I have spent a small fortune on my road cars over the years, even though I intellectually know I can never use the performance on the street. They are the equivalent of buying diamonds that have a clarity that can only be enjoyed under a microscope with a trained eye.
Most of us are content with quoting performance numbers we will never use and hand washing aero we will never need, but some of us want more.
Some of us dream of the track, and if you are lucky, you have one near by. In my humble opinion the track is one of the single most amazing moments in a driver’s life behind the wheel. Right up there with getting your licence. This is something every petrolhead needs to do at least once.
I had been driving for many years before I ever set foot on a track. Like most sports car owners, I thought I was an awesome driver. Intoxicated by the rush of speed and the sound of exhaust. The sad reality is Drivers Ed and a lifetime of commuting did little to prepare me for real driving.
I’m not going to lie, the first time at the track is very humbling. You most often feel alien and a little useless, but the other drivers aren’t there to judge you, unless you are a cocky dick. We all started at he bottom, so just accept that you will be slow. The speed will come with patience, knowledge and seat time.
For a first outing my recommendation is to find a forgiving track. Something that is not too fast or dangerous. Even better if you join a school that has instruction. Then sign up or attend several more sessions. You need to do a few to really let stuff sink in and work on your skills.
Getting an instructor in the car for the first time is like inviting you mom on a date. You feel like they are watching everything you do and judging it, mostly because they are. How else will they point out areas where you need to work on? This is so much easier if you just accept that you DO NOT know how to drive a car on a track and they do. Be humble, listen, work at it and you will improve quickly.
Instructors have seen all manner of stupidity. The last person they want to be with is a hero. (Oh, I’ve seen a lot and, yes, we run away from drivers we perceive to be heroes – Ed.)
The first year on the track I spent most of my money on instruction and not modifications. The temptation is to spend the money on go fast bits for your car, but that is a waste. The truth is your car is already far faster than you are. You might go fast on the bits where you can mash the throttle, but you are wasting time in the braking and cornering zones. Unless of course you are an idiot savant. I have personally never met the savant on the track, but I have met the idiot part.
Before you hit the track there is a little prep work you can do. The first thing is to make sure your car is mechanically sound. I can’t stress how important this is. The track will find any weaknesses in short order. I have heard 1 track mile is the same as 10 road miles. I’m not sure how accurate that is, but it seems right.
Pay attention to your brakes. A day at the track will overheat and eat them. A lot of modern traction control is done using brakes, so that’s a lot of work happening. Your pad compound might need upgrading, but your brake fluid is almost a given. Get high temp stuff. This is common, even if you have a big dollar performance car. Check the forums that cater to your make of car. Someone has already gone through this.
Some track days have rules for convertibles and helmets. Be sure to check ahead of time. I personally would never set foot on a track without a helmet, but that was not always the case. Be sure you know the rules and be sure you know the spec required. You can’t just use a motorcycle helmet. Car helmets are designed for multiple impacts and fire, and motorcycle lids are not.
Once you finally pull up to the track the butterflies start. You probably don’t know what to do, or where to go. It normally goes something like this. You check in and get a wristband or sticker. You might have to go through an early inspection, where they check for safety and sound. Some events and schools require a mechanics sign off. You often present that documentation at this point.
The better days will have a morning drivers meeting. This is mandatory, and for good reason. They will address flags and passing rules. These are serious business, so treat them as such. I personally hate and avoid days that let people on the track without these. It is just plain dangerous and attracts a much less disciplined driver.
Most often at this point you will be put into driver run groups or paired with instructors. The less experienced groups normally have their own briefing. Pay attention, and take notes if you need too. This will all seem new, but it is important, and only just the minimum you need to know.
After all of that stuff there will be the moment you came for. You suit up, strap in, and start the engine. It is amazing, not good, not great, but actually amazing. And scary, and confusing, and fully amazing.
Images courtesy of the author.