Have you been dreaming of racing, or just pushing your Mazda to the limits? Get off that couch and find an event – it’s easier than you think
Whether that Mazda is an RX-7 or a Miata, a Mazda3 or 2 all the way up to the 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF, thousands of Mazda owners are participating in dozens of different motorsports events every weekend. Those events may be competitive, such as road racing or autocross, or simple track day events where owners can experience the agility designed into every Mazda in a safe, educational environment.
If you’re reading this, there are two things that likely describe you: 1. You’re a Mazda owner or fan; and 2. You are a motorsports enthusiast. If you haven’t already, it’s time to combine the two.
“In this day and age, it’s actually easier than ever to get on track,” explains Tom Long, a professional racer and coach whose roots in the sport start pretty far down the ladder. “You don’t need a bona fide sports car in order to do it. A good, safe car that’s track worthy – meaning everything’s been gone through from a safety standpoint – is all it takes. You can easily get on track with multiple organizations, with one being the Sports Car Club of America’s (SCCA) Track Night in America program. It’s a really educational program takes place in an afternoon at a racetrack near you.”
Deana Kelley is a nationally competitive SCCA autocrosser who has also done some road racing in a Spec Miata. She echoes Long’s comments about Track Night in America, which is an informal program that usually takes place on a weekday afternoon and evening during the summer. Participants are placed into one of four groups that range from absolute novice to someone who’s quite comfortable on the racetrack.
“Track Nights are relatively inexpensive for track time,” says Kelley. “Just bring your everyday car out to the track and have fun with it in a safe way. They’ve got different groups, including a novice group, and they’ll teach you about the track and proper track etiquette. It’s just a good, fun way to play with your car with other people who also like to play with their cars.”
But Track Night is one of many available programs. There are a multitude of organizations hosting track events that allow people to experience racetrack driving on everything from club tracks to the same circuits the pros race on. Some people, though, are all about the lap times, so if there’s not competition, they’re just not into it. For some of those, road racing calls. Others, meanwhile, are searching to get started in something more budget friendly or with less risk. To that end, autocross – a lower-speed, timed event conducted on a course marked by traffic cones – may be the best bet. That’s a topic Kelley knows a lot about. Her suggestion for stepping off the sidelines is to take a ride.
“Go for a ride along with somebody you feel comfortable with, not necessarily somebody who’s going to go wicked fast and scare you,” Kelley advises. “Get in the car with somebody who you’re comfortable with and who goes the same speed your brain can process. See what it’s like, and if the area you live in has autocross schools, go to one of those in order to log a lot of time in your car.
“In my region, we have an autocross school in the fall, and it’s a really good place to come and learn,” Kelly explains. “These schools are low pressure, somebody will help you navigate the course and learn what your car does, and they’ll get you started in the right direction.”
For those who hear the call of road racing, there are many options, from SCCA to the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) to endurance racing organizations such as ChampCar, World Racing League and American Endurance Racing. And for those serious about racing with their eyes set on becoming a pro, there’s the Mazda ladder and scholarships available to winning drivers.
Tristan Nunez has climbed the Mazda ladder and now races the Mazda RT24-P Daytona Prototype international in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, so naturally he’s a big fan. “One of the great things about Mazda is its grassroots program, and it’s something that you can do,” Nunez explains. “It’s the most affordable starting point. There’s amazing Spec Miata racing, which gives you the basis of racecraft. You need to be a hell of a driver to win a Spec Miata race.
“Moving up, you can go to Battery Tender® Global Mazda MX-5 Cup,” Nunez notes. “Really, Mazda is the only brand in racing that has such a strong grassroots program. It does take a little bit of money, but it’s definitely the most affordable way to get started and climb the professional racing ladder. Mazda still does have a really good ladder and they’re very loyal to their champions.”
Whatever an enthusiast’s venue of choice, there are many options, and getting a foot in the door will help you explore opportunities. One road can lead to many others, and the motorsports community is more than happy to help along the way.
“There’s always track days you can start at if you want to get straight on the track,” adds Nunez. “Autocross is huge in the Mazda community with RX-8s and RX-7s and Miatas. The good thing about Mazda is they’ve spent a lot of time making the chassis better; the balance of the cars is just amazing. And the Mazda racing community is very inviting and will welcome you with open arms and guide you in the direction of your choosing. What I love about this brand is the family atmosphere of it.”
One of the best things about any of these activities for Mazda drivers is the support that comes from Mazda Motorsports. Mazda offers contingency prizes for many competitive programs, and everyone who participates in a Mazda is welcome into the Team Member Support Program. No matter what avenue an enthusiast chooses, there’s something for everyone.
“Part of the beautiful thing about the sport is it’s good for all ages and all talent levels,” says Long. “If you’re not an aspiring race car driver, that doesn’t mean you can’t drive on the track with your sports car and enjoy it. It makes you a safer driver and a more aware driver. Utilizing your eyes and the skill sets you pick up in track driving can absolutely correlate to making you a better driver on the street as well.”