The process of gaining a NASCAR racing license in order to compete with the best of the best is a long and tedious process. It all begins when pretty much anything else begins: as very young children. Many NASCAR drivers start as early as the age of four. They begin with go-kart racing, and work their way up to cars as they get older. Once they get some recognition, whether that means from high level drivers, racing teams, or companies that want to sponsor them, they can then go to racing school and get a license. Once someone obtains a license and way in, they can become a professional NASCAR driver.
While some people will say that dropping out of school and focusing solely on racing is an important step to becoming a great racer, today's racers have been proving that claim wrong. A key to becoming a NASCAR driver as mentioned before, is getting recognized by higher level people and sponsors in the NASCAR scene. Not only is getting a good education important for knowing how to obtain these sponsors, but it is also important in understanding the business of NASCAR, and how to act both on and off the track in order to keep these sponsors.
Once someone feels they have the recognition and experience it takes to become a NASCAR driver, they can obtain a NASCAR racing license. The first step to getting said license is to apply for one. To do that, someone must apply through either a local NASCAR track, or through the NASCAR headquarters. No matter your prior experience, an application is required, but having prior experience is helpful. Along with an application, a resume is required. The process of completing the application includes giving personal information, listing racing experience, and giving references. It is a lot like applying for any other job.
Once someone obtains a NASCAR racing license, the next step is to get a team to back them. Running your own team would be extremely expensive, so the best way to get into the NASCAR scene is to get supported by a wealthy team owner already established in NASCAR. The owners help a racer obtain sponsors, and make money for themselves and the driver. Many of the most successful drivers have gone on to own their own teams using the money they made while racing.
An interesting thing about obtaining a NASCAR racing license is that according to many NASCAR drivers, there isn't a definitive way to get into the NASCAR scene as a driver. While getting a license is a must, many paths can be followed in order to obtain the experience required to get an accepted application. The most straightforward path is getting really, really good at racing at as young of an age as possible, and winning important races to add to a resume. With a loaded resume, the racing teams will flock, giving a person both the necessary credentials, and the necessary references to obtain a NASCAR license.
However, other drivers were born into the racing scene, and already had the connections the minute they came into this world. A great example of that is Dale Earnhardt Jr. While just because his dad was a spectacular NASCAR racer doesn't mean his son is destined to also become a NASCAR racer, it did give him a head start on other people seeking to become professional NASCAR drivers. Connections being so important is unique from other sports, because there isn't really a college racing scene. That fact is what leads many to believe that getting a college degree isn't necessary at all to become a pro, but that trend is being bucked by current day drivers.
All in all, while getting a NASCAR racing license is a pretty simple process, it takes a very long time to obtain the credentials and references in order to qualify for a NASCAR racing license. Obtaining a license and becoming a NASCAR driver isn't very different from applying to any other typical job, but there are very specific and difficult qualifications that need to be met in order for someone to even consider applying for a license. NASCAR is unique from other sports in that sense, as it doesn't have a draft or free agent pool. It is a sport with individual athletes backed by teams, rather than a team full of individual athletes. Those facts make obtaining a license extremely difficult, but an extremely rewarding and exhilarating process if a person is able to get a license.
While many would say the best way of gaining exposure is winning go-kart races at a young age, the most important thing is connections. If someone knows people who are already in the NASCAR scene, they have a huge advantage. That goes back to the idea that there isn't a college racing pool of drivers for teams to scout. Drivers need to personally put themselves out there just as much as team owners need to find capable drivers.
Not necessarily. While having a lot of knowledge about cars is helpful, that is why racers have teams. Team crews are essential for producing well-running cars before every race, as well as improving performance while in the pits during races. While a racer needs to like the feel of a car, they don't necessarily need to fully understand every aspect of their car. It is good information to know, but isn't technically necessary for being a good racer.
While in certain racing series it is possible to race as soon as someone is able to legally drive, in the biggest of NASCAR races, you must be at least 18 years of age. The youngest driver ever to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup race is Joey Logano at the age of 19, which was in stock car races. However, since the NASCAR truck series allows younger drivers, the youngest driver to win a race in that series is 17 year-old Erik Jones.
Surprisingly, racers don't. As long as they have a NASCAR racing license, they can race in a NASCAR race. That rule applies to every track in every series of NASCAR. Considering NASCAR is a smaller track where racers can see what's in front of them easily, and all of the drivers have been driving for most of their lives, it makes sense that an actual driver's license isn't required. Many people on the outside would assume that if a person can drive in a NASCAR race, they can drive on public roads, but this does not have to be true.