Track Days: Don’t get in over your head


Track day
SCCA photo

Track days are a fun way to get in your car and play with no stop signs or speed limits. They are by design a way to enjoy the performance of your car in a controlled and “safe” environment.

That said, anything that involves cars, high speeds and room for human error is dangerous. For your own safety and others, don’t get in over your head.

The attitude of “that only happens to the other guy” is a perilous one. While these events are on a track with people who are serious about driving technique and skill, there are still the drivers who, purely by ego, get themselves into hazardous situations. Track Days have killed people. While some circumstances can be a perfect storm, others are avoidable. Here’s some food for thought in approaching a track day.

Be mindful of your skill level

At track days, there are no trophies handed out at the end, scouts for Scuderia Ferrari are not observing from the fences and you don’t need an FIA SuperLicense to participate. So, a fair self-assessment of your skill level behooves your enjoyment.

If you are a novice, regardless of how cool your car may be, run with the novice group. As the humorous, but bluntly stated video below exhibits, there are numerous people that show up to these events who clearly have more substance in their wallets than their brains.

You usually can pick out these people as they have already nearly caused accidents, racing into the venue, before even checking in at registration. By the end of the day, these types of people will probably have alienated their run group by “parking” their cars in the corners, with no “point-bys” then scooting away on the straightaways.

The horsepower or make of your car does not determine your run group placement. Honestly, despite having competition experience and a racing license, I had a great experience with the SCCA’s Track Night in America when, for the sake of the story, they placed me in the novice group and I got to work with the instructors. If you want to be good at something, it’s always good to be learning. The novice meeting gave me a very clear head before attacking the track.

Make sure your car is mechanically sound

How many televised races have witnessed a crash where the driver was quoted as saying, “something broke”? A car is made up of a lot of parts. Any one of a number of failures can occur – particularly under hard-driving conditions.

Onsite, before each track day begins, your car will need to go through “Tech.” This is an assessment of the car’s worthiness either by track-day staff, track staff or You. If you are to “self tech,” you will need to turn in a tech form on the honor system.

In more cases than not, there is not enough staff to tech all the cars that show up for a track day, so as part of registration, a checklist of functionality is filled out by the driver. To save time, most track days have a website where you can download and print the form to have it completed by the time you arrive.

A nice fresh oil change and a professional inspection goes a long way toward peace of mind before rolling out on track. The videos below show a couple of scenarios. The guy in the Datsun, with crap dangling from nylon ties, has a very scary crash. Fortunately, it seems that his passenger was merely in shock and not injured. Judging by the interior of the car, it made me question the roadworthiness of this jalopy.

This video is pretty extreme. The guy is driving his Cobra at 130 mph up the straightaway at Willow Springs when something breaks in the front suspension. Even the coolest cars can have a simple failure that results in catastrophe.

Whether on the streets or the track, driving a car is serious business. Add the performance element and you can get bitten. Worse yet, you could exponentially spread the bite to others. Common sense rules the day. As the Beach Boys once sang, “Hang on to Your Ego.” Don’t let your ego or talent level spoil what should be an awesome day.





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