Some people are born with a need for speed. But, no matter who you are, if you want to drive a race car in certain sanctioned competitions, you need a competition license.
Fortunately, there’s a yearly course at Buttonwillow Raceway Park that can help aspiring racers attain that crucial permit.
The California Sports Car Club (Cal Club) hosts the school each year, teaching aspiring racers the rules of the raceway, along with the skills they’ll need to keep both themselves and the competition safe.
This year’s event began Thursday and will culminate Sunday with an actual race featuring novice drivers, who just received their permits at the end of the course. They will race alongside veterans in a variety of classes.
Before they’re allowed to race competitively in Cal Club races, however, course instructors either bestow a competition license on a student or decide he or she is not quite ready to keep him or herself safe behind the wheel.
“It’s a skill. It’s an art,” said Perry King, a course instructor. “The question the instructors ask themselves at the end of the race weekend is ‘Would I be willing to be on a racetrack with this person?’”
Students spend three days getting instruction from experienced drivers, getting to know the courses they drive, learning safety tips, and actually driving race cars.
It’s a race to the finish line. But, the winners aren’t those who are the fastest.
“The goal here is not to be fast. Ideally, you want to exhibit skill and common sense,” said King.
The course has had students as young as 15 take the course. But, you don’t have to be young to be a student.
“There really is no age limit,” said Mike Miserendino, Business Manager at Buttonwillow Raceway Park. “There are people who race well into their 80s.”
David Marsh has worked on a pit crew for a racer, but decided to experience the thrill of driving for himself at this year’s school. “It's like being on the edge, walking a tightrope, walking on the edge of a cliff,” he said.
While starting a potential racing career can be exhilarating, King says this is a sport that never gets old.
“When you really get up to speed, when you're really racing, it's sort of like playing chess, even three-dimensional chess at 100 miles per hour,” said King.
A spokesperson at the raceway said the course costs about $440 per person. That doesn't factor in the cost to rent a race car if you do not have one.