For a kid with a few bucks from his family the next step could be the Skip Barber Series. They have an annual "Shoot Out" kart race and the winner gets a full season with Barber Motorsports. This is the car they race after they are trained to move from karts to an open wheeled racer. A kid as young as 13 can make the move up. None have, but a couple of 16 year olds have won it. By the way, the upper age limit is 25.
The Barber Series is sponsored by Mazda and the full season scholarship is worth over $200,000. 200K covers no more than 14 races and the winner can pick and choose when and where to participate. The money covers the car, the crew and it's transport, care and feeding. The winner pays for their own travel and food. Considering the races are held coast to coast and in Canada and are scheduled about every two weeks, sending a kid and a chaperon from California to Quebec and back and then to Atlanta two weeks later is costly.
Three things are important for the young driver, win races, don't crash and don't break the cars. Not much else matters. Sure they give prizes for "most improved driver", "fastest qualifier" but winning, no wrecks and not breaking the car are the things that really count. Other than the scholarship winner's full season, Barber awards some partial rides. Most of the fields at the races are made of "wannabees" who rent the car for a few races a season just for the hell of it. The rental of a Barber car is $3,750. for the weekend, practice, time trials and two races. To qualify for a rental you have to take one of Barber's schools for about 3 grand. Any kid with big aspirations doesn't spend much time in the Barber Series. So, where does our fictional 16 year old go next?
If they are really good they may get a test with a development program operated by a big time racing team like Roush-Fenway, Andretti, Rayhal and a few young Americans get Formula 3 looks in Europe or get a shot with the development programs of the Formula 1 teams. What if a good young driver, our 16 year old from California let's say. Great record in karts, won the Barber Scholarship and finished just out of the top 5. The book on our fictional kid is he or she needs more wheel time and track time. Here is where they go if the family is wealthy, really wealthy.
This series runs 24 races most years in conjunction with various other events. Half the races are in the east a few in the Midwest and the balance on the West Coast. Outside the series these cars qualify as Formula B in SCCA, so additional races can be run. The cars cost around 50k and an additional 35 for an engine contract with one of the manufacturers. The engines are sealed, if they break they are exchanged. The number of tires for each event is limited to 6 and crews are limited to 4 members. All of the rules and limits are designed to hold costs down. To participate the average team spends over $500,000 dollars. Is it any wonder the field is made up of older rich guys and the sons and daughters of wealthy families? The prize money wouldn't pay for the diesel fuel for the team transport! Let's say our kid wins in Formula 1000, what's next?
This is the professional ranks, our kid probably won't get a look until he is at least 18 and has won a lot of races in open wheel cars. You don't need to be rich to race here, just really, really good. There are rumors that a few people have bought their way in to Indy Lights as they are with some of the other pro series and even Formula One. I've often wondered about drivers who spend entire careers at the back of the pack, haven't you? If you are a winner in Indy Lights you are going to get a ride in the big show, unless once again, you don't win, crash cars and break them, too. You have to race a bunch to get to Lights and that costs big, big money. Indy Lights is the equivalent of AAA baseball, you have to be skilled, tough and have enough talent to make the big league club and you can have all that and never make it, ever.
Then there are the various NASCAR series, Nationwide, the truck series, ARCA and so on. The same rules apply. The day when a kid could build a reputation on a local dirt track and end up at Indy is over. Accordingly, the days when a guy like Phil Hill could run on road racing courses in California, get noticed and end up winning the World Championship are gone too. There are 3 young Americans working their way through the politics of the European racing world this season, I hope they make it.
As Parnelli Jones once said, "you have to drive something fast, loud and make them notice you" all that Parnelli, and you still have to win, don't crash and never break a car!
If anybody has a spare 3-4 million, give me a call. I have two grandsons, who are smart, tough, athletic and are willing to learn. If they win races, don't crash and never break a car who knows you might end up with a piece of a American Formula One World Champion.