Metrowest Motorsports: SCCA Club Racing Is Social and Competitive
By Jim Brady
Sunday, May 14, 2006
When you think of New Hampshire International Speedway, most of you will conjure images of 42 immaculate Ford, Chevy and Dodge NASCAR stock cars buzzing around the mile and a half oval.
You probably would not envision Corvettes, 300ZXs, Porsches and other sports cars on a road course. But that’s exactly what you would find on any weekend that Club Racing with the New England Region of the Sports Car Club of America takes over the New Hampshire facility.
SCCA is a powerful force in motorsports. There are eight SCCA divisions across the country that are further broken down into regions. The New England Region is just one of 110 regions across the country. SCCA boasts 60,000 members and hosts over 2,000 professional and amateur motorsports events every year. NER alone has over 3,000 members and will sponsor more than a dozen road racing events this season.
"Each club race we host requires between 75 and 125 volunteers," explains Brian Mushnick of Wrentham, the NER road racing chairman. "These are great races to come and watch. But if you’re interested in being more than a spectator, we have a place for you."
Race weekend volunteers receive training in various areas of expertise, such as registration, grid work, flagging, timing and scoring. "The fun isn’t just on the track," adds Mushnick. "Our weekends are as much social events as they are competitive events." Volunteers receive free lunches and dinners, and newcomers are warmly welcomed into the group.
If being a spectator or volunteering isn’t exciting enough for you, consider getting your competition license. SCCA provides a clear path toward that goal that involves instruction, experience in solo events, and gradual advancement to competition road racing. If you think you might be interested, but just want to stick your toe in the water first, then you should attend NER’s Performance Driving Event over the Memorial Day Weekend at NHIS. During PDE, novice drivers take their street-legal cars out on the track, with an instructor strapped into the passenger seat, and learn the basics of road racing. Your car will be inspected first and you’ll have to attend mandatory classroom instruction.
After PDE, if you still want to pursue that competition license, you will need to join SCCA and sign up for two driving schools. After you pass the driving schools, you’ll be eligible to enter regional events. But long-time SCCA road racing veteran Chris Howard of Holliston feels that no one should jump right into wheel-to-wheel racing.
"Start off with some solo events," advises Howard. "Learn how to handle your car before you try to race against other drivers."
One example of a solo event is time trials, where you run your car on the track against the clock. Your lap times are averaged and the winner is determined by the quickest lap time. "Once you learn how to control your car, you might be ready to safely race in some of the entry-level classes," says Howard, who has been club racing for nearly 20 years. Howard started by running time trials and worked his way up to one of SCCA’s top regional and national classes called "GT2," where he runs a Nissan 300ZX. At this point in his career, Howard races at NHIS, Lime Rock in Connecticut, Watkins Glen in New York, Mid-Ohio, and other road tracks across the country.
Mark Freeman of Newton has been competing in motorsports since the mid-70s. For the past 10 years, he has been running his 1972 Datsun 240Z in a special NER regional Historic Racer class for older race cars. But no matter what class you run in, auto racing can be an expensive hobby. Although there are entry-level classes, there’s a certain level of safety equipment that applies to every level of racing.
"A driver’s suit can cost several hundred dollars, a good racing seat can cost almost a thousand dollars, and the HANS device (that protects the driver’s neck) is over $800," explains Freeman. "I wouldn’t advise anyone to buy a new car to start racing. Either rent a race car or buy a used one. You can pick up a used spec Miata for a few thousand dollars."
Once you’ve found a good-condition used car you’ll need to locate a reliable shop to have the safety equipment inspected and possibly upgraded. Holliston’s Howard, for example, runs a one-man shop that designs, builds and installs roll cages in sedans. "I’ve been doing this for a long time," said Howard. "If I could pass along one bit of advice to new drivers it would be concentrate on your car’s safety first and then worry about its performance."
For further information about joining SCCA as a volunteer or becoming a driver, visit www.scca.org or the NER’s Web site at www.ner.org. Upcoming NER events include Memorial Day Weekend at NHIS and June 9-10 at Lime Rock, Conn.