Every weekend, somewhere, there’s a race to watch. You probably won’t find them on television, but you can get a lot closer to the action than you can with most pro races, and they’re far more fun to watch. If you’ve ever felt as if pro racing is a bit too sterile or predictable, this is the place for you. Welcome to the world of amateur road racing.
Back in May, I volunteered with the local Porsche Club of America region to help host the Carrera of the Americas: a huge combination high performance driver’s education and club racing weekend held here in Austin.
As I sat in the timing and scoring room above pit lane, I watched herds of cars roll through Turn 20 at Circuit of the Americas. Some racers nailed it. Others completely blew it, running wide onto the paved part and having to nose their way back on to the racing surface. There was passing. There were close calls. There were balls the size of eight Jupiters.
Somewhere around the third or fourth race group, I realized that I was having a lot more fun watching amateurs have at it than I’ve ever had at a pro race.
This mix of talent levels, the various years and types of racecars, and the ability to walk up to any team and start chatting about anything— this is what makes amateur racing so much fun to watch.
The participants may not be famous and likely aren’t at the top of their racecraft game, but they’re extremely accessible. You quickly find people to watch for various reasons: front-runners, friends, friends-of-friends, liveries you like, people with the name Sven—whatever floats your red-flagged Toyoboata, amigo.
I had a friend racing for the first time at this PCA race in a Spec 996, so every time he passed, it was “Go, N00b Racer, go!”
This is where the really cool racecars that are long out of production tend to hang out: with the amateurs. I quickly found an entire corner of the paddock of SP1 Spec 944s dressed in famous Porsche liveries.
They were missing the Salzburg car, though. Clearly, I need to hurry up with that whole licensing thing, swap on suspension that isn’t original to my old 1983 944 and bring my LeMon.
Best of all, they want you there, and not only as a participant. The volunteer pool for corner workers, marshals and other staff is aging, with not enough new people stepping in to take their place. There are so many opportunities to volunteer and keep amateur racing happening as long as you know where to look.
So, how do you get to watch these races? Just because the word “club” is often involved doesn’t mean they’re walled-off to the public. Quite the contrary. Some of the ways you get in:
- Show up as a spectator. This is the obvious one: check the schedule online, show up and find an excellent vantage point and/or start wandering around. Usually there’s a waiver to sign and a wristband to obtain, so make sure you sign these so you won’t be kicked out. Some groups, such as the 24 Hours of LeMons, charge a fee. Others, like the larger vintage races, sell tickets. Get the rundown before you show up and you’re golden.
- Enter the event. This is the other obvious one: buy a car, obtain any required license necessary and hoon it ‘til your heart’s content. It’s not always super-expensive, even in club racing. Most of the Spec 944 paddock I talked to spent less on their base car than I did for the car I turned into a LeMon. Crapcan racing is another affordable option: car prep costs can be split among teammates, and there are always plenty of teams looking for extra drivers on the cheap. Alternately, many larger weekends feature both club races and high performance driver’s ed sessions. For the HPDE sessions, all you need to do is bring a safe street car and a willingness to learn.
- Join a team’s crew. Every team needs gofers. Gofer gas, gofer food, gofer that wrench over there and replace that broken axle. Spotters to communicate information like position and track conditions are great, too. This is one way to be a part of the action without breaking the bank.
- Volunteer with the group or track who is organizing the race itself. This is probably the best way you can get to a club race: by working it. Organizations are a good place to start looking, usually by contacting whoever organizes corner workers, marshals and other volunteers. Some tracks have their own internal worker pool to fill in for various groups that rent the facilities as well, so that’s another place to check.
The last option is by far the most appreciated, and some of the marshal posts have some of the best views in the house. I can’t properly hoon a tired 944 for hours upon end without someone communicating that the track is safe ahead of me, without someone ensuring that the blown-up Jetta guts get cleaned off the track in a timely fashion, or without the facilities being open at all. Cars don’t have “Thanks Workers!” on the them for the lulz. That’s sincere. Volunteers keep the playground open.
