Get on track in 10 easy steps

David S.
By David S. Wallens
May 12, 2022 | how-to, GRM+, track time | Posted in Features | From the Nov. 2009 issue | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: Chris Clark

Just like autocross and rallycross, getting involved in high-speed track events is relatively easy. Many clubs and groups host such events, and their structure generally caters to rookies as well as seasoned vets. The programs all feature a similar focus: Provide lots and lots of track time.

A wise man once said that the longest journey starts with the first step, so here are 10 of them to help you get on track.

1. Find a Car

Photography Credit: euroimage.us

It’s hard to participate in motorsports without access to a car, and, fortunately, just about anything will work for a track event. Remember, this isn’t racing, so you don’t need the latest and greatest. Our advice: Go with something reliable that’s easy on equipment—we’re talking tires and brakes here—and not too challenging to drive at the limit.

2. Buy a Helmet

Photography Credit: Chris Clark

You’re going to need a helmet, and there are many companies eager to help. Before plunking down any cash, make sure the helmet complies with the rules for your intended track day club. Their Web site or a club official can get you the answer, but the latest Snell SA-rated helmet should be a safe bet. Don’t forget to make sure that the helmet fits comfortably without causing any pressure points.

3. Try Autocross

Photography Credit: Scott R. Lear

We’re big proponents of autocross, as it’s a great way to learn driving skills in a safe, controlled environment. In other words, you’re probably better off probing the limits of understeer and oversteer at 50 mph versus 100 mph.

4. Get Tires

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

A weekend spent pounding around the track can be harsh on tires. While you can certainly run on full-tread street tires, they’re probably not going to hold up as well as dedicated track rubber. You don’t need to run the same tires found in the winners circle, however, as there’s a selection of reasonably priced, mid-pack race tires that are perfect for track events. They offer nice, predictable handling along with long wearing characteristics.

[Ultimate track tire guide | 200tw, 100tw, street-legal track and R-comps]

5. Brake Check

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

Track events are also tough on brakes. At a minimum, upgrade to a track-capable pad and flush the entire system, moving to a fluid that can handle high temperatures. Note that some full-on race pads don’t achieve their full effectiveness when cold, so make your selection wisely. We’re also fans of braided steel lines; they offer good pedal feel and are more resistant to damage from rocks and debris.

[How to Go About Upgrading Your Brakes]

6. Find an Event

Time to find an event and make some plans. Most groups provide some kind of instruction for new drivers, and each club’s Web site will spell out the specifics. Yes, you want the instruction. Make sure you sign up for the right group. Let them know that you’re new to this, and they’ll take you by the hand.

7. Perform a Mechanical Inspection

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

Before shoving off, have a trusted mechanic inspect the car. Is everything properly torqued? Will all of the parts still be attached to the car after that first session? Some clubs even require a professional inspection. 

8. Dress for Success

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

Track events rarely require the fire-retardant suits designed for wheel-to-wheel racing, but you still need to wear the right stuff—which usually means long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Natural fibers like cotton are usually specified.

9. Pack Your Stuff

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

You’ll also need to assemble and pack your gear. Each driver seems to have a unique checklist, but here are some items that we’d strongly recommend: torque wrench, tire pressure gauge, air compressor, oil, brake fluid, window cleaner, towels, rags, gloves, zip ties, duct tape and common hand tools. Since you’ll be outside all day, don’t forget a hat, sun block, lunch and lots of cold water. 

10. Eyes and Ears Open

Photography Credit: Chris Clark

And finally, remember, you’re at these track events to learn and have a good time. Odds are very strong that the Ferrari F1 team isn’t scouting track events for their next driver, so go, relax, have fun, and don’t be “that guy.”

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