What to expect on your first track day

By Chris Tropea
May 10, 2023 | track day, Garmin Catalyst | Posted in Columns | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: Tom Suddard

It seems crazy that since I work at a motorsports magazine that I have never driven on track, but that all changed a few weeks ago, when we went to the Florida International Rally & Motorsports Park to do a story for the magazine.

[The Grassroots Motorsports ultimate guide to track car lap times]

Now, I’m hooked.

Fellow Associate Editor Colin Wood and I got behind the wheel of one of the driving school’s Mazda Miatas to find out if A.I. is at the point where it can be as good as a human driving coach.

I was terrified to go out on track at an open track day but also extremely excited. I have been to the FIRM countless times to do various track test videos with J.G. and always thought it would be a lot of fun.

This time, I was mostly afraid of getting in the way of other people because I knew I would be driving slower than more experienced drivers. I was also afraid of losing control of the car. 

Before we went out, I made a thread on the forum asking people for advice and I got a lot of good info on what to bring and what to expect.

The day of the test, I was the first one on track in the Miata, and my two worst fears came true. 

On my first out lap, I spun the car in Turn 2. Luckily, there was no one close by me. Only my ego was hurt.

With my tail between my legs, I slowly made my way around the track and back to the paddock. J.G. gave me some advice–slow down and remember what we went over. Then he sent me back out. 

This time I took it way slower on my first few laps and started to get a better feel for the car and the track. Then lapping traffic started to pile up behind me, but I kept calm and remembered to hold my line. When we got to a passing zone, I gave point-bys. Faster traffic turned out to not be the issue I thought it would be. 

With my first session finished, I got all my worst fears out of the way and then all my nerves started to calm down. I was excited to get back in the car for my next session. 

Sessions 2 and 3 went well. With some data and encouragement from the Garmin Catalyst, I gained confidence. I started to push the car and feel what it did when I did different things with my inputs.

By my final session, I felt like I had gotten in the groove and could start stringing the corners together and significantly improve my times. 

I am so happy that I had the opportunity to go to the track. I think I am hooked. I may have set up an alert on Facebook Marketplace for Miatas.

I can’t say how great it also was having the data system in the car with me–the way it encouraged me when I did something good and how it gave advice on how to go faster. For a first-time track-day driver, the Catalyst helped me improve immensely throughout the day. 

I cannot wait to get back behind the wheel on track and learn more.

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View comments on the GRM forums
Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
2/13/23 12:11 p.m.

To piggyback off what Chris said, I was terrified on my way to the FIRM that day, but once I got out on track, I was surprised at how much it just felt like normal-ish driving.

10/10 would track day again.

Tom1200 UberDork
2/13/23 12:18 p.m.

I'm on my 37th season of racing and still get butterflies on grid.

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
2/13/23 2:06 p.m.

In reply to Tom1200 :

I'd say that's not totally a bad thing. I'm not sure if I'd want to get comfortable enough driving on track that I don't get butterflies.

Tom1200 UberDork
2/13/23 3:04 p.m.

In reply to Colin Wood :

No it's a good thing; a motorcycle racer friend, who's been racing for 50 years, says if you don't get butterflies you should just stop.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
2/14/23 11:25 a.m.
Tom1200 said:

In reply to Colin Wood :

No it's a good thing; a motorcycle racer friend, who's been racing for 50 years, says if you don't get butterflies you should just stop.

Totally yes. 

If you're not feeling it, why are you doing it? 

chiquito1228 Reader
2/14/23 12:22 p.m.

Yes butterflies and you leg twitching. Thats the rush. 

DaleCarter GRM+ Memberand New Reader
5/11/23 3:39 p.m.

The most important thing I learned at my first track day is that I  was slow. I mean REALLY slow.

Now, I teach slow drivers :-)

Also, yes to butterflies. I've been a gigging musician for over 40 years and still have them for the first few songs.  Needless to say, the track is no different. I am convinced that I am going four-off at some point on the warm-up laps.

RacingComputers GRM+ Memberand Reader
5/14/23 1:43 p.m.

Looking forward to Charlotte TNiA on June 28th


Been a while since we have been behind a windshield



AMiataCalledSteve HalfDork
5/15/23 8:01 a.m.

I'm glad this popped up again since I will also be at Charlotte on the 28th for my first track day.

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