Prepare for Your First Track Day - A Beginners Guide
Driving on a racetrack is one of the most exhilarating experiences you can ever have. If you are thinking about trying it – do it – you will never regret it. I still have a photo on my wall from my first track day almost a decade ago and smile every time I see it.
This article is a “how to track my car” beginners guide for people with little to no previous knowledge or experience on track or around race cars. Before we get started – let’s either confirm or debunk some common presumptions about track days and high performance driving experiences (HPDE’s).
“I need to own a racecar to participate in a track day” – FALSE. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen some very fast machines at the track. However, I’ve also seen some pretty ridiculous cars like Honda Odysseys, Subaru Foresters, and plenty of beat up “first cars”. Technically you can track anything, but you have to trust it will survive the abuse of a racetrack. Use your best judgement to decide if it’s an acceptable car to track. Try to make sure your car is at least a bit sporty for your own wellbeing… and because anyone (regardless of talent and lap time) would look ridiculous clipping apexes and hopping curbs in something like a transit van.
“Your car will be destroyed if you track it” – Solid maybe. This really comes down to how well your preparation is and how good your driving is. 90% of the time it is lack of preparation or driver error that kills cars. If you do your homework, prepare your car accordingly, and drive okay, there is a very good chance that you will drive your car home.
“I don’t have a truck or trailer to bring my car to the track so I can’t go” – Wrong and lame. Believe it or not you do not need a truck and trailer for HPDE’s. Most people drive to and from the event. This is somewhat circumstantial because if your car is a caged/gutted/dedicated track car it will more than likely have to be trailered.
“I’m not a millionaire and can’t afford tracking my car” – False. Racing is expensive, track days are not. Yes, your car will see some abuse at the track, but modern cars are very strong and can usually take the abuse and run like it never happened. Plus, most track days are in the $200 - $600 range for the day. The most cost effective are typically the SCCA Track Night in America events – but remember that the price you pay typically correlates to either less track time or more traffic.
“Track days are the best thing since sliced bread” – True. I’d rather slice my bread with disposable silverware than lose track days.
How to Find a Track Day and Club
It can be a bit daunting learning what clubs and organizations are available in your area. The best way I’ve found to do it is to go to MotorsportReg and see what tracks/track days are available in your area. From there you can reverse engineer who the most active clubs are for track days in your area and which tracks they run. After finding track event you could just register for an event and show up – but BEFORE REGISTERING - I strongly recommend you join the private Facebook group of whichever club is hosting said event…
When you join the clubs Facebook Group you will see:
- Extra information about events (where to go, concerns about weather, track layouts)
- Onboard videos of events – extremely useful for learning the track
- A whole forum of car-guys that are happy to answer specific questions about that club/event
- SOMETIMES – Classified listings for sports/track cars. FYI these are often in a separate club Facebook group dedicated exclusively to this
Once you are in the Facebook group – it is time to register for your track day likely using MotorsportReg or whatever event planning program they say to use on the Facebook group. After registering, the clubs will keep you updated with in depth emails leading up to the event.
Preparing Yourself AND YOUR CAR for the Track
Read this section twice as it is important for your and your vehicle’s safety. This information is serious but should not be a deterrent! It is only a reminder to be prepared, which is a must first step before going to the track.
You: Preparing yourself is just as important as preparing the car. Watch videos of people lapping the racetrack you will be attending. Driving fast for the first time will be sensory overload – learning the track beforehand will help you to be familiar with the track and free up some extra processing power from your brain to focus on high-speed maneuvering.
Next, make sure you have the proper safety gear for a track day. Most clubs only require a DOT rated helmet for safety gear – however I recommend a Snell or FIA rated helmet. The SA2020 and FIA 8859 helmets are designed to meet the demands seen at the racetrack and are tested to much higher standards than any DOT rated helmet. Unless your club requires other safety equipment, a helmet should be enough. Some people will wear driving shoes, HANS devices, and/or gloves, but that comes down to how your car is set up and your personal preferences. For driver-wear, most organizations will want you to wear long sleeves/pants on the track day.
Finding the right safety gear can be difficult - but we make it easy. We have all the gear you'll need for your first track day - as well as equipment for more seasoned drivers. Check out our helmets here
Lastly, make sure you bring snacks and water to the track. You’re going to burn a lot of energy out there and lose a lot of water – the last thing you want is to be totally gassed trying to judge braking zones.
Your Car: Your car will need to be thoroughly inspected by either yourself, a mechanically inclined track day buddy, or a professional. Below is the short list of things that need to be checked as a minimum – I recommend watching YouTube videos of each if you are unfamiliar. After tracking your car for some time, you will know near every nut and bolt on your car. Be prepared to change a couple parts if need be – give yourself adequate time before your track day to start this process.
- Check/change your fluids (motor oil, gear oil, coolant, brake fluid, power steering fluid)
- Make sure they are clean and full.
- It is strongly recommended to drain your old brake fluid and replace it with high temp fluid. Moisture gets into fluid over time which lowers the boiling point. Brakes don’t work when the fluid boils. This is one to take seriously. I use DOT 5.1 on my dedicated track car, but on a daily driver a high temp DOT 4 will likely be enough.
- Check tire pressure/wear
- Bring a tire pressure gauge to the track – you will likely need to take air out once you arrive.
- If your tires are wearing unevenly on the road – they will probably wear way worse at the track. This needs to be addressed with an alignment.
- Find and fix any leaking fluids – you won’t be allowed on track with any.
- Remove the floor mats and any items from your interior.
- Brake light check!
- Brake pads/rotors
- Make sure there is adequate material on each.
- Suspension & Steering
- Check for play in your ball joints, tie rods and bushings.
- Confirm your shocks are in good working order.
- Are your sway bar linkages intact?
- Torque your wheels!
- Test drive the car to make sure it works before driving on a live track.
Arriving at the Track
There is always some kind of check in once you arrive at the track – sometimes 2 (one at the gate entering the track, one in the paddock for driver check in and tech inspection). After checking in and going through tech – there will be a drivers meeting where they will go through track etiquette, passing, flags, and what to do if there are any incidents.
After all that, it is finally time to hit the track. We look forward to seeing you there!