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As car enthusiasts, you may have pondered what it would be like if you took your vehicle out on the track, or you might have plans to attend a track day at your local facility. Either way, it can be a daunting and intimidating thought process. However, with the right preparation, you can go into your first track day with a properly prepared vehicle and mindset so that you can have a successful and fun track session. A track session can be one of the best investments you can make into yourself in terms of knowing your driving limits and where to learn from them. You will also learn the limits of your vehicle and how hard you can push it in the current state before you start upgrading tires, brakes, suspension, and cooling. Remember, it is not about how fast and powerful your vehicle is, it is about improving yourself so you can be a faster driver with more seat time. Below are vital areas of discussion that you will want to comb through on your vehicle before attending your first track event:
Most stock brake setups would be okay for a novice on a low to medium speed track, and they will give you feedback that they will start to fade. It will feel like your pedal is starting to become mushy, this is a good time to take a "cool off" lap or two to let everything come back to normal temperatures. This also serves as an additional level of protection as it will help keep your engine, transmission, and differential temps in check too.
PRO TIP: Going with a pad that is "track only" may not always be a good thing, these pads demand very high temps to even start to operate efficiently, which a novice driver may not be able to achieve or maintain constant temps where they need to be (same goes for tires, which we’ll get to in a bit).
PRE TRACK DAY: If you have any aftermarket parts on your car, check to ensure that ALL of your bolts, nuts, clips, clamps, and general hardware are tight and torqued. Then take those tools you used, and put them in a bag, and store them in the back of your car the night before. This will ensure you have the proper tools ready in case things decide they don't wanna stay tight while you're enjoying your track day. Just make sure the tools and extra equipment are OUT OF THE VEHICLE while hot on the track.
DAY OF: Really pay attention to anything out of the ordinary. This is going to be maximum sensory overload as your mind is processing the adrenaline while you're hyper-focused on the driving line, setting up your apex, braking zones, and safety officials. You also have other cars around you with their loud noises while you're trying to process all of these things through the window of your helmet. Make sure you take quick glances at your gauges just to make sure you are not overheating, and that there are no oil lights on. If that is the case, simply pull off at the appropriate exit point or take a cool-down lap. If your vehicle breaks down, pull off the track so that you are not letting fluids get on the track which will endanger other drivers.
PRO TIP:Torque your lug nuts before you get on track, re-torque at mid-way, and before you go home. Also if you have plastic center caps that you like, remove them before the track day as they can potentially melt due to the heat.
PRO TIP #2: Bring a decent tire pressure gauge to keep an eye on tire pressure. As the heat comes up in the tire, pressure will also rise. Also, bring a manual or laser thermometer (these are ultra-cheap now) to measure the inside-middle-and outside tire temps (see above in suspension) this will maximize the tire life as well as the grip.
Make sure to check your oil throughout the day, as the heat and high revs of the track will often cause your car to use/burn more oil than you're used to. Also, a good idea is to check your radiator overflow. It is normal to see your coolant temperatures at the high mark after a track session, but you should not see coolant coming out of the overflow. As the car cools, it will suck the extra fluid from the overflow back into the system, and once cool, it should read normally again.
Don't forget the most important thing, plenty of fluids for yourself. Often it's hot, and your increased heart rate along with the excitement will burn more energy than you think. Make sure you pack plenty of fluids, snacks, and sun protection for yourself. If you can stay hydrated, cool, and keep your energy up because you're going to have an awesome time. Save those energy drinks for packing up post-track day and after the adrenaline settles. The fatigue really starts to set in right as you're about to pack up to head home, so this is a great time for a bit of caffeine to keep you going.
It is always a good idea to bring a small number of hand tools in case you need to perform a minor fix or adjustment in between laps. Anything can happen but it is important that you are prepared in case you or a fellow racer who may have forgotten their tools have the help. You wouldn't want a simple Phillips head screwdriver coming in between you and your track day. Need help deciding on what type of tools you should take with you to the track? Below is a list of tools and equipment that will become very useful for an all-day event:
Show up early and make sure you complete any sign-in requirements first thing, then let them know it's your first time and they will let you know what needs to happen next. There will likely be a mandatory safety/drivers meeting before the event starts that is critical to pay attention to. This will not only help you ensure your safety, but it will also keep you from getting kicked out. You can get away with some silly driving on track, but track officials will not put up with any breaking of the safety rules.
In conclusion, you're putting your vehicle through long stretches of high-stress conditions where the RPMs will stay in the upper ranges. You will maintain a constant high level of speed, and your brakes are going to work double overtime to fight the heat while constantly slowing your vehicle down.
You on the other hand will be white-knuckling the steering wheel bright-eyed with a giant smile on your face. With the right preparation, you can have a fun, safe, and responsible track day that will earn you a right of passage knowing that you and your vehicle are more capable than looking good in a parking lot. You don't have to be the fastest in your class and you don't have to set the fastest times of the day. You are learning another level of driving skill that not only applies on the track, but it will make you a more reactive driver on the street.