Track Day Preparations: What You Need To Know

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So you think you've had enough practice on the Xbox, and you're ready to take your car to the track, but you don't know where to start in making preparations for track day? There's no reason to stress: track days are more accessible than ever, and with thousands who join every season, there's a ton of support systems and knowledge out there to get you going. But before you start checking the tire pressure of the car and changing brake pads, it is essential to know the basics of getting into the sport, and how to properly prepare yourself for a day out on the track. There's more to it than you might think, but done correctly, you're almost guaranteed to have a good time. Unless your car decides to die, of course. From prepping under the hood to event types, and what safety gear to bring along, we're here to guide you on preparing for a track day.

Best Track Day Car unsplash.com

Sideways or Straight: Which Type of Event is Right for Me?

The world of motorsport is massively diverse, and the US enjoys one of the most eclectic scenes in the world. From driving a lawnmower at 60 mph on a dirt track to pulling heavy stuff with a supercharged tractor, there's something for everyone. Still, there are a few main categories that we'll be covering, including classics such as drag racing and circuit racing.

  • Skidpan - Skidpans are a cheap and easy place to test your vehicle's limits and your own skill in a safe and near hazard-free environment. A skidpan event usually consists of a large paved area that has been drenched in water to create a low traction environment. This allows drivers to learn the dynamics of their cars at slower speeds. The lack of any curbs, sand traps, or tire walls makes this one of the safest track day events around and is an excellent place for beginners to start.
  • Gymkhana - A gymkhana event is the perfect way to prepare yourself for a full track day. A gymkhana event will teach you the basics of keeping to a racing line, maintaining throttle control, and smooth steering inputs. This is also a great way to find and resolve mechanical faults on your car in a safe, low-speed environment before heading out on a full track.
  • Drag Race - Two cars, a quarter-mile stretch of straight road, and a set of lights. That's drag racing in a nutshell. Drag racing is one of the most enjoyable types of racing, and anyone can partake, but it takes just as much time to prepare your car for a trip down the strip than any of the other events, and can put more strain on your drivetrain due to hard pull-aways and high-rpm driving.
  • Circuit - Many consider circuit, or track racing, as the purest form of motorsport. Driving around a track arguably requires the most skill and places the most strain on a vehicle. Your engine, gearbox, cooling system, brakes, tires, and suspension all get put through their paces on a circuit, as will your abilities as a driver.
  • Drifting - Drifting has gone from strength to strength in the US and is one of the most popular forms of motorsport out there. Drifting requires a ton of skill and is extremely hard on both the car and driver due to the level of intensity. The beauty of drifting is that the cost of entry is low: find yourself an RWD car, put some old tires on the back and get going.
Track Day Car Pexels.com
Getting Ready for Track unsplash.com
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9 Amazing Continuation Cars

No Car is Perfect: Optimizing Your Car for Track Days

Sure, it's easy to buy a brand new performance machine such as a BMW M3 or VW Golf GTI and head for the track, but most beginners will be using much less desirable metal such as a used Mazda MX-5 to navigate the twists and turns. No matter the car you end up choosing, there will always be room for improvement, and the following categories should always be looked at if you're serious about optimizing your car for track days.

  • Reliability - There is no point in planning a track day if your car won't make it there; making sure that your vehicle can perform reliably is the most important track day prep out there. Is your clutch in tip-top shape? Have you traced that pesky oil leak and fixed your cooling system? Do a proper service and get your car as healthy as can be before you even consider entering an event. In addition to greater longevity, sorting out leaks will also be a prerequisite when marshals inspect your car to ensure that it's safe for the track.
  • Tires - Tires can make or break a car and are possibly the most cost-effective performance upgrade you can do. While slick and semi-slick tires offer the most performance, they also cost more and wear out faster than regular street radial tires. For most entry-level drivers, a high-performance street radial tire will be able to go the distance. Remember, it's not the best choice to drive to and from track events on slick or semi-slick tires.
  • Brakes - There's no point in going fast if you can't slow down. Upgrading your braking system is another simple way to lower lap times and increase the fun. A flawed braking system will make you lose confidence around the track and could potentially place you in danger. For entry-level drivers in stock cars, a new set of pads and new brake fluid should do the trick.
  • Suspension - Your car's suspension system helps the car transfer weight and keeps the wheels on the ground. Thus, it must be in proper working condition. These days, there's a coil-over suspension kit available for nearly every performance-orientated car. While prices can climb into the tens of thousands for specific setups, a basic coil-over kit won't cost you an arm and a leg and is easy to install and fine-tune.
  • Seating - Rapid changes in direction not only cause the car to induce body roll and loss of grip, but the driver can experience these very same symptoms too. That's why a proper racing bucket seat is always a good idea if you want to get serious about track driving.
  • Weight - The lighter, the better. Lighter cars accelerate faster, can brake later, and don't wear out tires and brakes nearly as fast as heavy machines. For the entry-level track day racer, weight reduction could simply mean losing the spare tire and jack or perhaps the rear seats, but more serious drivers will opt for a stripped-out cabin and lightweight body panels. Always remember: carbon fiber is good, but carbon fiber is expensive.
  • Safety - Race organizers take driver safety very seriously, and there are a few things you can do to ensure your own safety when entering a track day event. First off, basics such as a fire extinguisher, globes, and a helmet should always be in the car. A long sleeve shirt, long pants, and closed shoes are usually a requirement, but a full race suit won't ever hurt. For added safety, a kill switch is always a good idea, as is a roll cage, but unless you're into serious racing, you shouldn't have to worry about these more serious precautions.
  • Powertrain - Once a car has been appropriately modified and prepared to handle a track day's stresses, one can start to look at increasing engine and transmission performance. How to make your car faster isn't much of a secret, but always remember that lots of power doesn't necessarily mean better times. Be careful not to sacrifice reliability in the hunt for more horses.
Race Tire unsplash.com
Day of Preparation Pexels.com
Check Oil freepik.com
Braking System Pexels.com
Wheel Pexels.com

