Are you ready for your Track Night experience? If not, here are some tried and true tips to make sure you have a great time.
Preparing your car
Most modern cars, in good condition, are ready for a track day sitting on the dealer lot. That being said, one of the most disappointing things that can happen at a track day is when you are not able to complete all of the sessions because something went wrong with your car. You will want to look over the official tech form for a more specific list, but here are some of the key preparation categories.
Tires: Everything that your car does – acceleration, braking and cornering is done through the tires. Because of this it is very important that your tires are in good condition. Your tires should not have any cord showing and because the events will run in almost any weather (rain or dry) they should have good tread on them.
Brakes: Your car should have adequate brake pads, good condition rotors and fresh brake fluid. Different tracks and driving styles will create different demands on the brakes so you may realize later that you can get a few events on a set of brake pads, but for your first time, they should not be worn down more than 50%. If you are not sure, it is recommended that you stop by your preferred shop and have them do an inspection.
Fluids: Your car will run at higher speeds generating more heat and stress so you want to make sure that your oil, power steering fluid, coolant and other fluids are all fresh and topped off.
Suspension: You will want to make sure that all of your suspension is in good working order. Ball joints should not be worn out and shocks and struts should not be leaking or “blown out.” Nothing should be loose or clunking. A great test is to pull and push on each wheel and see if anything moves or if you hear any clunks or bangs.
Engine: You do not need to add racing parts or to be concerned with horsepower, but you do want your engine in good condition with no fluid leaks. If you have gotten regular maintenance concerning tune-ups and replacing any needed seals and gaskets your engine should be ready to go. While you’re looking under the hood (or maybe in the trunk depending on your car) you will want to make sure that your battery is secure and cannot slide or flop about. Factory hold down are best – flexible or brittle items like bungee cords or zip-ties are not acceptable.
Exhaust: Almost all tracks have sound limit restrictions and TNIA is run in the early evening hours. Therefore, racing and open exhausts will not be acceptable. A good rule of thumb: if your car has a muffler recommended for the street, you are likely ok. A better rule of thumb: if you are nervous about it, take steps to quiet your car down before you arrive.
General Items: You should make sure your car is cleaned out – loose items under your seat or sliding around the trunk can be distracting and dangerous. Your driver’s side floor mat should come out. It is a great idea to bring a plastic bin or two to put your loose items in while your car is on track, especially if there is a chance of rain.
Important note: If you do not feel comfortable or have experience checking the items yourself, bring your car to a reputable auto shop to have a qualified mechanic inspect your car.
Preparing your belongings
You don’t need to bring a lot with you to have a great time at Track Night, but here are a few things that will be sure to make your experience all the better.
Helmet: You will need to have a helmet and the helmet will need to meet minimum standards for the increased demands of driving on track. Helmets certified as meeting the most current or the two most recent applicable Snell, FIA, or SFI standards are acceptable. There is a complete list on the rules and regulations page.
Clothing: While on track you may be required to wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants and must have shoes that fully cover the foot. Because you might not want to wear that much clothing between sessions, you should bring other clothing to be comfortable when you’re not in the car. You will often see experienced drivers putting on their “track shirt” just before getting in their car. Because the events run in nearly any weather condition, bringing rain gear is advisable as well.
Plastic tote/Tarp: Because you won’t want to have anything in your car while you’re on track, it is always good to have something to keep your personal items safe from whatever weather might pop up. Some tracks may have garages or covered space for rent, but in the case that they don’t a tarp or plastic bin/tote works great for keeping your belongings dry and together.
Tools: For most days you shouldn’t need a great big set of tools, but it’s always good to have a few simple items on hand in case you need them. A jack and lug wrench are a good choice, as well as some small rags or hand towels and some glass cleaner.
Food/Drinks: The mental focus of driving at speed is more demanding than many people give it credit for. It is important to stay hydrated and have energy. Some tracks may have a concession stand open, but in the case that they don’t it is important to bring a snack, plenty of water or your favorite sports drink.
