At the professional level, racing is neither for the faint of heart nor the faint of wallet. The cheapest way we can think of to turn pro is probably SCCA Pro Racing’s Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup, a spec series that promises wheel-to-wheel action at race tracks all over the country.

It’s televised this year, too, meaning that sponsors will get lots of exposure for their advertising dollars. We’re just guessing, but we’d benchmark the cost to start a team and run a full season at a minimum of $100,000, assuming you buy a used race car and a used tow rig, and don’t have any major incidents in the course of the season.

Assuming you had the driving talent and wanted to actually take the championship, it would likely cost you even more than that, and our guess is a lot more. Now, thanks to Skip Barber and Mazdaspeed Motorsports , you can turn pro for a much lower initial investment.

Starting at $6,875 for a single race, Skip Barber offers “arrive and drive” programs in the Skip Barber Racing School (SBRS) class of the Mazda MX-5 Cup series. If you want to race a 1/2 season, you can do so for $28,760, and a full season of 11 races will run you $50,000.

While not cheap, it’s a lot less expensive than trying to field a car on your own. The cost includes a test day and practice session at each event, tires, fuel, entry fees, in-car video and data feedback, in car radio setup and (perhaps most importantly) television exposure. Opt for the full season, and the cost includes a new driver’s suit as well.

We’ll warn you in advance that the cost doesn’t include insurance on the car, which we highly recommend you purchase since things go wrong very quickly on a race track. Writing a check to cover (the smoking remains of) a car that isn’t ours to begin with isn’t on our motorsport bucket list.

Here’s the best part: the winner of the 2012 SBRS class will earn a scholarship to run a full season of the Mazda MX-5 Playboy Cup Series in 2013. The second place finisher will win a full season of SBRS class racing next year, and the final podium position still pays half a season of SBRS competition in 2013.

We’ll warn you in advance that the competition is intense, and you’ll be trading paint with some of the best rising drivers in sports cars racing today. If you’ve got the budget and the passion, head on over to the Skip Barber Mazda Pro Challenge website for full details.