license. This system has worked quite well for thousands of drivers over the years but there are several alternatives. One is to go to a professional driver’s school such as Skip Barber or Jim Russell. You can find a list of approved driver’s schools in SCCA publications and on the SCCA website – scca.com. These schools will cost between $1,500 and $3,500 and that includes the use of a school car and all the driver’s equipment you’ll need. After only one three-day school of this type, you will receive you Regional license. For further information, see the respective schools’ website and/or request their literature.

Q. How much time does racing take?
A. The amount of time involved in racing can vary widely depending on a number of factors such as the type and condition of the car you’re running, the number of events you expect to enter, extent of prep work the car requires, how much help you have, etc. With a Formula Ford, if you want to race reliably and safely, general maintenance and tuning between events can take several hours. But, at the same time, a car which starts the season well prepared can require only an hour or two between race events – especially for the Regional racer who is satisfied to “just get out there” and is not hell bent on winning every race. The number of events you run makes a big difference. Some guys enter only two or three races a year while others do test days and several races every season - as many as twenty! One important thing to keep in mind is that everyone’s goals will be different and while one person may want to only go out for three or four Regionals a year, others will not be satisfied until they go to a dozen or more races with several test days thrown in for good measure. The fact is, racing can take up all the spare time you have available if you let it! In addition, amateur racing can be done on a variety of levels. The New England Region motto is "FOR THE FUN OF IT" and that's what Club racing is all about. It's a very enjoyable hobby-sport. Club Racing is not Formula One even though some of its participants undertake it as if it is.

Q. But what about off season prep time and complete frame up rebuilds?
A. A complete frame-up rebuild can take months and hundreds of man-hours and is often done when a used race car is first purchased or after four or five seasons of hard use. (see “frame-up Rebuilds” in the CHASSIS page) At the end of the season, it is a good idea to fully check the entire car – chassis, suspension, electrical and plumbing systems, transmission, etc. In many cases, the only way to do this properly is to disassemble the parts, check for wear or cracks and repair or replace the parts. Suspension components involve ball and roller bearings as well as rod ends and spherical bearings. All must be carefully looked over for wear or any sort of failure. Typically, the engine is pulled and rebuilt. (refer to the Engine Rebuilding page)

Q. How competitive do I need to be to succeed in the sport?
A. The answer to this question hinges on your definition of “success”. Again, everyone wants to get something different out of their hobby or leisure-time activity. Success for some means going to the National Championships – or “RunOffs” at Mid-Ohio Race Course in October of every year. Others will be pleased as punch to get over to their closest road course for two or three good Regional race weekends – even if they’re running mid-pack or tail-end Charlie! The key here is for you to sauce out what the sport really means to you once you get your feet wet in it. Then, adjust your own perceptions and criteria so that there is match between what you genuinely expect to get out of the sport or what you expect to achieve doing it. Give it a year. Only then will you be in a position to determine what kind of success you can realistically achieve, what the “cost” is in terms of money, time and commitment and whether you want to just have fun or go all out.

Q. My goal is to race professionally - maybe even Formula 1. Is racing a Formula Ford a good first step?
A. For some newbies Formula Ford could be a first step to fame and fortune in the professional ranks but there are a lot of ways to "get to the top" and a lot of opinions as to which way is best. Thirty years ago, Formula Ford was a valid first step in the ladder and several Formula One drivers started in FF1600 - Mansell, Daly and Senna among others. But in recent years, the fastest ways to the pro ranks have involved the various "Arrive & Drive" series such as the Skip Barber Racing Series. The technique involves 1) Going to a few professional racing schools, 2) Paying a lot of money to race in the series for a few years and 3) Winning a few of the series races if not the championship. At that point, you could be on your way but you'll need to find sponsors or bring family money because "getting to the top" means "funding your way to the top". So, could Formula Ford play a role in all of this? It certainly could. A year or two in FF1600 would allow you the opportunity to learn all the basics of the sport including chassis setup. You can also anticipate the chance to measure yourself against some very, very fast drivers. Formula Ford has a lot of fast drivers.

Q. I am sure I’m the next Michael Schumacher. How do I convince others of that fact?
A. Since the mid 50’s, racers have believed themselves to be “the next Stirling Moss” or “the next Juan Manuel Fangio” or even “the next Mario Andretti”. Unfortunately, not too many of these guys with a high degree of over-confidence have been able to produce the goods! While there may be no doubt in your mind that you're the fastest guy around, the fact is the stopwatch doesn’t lie. So, what you’ve got to do is this: 1) Set an incredible series of lap records, 2) Start a dozen races from the pole and then, 3) Take an amazing string of victories against fierce opposition using inadequate equipment and overcoming daunting mechanical difficulties. After achieving such incredible results and getting a picture of yourself on the cover of SPORTSCAR – holding a bunch of checkered flags and trophies, of course – you can move on to the next level. About three years later after you’ve won the SCCA National RunOffs and a few other Championships, you just might be ready to call yourself “the next Michael Schumacher!! Of course, the other guy will tell you he’s “the next Aryton Senna”!

Q. How dangerous is road racing?
A. Although drivers do occasionally get seriously injured – and sometimes worse – amateur road racing is probably less dangerous, on a statistical basis, than driving on the public roadways. If a car is well prepared and if the driver takes a wise and thoughtful approach to his driving, the odds of getting hurt are very small. Proper driver’s equipment – suit, helmet, gloves, shoes and neck support or HANS device coupled with proper car preparation and equipment such as seat, seatbelts, roll bar construction, etc., will go a long way toward preventing injury in the case of a incident happening. Most road courses are very safe with extensive runoff areas and well designed tire barriers. Thus, although one will occasionally see a bent car being towed into the paddock, the truth is that the ambulance rarely gets used. Some people have the impression that open wheel racing is more dangerous than closed wheel cars but there are no statistics to bear that out.