Essential Preparation: How to Prepare Yourself and Your Car for Track

Having peace of mind and having fun are the two things you're aiming for when heading to the track. Both of these goals are attainable if you do proper prep work before the event and while you're on track. Knowing how to prepare for a track day might not sound like a lot of fun, but it will minimize the chances of something going wrong, so let's look at some essential preparation categories and track day tips.

  • Service (basic fluids, spark plugs, etc.): Before you leave your home, make sure to check all fluid levels, including coolant, engine oil, gearbox oil, and brake fluid levels. A quick oil change never hurts, and neither does checking out the spark plugs. Also, make sure that all belts are tightened and not fraying.
  • Bolt check: A quick bolt check is vital if you're driving a built or heavily modified car. Checking all the bolts related to the steering system and suspension system, and tightening the wheel nuts, is a top priority.
  • Tire check: Your tires are the only thing connecting you and your car to the road, so it's pretty important to make sure that they are in good shape before an event. Adjust your tire pressure according to track conditions, check for any severe damage or punctures, and remember to do a massive smokey burnout before every run.
  • Suspension setup - Different tracks will require different suspension setups. With standard cars, you won't have much of an option, but cars fitted with aftermarket adjustable dampers will be able to be set up for the track at hand. Always check the suspension system on your car for loose bolts or other niggles.
  • Body and mind - You, as the driver, are the most crucial ingredient to a successful track day, so as you prepare to drive at an event, it's essential to get a good night's rest and eat well - maybe even do a few reaction time exercises a la Formula 1. Trust us when we say that trying to navigate a gymkhana or drift track while hungover isn't the best idea. Pay attention to the rules during the driver briefing, and perhaps listen to some of your favorite Enya songs before heading out on the track.
Driver Helmet unsplash.com
Tire Pressure Pexels.com

Tools and Equipment

Arriving at the track with only a GoPro and a bag of beef jerky sounds like a good time, but you're going to need more than that to prep your car for a fun day out, so let's take a look at what you need to bring, other than your car, to the track.

  • Spanners
  • Screwdrivers
  • Air compressor
  • Tire pressure monitor
  • Oil
  • Duct Tape
  • Cable ties
  • Jack
  • Energy drinks and water
  • Camera
  • Camping chairs
  • Some shade-making structure
  • Fans and supporters

FAQs

What is a track car?

A track car is any road-worthy passenger vehicle. A bus or large SUV won't cut it, but other than that, anything goes. From the Mazda MX-5 through to a Bugatti Chiron, if it has a steering wheel and makes you smile, you can probably race it.

Which are the best track day cars?

There are tons of good options available, but let's take a look at an entry-level and high-end car in each of the drivetrain classes. In terms of RWD cars, the Mazda MX-5 is one of the best entry-level track day cars you can get your hands on. Move up in the price range, and something like a C8 Corvette will make a tasty track day treat. FWD cars are a dime a dozen, and one of the most popular has to be the Honda Civic: whether it be an EG hatchback or the brand new Civic Type R, you can't go wrong with a Civic. The AWD class is also littered with legends such as the Subaru WRX STI and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, but many German performance cars like the BMW M4 are also offering power to all four wheels.

Do I need a race license to enter a track day?

While most track and drag racing events do not require you to have a racing license, some of the more serious, official events will need one. The SCCA is the place to go if you're interested in obtaining a race license in 2021, which might require you to attend an advanced driving training school.

What do I need to know about how to prepare for a track day?

Most important is that both you and your car need to be in a good state, so before you bring your car to the track, check that all components are working properly and that you are healthy, alert, and focused. Remember to check the list of what to bring to a track day, and remember that the best way to track a car is to make sure you are responsible about following the rules.

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