SCCA Track Night at PBIR 8/23 Review (LONG)
Background: I have several track days under my belt in a lightly modified Mini Cooper Convertible (non-S). These events were hosted by the folks at the Braman Family of Dealership and NOT by a sanctioned Automobile organization. I had an idea what to expect but since this event was run by the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), I was unsure how it would be similar / different.
Registration: The SCCA Track Night website was pretty well laid out with links to register and additional information easy to navigate. It was nice to find a list of partners, several of which offer a discount code ($25 off, use one per event). Cost for the event of 3 x 20min sessions (plus extra track time for the Novice Group) was $150. After entering a code, my total cost for participation was $125.
After I registered online, I received my confirmation along with a detailed instructions as to where/when to arrive, a tech sheet to be filled out and links to additional webpages with info like "what to expect", "What to Bring", etc.
Since this was my 1st track event in my Miata, I signed up for Novice group in order to take advantage of the extra track time and availability of SCCA instructors for pointers and ride alongs.
Arrival: I arrived right at "gates open" time of 3:00pm in order not to feel rushed as I set up "my spot". There was a clearly marked Paddock area for Novice drivers close to the air-conditioned Pavilion where all driver's meetings and debriefs were held.
There was plenty of room and I set up my area with a Tarp, portable chair, cooler, tools, etc, and wandered about meeting the other novices and participants. There was a wide variety of cars and I was happy to find that of the 50 or so cars participating altogether (16cars in Novice group incl. 4 Miatas), the Miata was by far the most popular car with about 15 total in various stages of modification. Mine was the only ND and garnered a fair amount of attention.
I entered the pavilion and checked in at the registration desk where I was given a packet of information including a track map, partner/sponsor literature and offered swag including a nice T-shirt, tire pressure gauge, other assorted items and another copy of the tech sheet to fill out for those of us (guilty) who left their forms home. I also noticed they had a concession with sandwiches and beverages for sale.
Driver's Meeting 1: At 4:00pm sharp, the Novice Group meeting started with staff introductions. I was impressed by the extensive varied background of the 5-6 Instructors / Pros which ranged from the 24hrs at Le Mans to SCCA Pro series to Spec Miata (Woot!). They laid out the rules which could be condensed down to:
- Be Safe
- Be predictable
- Do NOT race
- Observe Passing Zones and let the faster car by
- Leave your Ego at the curb
- Be Safe
At the conclusion, the Pro's made it clear they were their to be helpful and would ride along with anyone who asked to give tips and feedback. I made a beeline to Bob ???, a former Spec Miata race winner and he happily agreed to ride with me in the 1st session having never been in a ND Miata. Also introduced was the track photographer who would capture our moments on track and "for a mere pittance" allow us to take home a record of the day.
On Track - Paced Laps: Next up were Paced laps for the Novice Group with one instructor leading followed by 8 cars, then another instructor w/ the remaining 8 Novice cars in tow. The point here was to demonstrate the "Racing Line" AKA where to position your vehicle at any point on the circuit. Speeds were low and the "follow the Leader" format was helpful to those who had never been on a track before or were just new to PBIR.
Driver's Meeting 2: Following the Paced Laps, there was another Novice Driver Meeting where, with the aid of a large track map, the racing line was reinforced along with emphasizing fun and safety. Worker stations were pointed out, Flags and their meaning were emphasized but we were of course distracted somewhat by the sounds of the Advanced run group out on course including one VERY LOUD Race Prepped Miata. Anticipation built as we waited our turn.
On Track - Session One: At the 5min warning, the novice group started up and moved from the Pattock to the grid area set up in Pit Lane. Seatbelt were cinched, Helmets slid on and, in several cases, instructors climbed into passenger seats in prep for the 1st "hot session" of 20min. Bob quickly accessed my skill / experience level and proceeded to tell me everything I was doing wrong. Seriously, he identified the areas of the course and my driving style that could use the most improvement and gave advice in a way that was truly helpful yet not harsh or condescending.
Driver's Debrief: Following the 1st hot session, there was another driver's meeting where we discussed the areas we all seemed to be challenges by, Turn 2, Turns 4, and Turn 8 leading onto the long back straight. Pointers were handed out freely as we all let the adrenaline levels ease up in the air conditioned space while our cars cooled down.
The rest of the event followed the same format; drive, discuss, chill. I was still struggling with the turn 2-3 complex and asked Adam, the Lead Novice instructor, and also a Spec Miata driver, to drive my car so I could have a practical demonstration of what we discussed in the briefings. Wow, if you want to get a good picture of your actual skill level, let a pro drive your car. Adam drove at what he described as 7/10ths, short shifting and early braking but demonstrated the effect that smooth driving with slow hands can have. His line through the areas I was struggling with illuminated the fact that there is no substitute for seat time.
By the end of the last session, I had improved my time by well over 10seconds per lap from the 1st session and was thrilled to see the speedo a tick over 120mph before the braking point at the end of the straight.
Tear Down: At the conclusion for the last session, we returned to the paddock to allow our cars to cool down and our hands to stop shaking. After I checked my lug nuts, packed up my belongings, and cleaned up my area, I went over to the photographers booth and was delighted that he had over 45 pics of me and the Miata in our glory. One picture was included in the Novice Package and would be available for download several days after the event. Other packages were reasonably priced and many took advantage of having that resource available.
Track: PBIR is a 2mile track with 10 turns and the main straight is ~6/10mile long.
Track Map Here if you're interested.
- Organization: This was extremely well run from before gates opened to when I pulled out to head home. There was plenty of staff on hand behind the scenes, at the corners, in the pits, etc. to make me feel relaxed and comfortable.
- Staff: The staff were superb. Whether you were running a race prepared C6 Corvette to a brand new Porsche 911 GT3 RS to daily drivers like my ND, there was someone with both experience and the ability to communicate effectively so as to put their words into action.
- Value: There are other Track events that cost twice as much and give you more track time but for the novice that brought their daily driver, I'd say this was enough. One hour plus of track time for $125 just can't be matched
- Venue: PBIR is a great track to learn high performance driving. There are large runoff areas that make making mistakes an embarrassing but harmless exercise. with only 10 turns, it's easy to learn and not worry about where the course leads. There are technical sections and a decently sized straight to allow you the high speed rush every lap. Track Map Here if you're interested.
- Overall: Everyone of us should spend a day at the track and this event is a great, safe, fun, cost effective way to learn just how eager your Miata is to go out for a run.
The next SCCA Track Night event is Tuesday, September 27th and unless something extraordinary comes up, you'll find me there with a big cheesy grin on my face.
Here's a link to one of my laps to get a taste of what it was like...