Mike May, with David Kirkpatrick's help, is doing a series called "So you want to be a racer."
It's good, but Dave-style, it's got details. Heck, it's a series.
Here's the real poop on a short scoop.
Anybody can do it if they have the desire, a reasonable bike, and the mental toughness to hang in there when they are getting their ass kicked. A few rare souls start out fast. These become Cat 4s and Cat 3s in short order, then start getting their asses kicked, usually pretty badly. A few people stick with it all the way up to the Cat 1 / pro ranks. These people get their asses kicked a lot, but hang in there because most of them can help a teammate kick ass once in a while, and a few of them, once in a great, great, rare while, get a chance to kick a little ass.
If you want to race, you need to make up your mind right now, right this very moment, that you'll try it, and that you are going to hang on until your legs and lungs hurt so much you're out of your skull. You do that a few times, stick to your commitment, and after a while you'll be doing just fine.
So here's the deal. David's going to continue to give you the fine points of how to start racing. I'll give you a shortlist of down & dirty stuff. I hope he sees it as complimentary, not competitive or downing his effort. Assuming you haven't raced before:
1) Make sure your bike is in order. Start riding it consistently right now and over the winter. It doesn't need to be the latest and greatest; as long as everything is screwed on tight, well lubed, and it shifts, pedals and brakes okay, it's fine. Get it fit or you'll be jeopardizing your knees and back. An inexpensive bike with basic components is a really good choice for a beginning racer.
2) Better get some cold weather gear, that, or a trainer that you ride *religiously*, y'know, if you were actually a religious person. If you're buying up, go with bib shorts. Just take my word on that, 'kay? Layer up with cheap stuff from Target and Wallys if you need to - base layer, glvoes, skull caps, etc. From the bike shop or Performance or something - breathable bike jerseys, wind vest, arm warmers, knee warmers. The knee warmers are key if you want to be walking when you're 50, BTW.
3) Find the local racing listserve. Your local bike shop should be able to clue you in; if they can't, find a new bike shop. Try to find out when the training race series starts, pre-season. It's easier to learn in more casual races, when everybody's fat and slow, than it is to hop in sometime in May. Yeah, it will suck to race in the cold. Yeah, you'll be apprehensive and not as fit as you'd like to be. So it's bad. But not as bad as going from not racing, to hitting a crit averaging 27 MPH. (Hey, I thought this was Cat 5! WTF...)
4) Friel, coaching, powertaps, all that stuff is nice. Don't bother until you've raced at least a little while. Same thing with bike & clothing upgrades. For now, you need to ride hard for 60 - 90 minutes a couple times a week, and go easy in between the hard workouts, maybe 75 minutes or 90 minutes, or picking up 2-3 hours easy on weekends. Start really riding with more intensity - short efforts of 1-5 minutes of eye-bleeding effort, you can do these by hammering up local hills where you live going all-out, for a month or so before the racing season - the real season, not training races - starts. Seriously. This will get you in good race shape. The key is resting and doing recovery rides real slow, so you can go ultra hard when you're supposed to be going hard.
5) It wouldn't hurt to find a hard local group ride. Around Dec 15 - Jan 1, the pace will ratchet up from friendly to "we're racin' in 60 days time" pace. It's better to start with the group before they get deadly serious so you know the routes.
6) Number 5 matters because you will get dropped. That's part of the deal, live with it. You aren't deserted, rather you're out for a zone 2 / tempo ramble, and you're fine with that because you're appropriately dressed for the weather, you have a 20 in your pocket, a couple water bottles, and a general notion of where you are.
7) For your cold weather rides & races - strip off layers of clothes before you are sweating hard. Eat before you feel hungry, drink before you're feeling thirsty. 400 calories / hour, 16 - 20 ounces of fluid per hour is a good rule of thumb.
8) Don't forget to schedule fun. When you're doing your long slow ride, you can wear a heart rate monitor or whatever, but don't beat yourself up about pace. A little slow or a tiny bit (tiny means tiny) too fast is no big deal. Ride it with your buddies, go to a place that has the best hot chocolate evah, and enjoy the riding. Do some mountain biking for a change. Just have fun. Burnout is a huge problem for lower Cat racers who get nervous about being fit enough, ride like hell, have some initial success, then want to throw their bike in the woods by July 1.
9) Do it now. The idea you can wait until you're fitter is stupid. Until you race, you will never be fast or skillful enough to race. The purpose behind the early season (pre-season) training races is to help racers ramp up for the season. The C races for beginners are especially geared with this purpose in mind. Take advantage of it. Racing - even racing where you get your ass kicked - will make you a lot faster than any kind of training you can do. (Motor pacing notwithstanding, but you Padawans don't want to even think about that yet). You will be too fat, or too slow, or too worried about riding in a pack *forever.* Problem is, life isn't forever, it's short, and you have to jump in to experience it.
10) Make the commitment now, then follow the steps and execute. Anybody can race up to a decent level, with some commitment and effort. Good luck.