Becoming a professional race car driver: How do you get there?
Through this series, we aim to bring you unique advice from one of the quickest professional drivers around.
Here you’ll learn about what makes a professional race driver and what you have to do to get there.
Professional Race Car Driver: What Does That Mean?
To keep it simple: no matter what car you drive, what series you compete in or what license you hold – if you’re not making money or making a career, then you’re not a professional race car driver yet.
There are always indefinite grey areas. You can race in professional categories and amateur categories. Just because you’re racing in a professional category, it doesn’t mean you’re a professional. You can hold a gold license and need to pay to go racing. And you can hold a bronze license and get paid to go racing!
“Personally I think you have to break it down to its simplest form. If you’re not making money in racing, you’re not a professional race car driver,” said Parker Thompson.
Becoming A Professional Race Car Driver: What License Do I Need?
This is a complex topic. To put it plainly, it doesn’t really matter what license you hold. Professional race car drivers do need a certain type of license rating, depending where they race.
“For hindsight, I’ve seen a lot of race car drivers who have got licenses they probably don’t deserve. Because they were able to take or afford to go to this class,” said Parker Thompson. “I don’t hold a super license that you need for Formula 1. But I can say I’ve been paid before, which is something that some Formula 1 drivers can’t say.”
Licenses differ throughout the world. In Europe, everyone wants super license points. Because that’s the way to get to Formula 1, or the World Endurance Championship (WEC). But you don’t need super license points for anything else.
Don’t be discouraged if you’ve not got a certain type of license. It doesn’t mean you’re not a good race car driver. And it doesn’t mean you’re not a professional race car driver.
The Other Side To Motor Racing
There will always be political and financial aspects to motor racing. Being a professional race car driver is not just about having the talent. Formula 1, deemed the pinnacle of motor racing, doesn’t necessarily have the best 20 drivers in the world on the grid.
Racing started out as a gentlemen’s sport. It started as a sport where only a certain class of people could participate.
It’s a taboo subject to talk about racing as a sport when it’s not just about talent. There is another side - the financial side. There’s an unspoken quality that a professional race car driver has to bring financial backing to help the team.
When you start asking why professional race car drivers need to bring financial backing, you look at performance. If Driver A and Driver B are at the same level talent-wise, what is going to make the difference? New tires, a fresh engine. A mechanic who knows how to tune to the driver’s liking.
That all takes financial backing – and that is why a professional race car driver is required to bring it.
“It’s one of those deals where you either embrace it because you love the sport and work hard at it, or you despise it because it’s not just about talent,” said Parker Thompson.
How Do You Apply For A Drive? What Are Job Interviews Like?
How do you get a job as a professional race car driver? There are usually three options.
Option one: you call every team you have an interest in driving for and try to convince them you’re the golden ticket. You talk about past experience and previous results and how you’re the person who can get the job done.
Option two: begging! If you’re unproven, begging for a test or opportunity to prove you can do the job.
Option three: the Lewis Hamilton effect. Once you’ve made it and you’re truly proven as a professional race car driver, that’s when a team contacts you.
To give this perspective – you’re not going to get these phone calls straight out of go karting.
"I thought that. At one point in my career, I thought if I won all these go kart races and I started performing in cars, that I would get that phone call from McLaren. I just want everybody to be in the same page,” said Parker Thompson.
“If it wasn’t for my absolute passion and utter love for the sport, I probably would’ve hung the helmet up a long time ago.”
Becoming a professional race car driver is about sacrifice. Whether it’s financial, time or effort – everything takes sacrifice. And if you don’t know why you’re sacrificing, you don’t have that motivation – so how can you do it at a high level?