Get Into Racing with Parker Thompson!
Whether you’re an aspiring professional race car driver or a track enthusiast, deciding the next step of your motorsport journey can be confusing.
What series or league are you interested in racing in? What type of car should you race? What type of car should you buy? There are so many things to think about where to go next.
Through this series, we aim to bring you advice from one of the quickest professional drivers around. Following our introduction to go karting, we can now discuss the next steps and what comes next.
Parker Thompson on taking the first steps
When we talk about making the step up from karting, we are generally considering two types of people. Type A is the aspiring race driver who has the end goal of being a paid professional. Type B is your enthusiast driver looking to see where it goes.
Whether you’re A or B, a great place to start would be 1600 level racing. Even if you haven’t got a go karting background, 1600 level is a good place to start.
“Racing at 1600 level will help you understand mechanical racing – you won’t have to deal with aerodynamics,” says Parker Thompson.
“Nothing about a 1600 car is creating an aerodynamical advantage – it is all mechanical. You’re on the limit of cohesion at all times. Even if you’re taking a hairpin at 30-40km/h you’re at the limit of cohesion to the road.”
“Once you understand that balance, you can take that to any car. Whether it be Formula 1 or IndyCar, sports car or Can-Am, even Radicals. You’ll have that mechanical knowledge to know what the car could do if you took the body off and it created no downforce. 1600 is the best learning tool for your money.”
“Try and spend a few years at the 1600 level. I understand an enthusiast might not want to give up driving Porsches or Aston Martins for a 1600 car. But I would challenge those drivers to get a good 6-12 months of experience.”
“I went ahead of the 1600 level and that was a mistake I made in my career. I believe 1600 level would have been a better key to success for myself.”
Choose wisely and strategically
Let’s be honest – racing costs money. But it’s about who uses it most wisely.
If you’re serious about racing, then look at series that pay. Especially a series where the pay is actually a worth the sacrifices involved. The Road to Indy is a good example here.
If you start in 1600 cars, you want to compete on a Road To Indy-accredited series. If you win an accredited series, you get a ticket to go and try out for the Road To Indy Scholarship. Then you can look at F2000 cars. There’s a scholarship to get into the U.S. F2000 Championship called Kart to Cars, which is worth $200,000. And then if you go on to win that championship, you’ll get $350,000 to go to IndyPro.
The key thing here is progression – both driving and financial. If progression is there but the series isn’t paying, then what is the point?
“I’d hate for people to get in that conundrum,” said Parker Thompson. “I’d rather there is at least a guarantee what you’re racing for. You can pitch that to a sponsor – ‘If I win this year, I can put you on the car next year and I don’t have to ask you for a lump sum of money.’”
Are you spoilt for choice?
The biggest hindrance to race car drivers’ careers ending early is miscommunication or being misled. Everybody in racing has an opinion on what you should do next and how you should do it. With the growth of the internet, it’s information overload out there.
Your location is key but the one thing that defines everything is budget. It’s the simplest thing but it gets overlooked the most. If you can’t afford to go into a championship – don’t put everything on the line to do it.
“It’s about being sensible,” said Parker Thompson. “I can’t stress it enough. You have to be comfortable with whatever you’re doing. And being comfortable is playing within your budget.”
“In the modern day, you’ve got so many different series to choose from that it can be confusing. That’s why it’s so important to look at your budget. No matter what series you get behind it all goes back to the budget. If you can’t afford it, don’t do it – the buck stops with the budget.”
If you’re an enthusiast and you’re racing for the enjoyment rather than trying to further your career, you can look less at the prize money and more at budget-dependent decisions.
“There are so many hidden costs in racing,” Parker Thompson said. “You’ve got to insure your race car. You’ve got to get it to the track. Then there’s maintenance and storage. There are so many other costs involved than just buying a race car.”
As a professional race car driver, I have more respect for the person in a Honda Civic lapping someone who bought a Porsche Cup Car they can’t handle. I have way more respect for the person who stayed true to his budget. If you drive it well, I don’t care what you drive!
Parker Thompson on choosing your drive
Every car is different. But you need to love whatever it is you’re driving. Going back to the 1600 car – the beautiful thing about it is it will teach you mechanically everything you like and dislike about circuit racing. Whether you like a loose car, or a car that pushes. How you feel about oversteer and understeer.
Once you have a mechanical understanding of how a race car works, you can apply it. Start trying out different sports cars, to see what you like and dislike.
Think of it like buying a set of golf clubs. When you first get into golf, buying a set of used clubs is a good way to start. Your focus is on learning the basic fundamentals rather than having the best quality equipment. It’s the same concept as going rental karting to leanrn the basics of racing.
As you progress, you look at buying newer clubs that suit your swing style and improve performance. So you try out a few sets to find which are most comfortable. It’s the same idea when it comes to finding your driving style.
Parker Thompson said: “If you’re playing golf, you don’t have to worry about clubs that will give you five yards extra when you don’t know how to hit a ball straight. It’s the same when you go race car driving. Until you understand and have the basics nailed, having the best equipment won’t necessarily make a difference.”
How to approach sponsorship
Sponsorship is a big part of motorsport, especially in the early days of your career. A lot of sponsors across the board are going to want to see results before investing money. It’s an investment: if you watch Dragon’s Den, they never say yes to the people who come in with an idea and no execution.
Racing is very similar. You cannot ask anyone for money if you’ve not had results.
Parker Thompson said: “Don’t use all of your connections in your karting career and then have no hope in order to bridge the gap to make it in your race car career. Stay within your budget and don’t overspend. If you can’t afford new tires, don’t worry about it. It’s just a karting race – you’re there for the experience.”
“Nobody in race cars is drafting people straight out of karting. That’s a big misconception for a lot of young, up and coming race car drivers. They think they need this star-banner karting career in order to make a run at cars. They end up spending way too much in go karting to get results. When they get to cars they don’t have the resources they would have if they’d conserved. Then you make the jump to cars and that’s when your results need to start coming.”
As always, this is general guidance. We’re all connected by the love of motorsport and we want everyone to have fun with it. Don’t be scared to put yourself out there and reach out to people if you need advice.