Track Day Lessons: Five Unexpected Tips for the Best Beginner High-Performance Driving Event Experience
I've had the chance to do a lot of very fun things in many different types of vehicles, and I'm convinced there's nothing quite as exciting or rewarding as taking your car to an open track day or High-Performance Driving Event (HPDE) at a road course.
No matter what kind of vehicle you have, how modified it is, or how much driving experience you have, it's something I'd recommend to anyone.
There's no shortage of content out there about track day prep, and it's very important that your car is prepared to be the best it can be. Not necessarily to be fast, but simply to handle the abuse to your car a track day brings.
But there's more to it than that. And while I'm anything but an expert racer or seasoned track day veteran, here are five tips and observations that I can share—most of which aren't talked about a lot.
Fuel, You'll Burn a Ton of It
From brake pads to tires, it's well known that tracking a car is hard on consumables. And one of the liquids it will be guzzling is gasoline.
Running at even a moderate pace around a medium-sized track will burn gasoline at an extremely fast pace, so be prepared. Nearly every time I've gone to the track I've had to refuel in the middle of the day or I'd be running on fumes when the day is over.
Thankfully, just about all tracks have gas pumps on-site, usually with race fuel as an option, but here's your warning: gasoline at the track is even more expensive than at the local gas station.
That's why I highly recommend topping off your tank at the closest gas station you can find before you get to the track. It will be cheaper than paying track prices and will give you some added peace of mind.
Prepare to Get Dirty
Another thing I wasn't really prepared for was just how dirty your car gets during a track day. The dust, dirt and grime are one thing. But what you really notice is the rubber that gets everywhere.
Basically, the wider and stickier your tires are, the more rubber particles and black marks will get thrown onto your car. And you don't even need to be spinning your tires to do this.
These days doing things like PPF or ceramic coating are all the rage, and why you might think that stuff is mainly for the show and shine crowd, I can now see why it can also be a big help for people that track their cars.
Prepare to Get Sweaty: It's A Physical Workout
Spending some time in a stock interior street car on the race track will quickly tell you why dedicated track cars and race cars have all have racing seats and harnesses.
Yes, a big part of that is safety in the event of a crash, but equally important is the ability of the seat and seatbelt to hold you in place during driving, particularly during hard cornering.
This isn't to say you can't track your car with a stock seat. In fact, in the moment, you might not even notice how much you are straining yourself to keep your body in place. You'll probably be too focused on trying to drive faster and having fun.
But that night and the next day, the aches and soreness will remind you why a good racing seat and harness is one of the most effective upgrades to do on a car that sees regular track use.
It's Not a Race—No Seriously, It's Not
For me the most aggravating and common track day scenario is this: I'm out on the track, trying to go faster and improve my technique, only to come upon another driver who is going quite a bit slower through the corners or technical sections of the track.
This is fine. Everyone can, and should drive, at their own pace. And most organizations will forbid passing in corners. Courteous and aware drivers will give you the "point by" on the dedicated passing straights, allowing you to safely go by so you both can continue having fun.
But other drivers will simply run flat out on the straights all the time. And if your car isn't powerful enough to safely overtake the lead driver before the end of the straight, you'll once again have to slow up and drive at their pace through the next corners.
This can be frustrating, but it's important to keep your cool. It's much better to simply back off and get some space between you, or even pull into the pitlane and wait for less traffic. Especially when the alternative involves trying to pull off a risky, or dangerous, pass on an uncooperative driver who forgot that track days and HPDEs are not races.
Go With Friends
Finally, I highly recommend going to the track with a group of friends. Even if everyone is a beginner, a track day is simply more fun when you're with people you know.
It's great fun to drive with your friends, and it's even more enjoyable if they happen to be driving cars with similar power levels, because you'll be more likely to drive together on the track.
And even better, when you aren't out there on track they make the downtime a lot more fun. And of course, it's nice to have someone there that can help out when it comes to making repairs or adjustments in the pits.
Once again, taking your car track day is one of the funnest things an auto enthusiast can do, and if you consider these tips we think your experience will be that much better.
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