You've been honing your driving skills, you're in good shape and you're confident you can handle the stress of driving in NASCAR. How do you get in?
While there's no definitive way to win a coveted position as a NASCAR driver, there are several things you can do to improve your chances. Start by reading the biographies of the most successful drivers in recent years.
You must also possess a thorough knowledge of the ways in which a car's various systems work. In practice sessions, the crew chief and other technicians on the team rely on feedback from the driver to optimize a car. For instance, mechanics may adjust the suspension by a certain amount to improve the car's handling. While they have access to expensive and sophisticated computers that tell them how the car should react, the only truly reliable gauge is the information provided by the driver.
You can gain the type of knowledge and hands-on experience that crews find valuable by working on cars yourself. You might even consider enrolling in an automotive training school. Some auto training institutes even have NASCAR-dedicated course work. The best-known of these may be the NASCAR Technical Institute in Mooresville, N.C. The $12 million, 146,000 square-foot (13,564 square meters) school opened in 2002 with slots for 1,900 students.
As NASCAR becomes more competitive, the organization has seen an "arms race" develop among teams to hire the best and brightest technicians, many of whom have college engineering Ph.D.s and the potential to earn salaries well into the six figures.
Keep in mind that NASCAR is also a sponsor-supported sport. The myriad decals you see slapped all over a stock car aren't there as an artistic statement. Those sponsors pay the bills for the team on whose car the decals appear. It can take as much as $25 million a year to fund a top-level Sprint Cup Series campaign [source: Packman]. As a result, any team owner that considers bringing you on must like you. The owner must feel that you're capable of representing the team and its sponsors without embarrassing either.
Be prepared for a long, difficult road to the top. It's a big leap in skill and experience level from your local short track to a top-level NASCAR superspeedway. Your first test will be to win your local track's championship series -- a contest that determines the best driver over the course of several races rather than just one.
From there, you may be eligible to join NASCAR's Touring Series, a league of regional, short-track races that groom future talent. Further up the scale in pay and prestige are the Camping World Truck Series and the Nationwide Series (formerly the Busch Series).
So, what's it like to be a card-carrying member of NASCAR? Head over to the next page.