Russ Golyak’s MarshalCam site has all kinds of resources for wannabe track volunteers, including information on volunteering for specific countries and events. Check with your local and regional groups as well—our Sports Car Club of America division, for example, has a fantastic section dedicated to how to become a volunteer, including a rundown of all the necessary roles that make race weekends happen.
Bonus: experienced marshals often get picked to help with larger professional events. So, if you have zero chance of ever affording F1 tickets within this lifetime, that’s one highly appreciated and very necessary way in.
Bonus^2: I’ve bartered volunteer time for track time before. Larger, more expensive facilities probably won’t go for it, but smaller club racing or membership-based tracks are definitely worth asking.
Lest this becomes another “PORSCHES ARE THE MOST AWESOME!” post, I should probably mention the great depth and diversity of amateur racing. Here are some of the larger groups and events you should look for depending on the kind of racing you’d like to watch.
Look for general groups that handle nearly every production and purpose-built race car in existence. The Sports Car Club of America and the National Auto Sport Association are the two largest and easiest to find. The North American Road Racing Association also features a wide variety of cars, with more of a focus on higher horsepower cars and purpose-built track weapons such as the Radical. Likewise, some more regional groups exist such as the International Conference of Sports Car Clubs and PBOC Motorsports Club and hold even more races in certain parts of the country.
Who needs a factory team when amateurs race the cars we want to see on track anyway? These catch-all groups are the most likely place to see amazing cars like the Evo X being driven as they were meant to be driven.
There are numerous local and national vintage racing groups, with the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association likely being the largest nationwide. SVRA is particularly awesome because they go for significance as opposed to meeting a certain age requirement, opening up the competition for modern classics such as V10 Formula One cars and the fantastic Porsche RS Spyder as well as your typical vintage racers, dating all the way back to pre-war cars manned by a driver and a navigator who hold each other in.
Vintage events tend to be huge deals, including The Mitty and the Monterey Motorsports Reunion. There are numerous more regional associations such as the Vintage Sports Car Club of America, the Society of Vintage Auto Racing Enthusiasts and Corinthian Vintage Auto Racing that provide lovers of classic cars a place to run them as they are originally intended. The easiest way to find who runs in your area is to look up the tracks nearby and check out the calendar.
While the SCCA, NASA and NARRA sanction some one-make series such as Spec Miata, Spec 944 and Viper Cup, the best way to see a ton of your marque of choice in one weekend is to find a one-marque group. Hopefully this also means you love German cars. The Porsche Club of America, Porsche Owners’ Club and BMW Car Club of America all host club races around the country. There’s nothing more awesome to a Porsche fangirl than a paddock full of 400-something Porsches. Nope. Nothing. Ever.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it many, many times again: crapcan racing is awesome. Being able to take a car worth $500 max and take it to the limits of both its mechanicals and your team’s sanity is a feat, hands down. The 24 Hours of LeMons and ChumpCar hold down the budget-limited fort, with events that are both wildly entertaining as well as extremely accessible to anyone who wants to race, crew or spectate. Similarly, several newer series such as American Endurance Racing and the World Racing League are open to crapcan-legal cars, but have dropped the cost cap, allowing you to race whatever you have lying around—even if that’s a Spec Boxster.
There has never been a better time to be a racing fan in America, regardless of what you like to watch. Raph went over pretty much everything in his Spectator’s Guide to Car Racing In America, and you can find everything from rally to drifting to oval and drag racing, plus more specialized competitions such as ice racing or skid plate racing. There’s truck racing, motorcycle racing and open-road competitions. It’s all amazing.
Yes, professional drivers are still better at this. If you want to see racers at the pinnacle of their craft, that’s what you watch. But are their races more interesting to watch? I’d debate that. What the world of amateur racing lacks in pomp and circumstance it makes up in accessibility, diversity and fun.
So, go forth and find your niche. Volunteer, and you’ll be appreciated by everybody. Help out with a local team. Build a car. Go race. There’s certainly no shortage of opportunities to see amazing racing and get involved with the cars and community you love.