Your first time on track
Are you about to experience your first time on track? Going to the track for the first time can be a bit overwhelming so I’ve put together some ideas to help reduce the anxiety. I instruct new students on track and I see the things that cause problems. Before your first event, you’ll need to make sure both you and your car are ready.
If you don’t know where a track event is near you, look at MotorsportsReg, the largest motorsports event calendar.
PREPARE YOUR CAR
Someone needs to go through your car to make sure it can handle a day of pushing beyond the normal driving you might be doing now. This “someone” can be you if you are mechanically inclined. If you aren’t, find a good shop, preferably one that is track focused. They’ll know better what to look for but if you don’t have a shop like that, just a good mechanic’s shop works. Personally, I’d opt for a small independently operated shop instead of a national chain. The employees at a small shop have more to gain or lose with each customer and will often be more attentive.
You’ll need to check these before your first time on track.
You aren’t going to put a lot of miles on them but they will be pushed beyond their normal use.
How is the tread? How old are the tires? Do they look to be in good shape? You don’t need special tires for your first track day but the tires do need to be in good condition. All-Season tires won’t perform great on track but they’ll work for your first time.
Air pressure. If you don’t have a good digital tire gauge, get one. On your driver’s door frame you’ll find a sticker that tells you the pressure of your tires when cold. I suggest going 2 pounds less than this sticker recommendation for your first time. When cold, all four tires should match in tire pressure.
Remove the tire valve caps the night before. You’ll be checking tire pressures throughout the day and caps just slow you down.
The most important item on your first track day. If your brakes aren’t up to snuff, your day at the track may be cut short.
Brake Feel : How do your brakes feel now, when used hard? If you haven’t used them hard, find a stretch of clear highway with no one around. Get up to 55mph and hit your brakes hard. Get into your ABS. How do your brakes feel? Are they nice and hard or spongy? If spongy, you’ll want to change your brake fluid at the very least.
Pads : First, you don’t have to change to “track” pads for your first day on a track. You can certainly put on better pads but you don’t have to. It’s more important the existing pads have enough material to get through the day. I recommend twice the width of your base plate for pad material. Probably around 1/4 inch. You might get by with less but if not, your day will end early and your good time will come to an abrupt end.
Rotors : Your rotors won’t see a lot of abuse on your first track day but you do want to check them over. Look for cracks and excessive wear. The Mazda MX5 ND isn’t that old so the chances of needing to do anything with your rotors are slim.
Brake Fluid : If your car is less than a year old, you can get by with the fluid you have. Just make sure it’s topped off. If more than a year old or you want to make sure you don’t run into fluid overheating issues, I suggest changing your brake fluid before your first day at the track. You’ll want a good quality DOT 4 brake fluid. There are a lot of very good DOT 4 fluids. Motul RBF600 is a good one to start out with.
Do you have any clunking noises in your suspension? You’ll want to give it a quick once over. Put the car on a lift or jack stands and grab the suspension components with your hand. They shouldn’t wiggle. If they do, you have something that may need to be fixed before your first track day.
Motor Oil & Filter
If your oil has more than 2500 miles on it, change it before your first day on the track. Your engine is going to be put to the test on track. No sense in skimping on a few dollars here. Change it to a good quality 5W-30 synthetic motor oil. You can use a 0W-20 for your first few times at the track but at some point, you’ll want to switch to 5W-30. At the high oil temps seen on track, the 5W-30 will have a higher viscosity than the 0w-20.
Top it up. The ND gets hot on track, make sure your fluid is full up.
Fill up with a 91 or better octane fuel the day before your first event. You’re probably going to get around 10mpg on track. Make sure you have plenty of fuel and don’t let it get below 1/4 tank while at the track.
You don’t want anything loose in the cabin or the trunk. Clean it out before you get to the track or they’ll make you do it. When you are rushing around to get on track, you don’t want to waste time cleaning out your car. I’ve had students with fast food in the car, drinks, guns, stuffed animals, and many other crazy things. This includes cell phone holders that aren’t fixed to the car. Get that cell phone holder out of the car. If it falls off during a hard corner and falls into the footwell, it can make for a very bad day. Get it ALL out of the car. Check the trunk too. You don’t want things slamming around in there potentially denting your fenders from the inside out. Remove the driver’s side floor mat the night before.
Your road insurance will not cover an accident on the track. If you’ve properly prepared your car, your risk of an incident on track is pretty low at most events run by a good organization. If you are worried about it, you can get track insurance for the day. A quick search on the internet will help you find the organizations that do that. Personally, I’ve never used track insurance.
Your first time on track will be both mentally and physically tiring. There is a lot going on. Classroom instructions, instructors telling you what to do on track, the worry of going off track, driving the line, braking, watching for other cars…the list goes on and on. Every new student is very overwhelmed on their first day. It’s normal so be ready for it.
- Get a Good Night’s Rest – Sometimes easier said than done. Do your best.
- Wear Appropriate Clothing – Find out the requirements of the organization sponsoring your event. Some require long sleeves and no shorts. I never drive on track in shorts.
- Good Lace Up Shoes – Please don’t show up in cowboy boots or slip-ons.
- Hydrate – Drink water, or at least a non-caffeine drink before you head to the track. Caffeine is a diuretic and will make you need to pee. Not something you can do when you are zipping around the track. Do drink water throughout the day. At my home track, they have a requirement that you drink after every session and they supply water to everyone when they come off the track. You can get dehydrated very fast which makes for bad judgments. Stay hydrated.
- Buy or Borrow a Helmet – Not a motorcycle helmet! Motorcycle helmets and Auto Racing helmets are different. Most tracks won’t let you on track with a motorcycle helmet.
- Food – Some tracks supply a meal at the event, others don’t. Make sure you know beforehand whether you should bring a lunch, they’ll serve you lunch, or if food is available nearby. The same goes for water.
- Learn the Track – Your day will be better if you learn the track before you arrive. Study a track map. Find video online. Learning the track is often one of the hardest things to do on the day of your event. Instead, spend some time beforehand and you’ll be able to focus more on your driving and less on whether the next corner is a right or left.
- Leave Your Ego at Home – Don’t be the driver that pushes too hard and goes off track or damages their car. This isn’t a competition. Nobody wins the HPDE through speed! You win by learning as much as you can and thinking about where you can improve.
If you prepare a bit before your event, you’ll have fewer surprises and stress the day of. That’s a very good thing.
The Day Of
- Arrive a Bit Early – Plan to arrive 20-30 minutes before the driver’s meeting. Don’t put yourself in a rush before the day starts.
- Put the Schedule on Your Phone – It is going to be an overwhelming day. Have your schedule within easy reach. I take a photo of it.
- Forget – Forget about everything you’ve learned driving on the street. Those habits are horrible for the track.
- Don’t Use the E-Brake – Do not use your e-brake while at the track. With enough heat your pads can leave a layer of material in that one spot creating judder the next time you go out.
- Heel/Toe – Your first HPDE isn’t the time to learn to heel/toe. There will be a lot going on so don’t worry about shifting down during braking unless you are already heel/toe proficient.
- Air Pressures – Check your air pressures after each session. You might have to let air out.
- Drink A Lot – Drink a lot of water no matter the outside temperatures. Your body has to have plenty of fluids to operate your brain at maximum capacity.
- Safety First, Speed Last – Don’t worry about driving your fastest on the first day. It won’t happen and you don’t want to be the “off track” student. You are going to have a lot of information coming at you so have patience. Speed will come, just not on the first day.
- Have fun!!
For even more, get the free ebook from SpeedSecrets titled The HPDE 1st Timer’s Guide. It is a very good resource.