When the Skip Barber Racing School was announced in late March as the official school of the IZOD IndyCar Series, it did more than add another rung to the Mazda Road to Indy driver development ladder. With the creation of the Skip Barber IndyCar Academy, the race school with a 37-year history of training four generations of drivers to the pinnacle of motorsports opens the path to Indy to a wider pool of talent than ever.
Any graduate of a Skip Barber 3-Day Formula Car Racing School who has neither professional racing experience nor karting experience is eligible for the Academy, for which the school's renowned instructors will annually nominate 33 individuals (nothing random about that number!) based purely on their talent. The nominees then receive additional instruction and evaluation in an intense shootout elimination competition where the finalists square off for the grand prize – a fully sponsored entry in either the summer or winter Skip Barber Racing Series in 2013.
“Karting is a great way to come up, but you have to have parents who are into racing to get a kid into a kart at 6 or 7 years old,” explains Skip Barber Racing School CEO Michael Culver (BELOW). “The Skip Barber IndyCar Academy is for those people who didn't have that opportunity to get into racing.”
Of course, the Skip Barber Racing School still caters to those who did have that opportunity, too, via its annual Karting Shootout that offers a fully sponsored entry in either the summer or winter Skip Barber Racing Series. But Culver explains that the new program is aimed at those like himself.
“I always loved cars and I wanted to race when I was a kid, but I was doing other things, he explains. “But, had it not been for the Skip Barber model where you pay as you go – you can put your toe in the water and see if you like it without making the commitment to buying cars and trailers and everything else – I would never have raced, and I ended up racing for 12 years.
“So, the Skip Barber IndyCar Academy is for those who think they have what it takes, who have a burning desire to be a racer, but don't have the karting background. It's taking the top of the funnel and increasing the size of the diameter.”
Once through that funnel, opportunities continue to expand for the most outstanding talents.
“There will be up to 75 nominees from which 33 will be picked,” Culver continues, adding that the instructors will be looking for attributes beyond raw speed. “Someone who listens, someone who has good judgment,” he notes. “Our instructors are pretty phenomenal at understanding what they're dealing with before someone gets in the car, just by the way they conduct themselves in the classroom. Our instructors really listen to that to understand the kind of individuals they are trying to teach, because learning's all about the learner, not the teacher – except that the teacher has to understand how the learner is motivated and how they think.
“So we're looking for people who progress quickly in a 3-Day School, who progress in a smooth fashion without trying to go over their head too quickly, and who appear to have the determination. And characters, like a Boris Said-type personality.”
The date and location for the Skip Barber IndyCar Academy Shootout has not yet been set, but Culver has a clear set of priorities in mind. “I think it will be either be done at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca or Sebring, potentially Road Atlanta,” he says. “It will probably be in late November-early December, so people can still make plans for 2013.”
Skip Barber Racing's School's new partners at IndyCar stand to be the first beneficiaries of the Academy, by “widening the funnel” of talent being directed into the Mazda Road to Indy program that supports the progression of top talents from Skip Barber to USF2000, Star Mazda, Indy Lights and on to IndyCar. Yet Culver feels it can have general benefits to motorsports generally.
“I think if we manage this right , it's going to do a lot for racing,” he declares. “Our business model – all our cars are basically the same, instruction on every corner, limited crash damage liability – all of that removes the competition based on dollars, and that's what we're trying to do with the Skip Barber IndyCar Academy.”