General Items: Sunscreen is always important, as you may end up spending more time than you planned in the sun at an event. You may also want to bring a camera, but if you are going to carry it in the car, be sure to check the policy on the rules and regs page to make sure you have yours properly mounted.
To do anything well, the right mindset is needed to perform your best. This is a chance for you to drive your car as close to its limits as you are comfortable. To accomplish that at Track Night in America the key is to understand that first off, it’s not a race. There are no trophies and the only reward is taking you and your car home in one piece with an amazing experience to share and remember. Here are a few pointers to make sure that happens:
Track Night is not a race: When racing, the goal is to stay at or near the limit the entire time you’re on track. For TNIA, the goal will be consistency and repeatability. Trying to beat other drivers or trying to make each lap faster than the previous is a good way to increase the risks and consequences when things go wrong. Practicing consistency will be the best approach for getting faster while staying as safe as possible.
You are teammates with other participants on track: It will be up to everyone driving on track to help make the event a better experience for each other. This will include giving other drivers space when necessary, not causing other drivers to feel pressure that might force them into a mistake, and letting faster cars by in a timely manner so drivers do not get frustrated. Track Night will be less about who is faster and more about what you can learn about yourself, your car, and from other drivers.
Patience: Feeling pressure and being rushed are two key factors that can cause mistakes. You will want to take the time to be patient and not force any bad situations. As long as you keep this in mind, you will have another lap or another session or another event to try again. Practicing patience will get you the “award” of bringing you and your car home in one piece.
Be ready to learn: It is often said that people have the hardest time being critiqued when it comes to driving – especially when the person may have been driving for years, or have other motorsports experience like drag racing or autocross/solo. Driving on track is a unique set of demands that do not always line up with previous experience. Because of this, you will want to be ready to listen and try new methods when it comes to how to handle different tracks, corners and situations that can change depending on conditions, traffic and your own goals for the event. Being ready to learn from those with more or different experience than you will make your event safer and more enjoyable.
Be Social: TNIA will be as much about being social as it will be about driving. It will be a chance to see old friends and make new ones. Sharing stories and experiences in the paddock will be made even better when other cars on track stop being “the Nissan, that Honda, or a Porsche” and start being, “James, Robert and Kate.”
During the event
Ask questions: There are many things to learn about being on track, and because of the intensity of driving, they may not sink in right away. Just like driving more laps makes you better, hearing tips and lessons multiple times will help them become second nature. No matter if you have heard something before – whether it’s what a flag means, what a word is or how to drive a corner – ask until you are 100% sure. It’s a lot better to ask “just one more time” than it is to have an incident because you think you know, but didn’t.
Check your car: During each session your car will build heat, wear down brakes and put stress on the tires. Because of this you want to give these items a glance between each session. Check the oil, look at the fluid level in your coolant overflow bottle, look through the spokes of your wheel to see how much your brake pads might have worn down. You will also want to check your tires to see if there is excessive wear appearing, “chunking” (where large parts of the tread blocks seem to fall off) or “blistering” (dark oval-shaped spots, usually on the edge of the tire) is happening. If you see something alarming, ask event officials or other participants for advice.
Watch other sessions: Whether it’s how experienced drivers get on and off track, or drive a specific corner, watching other drivers can teach you what to and not to do.
Stay hydrated: Yes it was mentioned in the, “what to bring” section, but it can’t be said enough. Hydration is important to thinking clearly and thinking clearly is important to making good decisions and staying safe. Even if you don’t feel thirsty at the moment, continue to drink water or your favorite sports drink between sessions.
Stay relaxed: If you’re agitated or stressed or tired, it will affect your performance and safety. Like being patient, if you don’t feel 100% up to going out on track, don’t. It’s a lot better to take a break than it is to feel obligated and have an incident.
Have fun: Having the opportunity to drive fast without worrying about speed traps, non-attentive drivers in the next lane or someone pulling out in front of you is very fun. Remember that when you’re on track, the goal is not to be worried or stressed but to enjoy the opportunity and experience learning your and the car’s limits. Having fun will help you stay relaxed and ultimately enable the best experience possible.
Have questions? Ask Jack, “what’s the facts” at Jack@TrackNightinAmerica.com