Saturday, June 14, 2014

Getting on Track - Your guide to Starting HPDE Part 2

If you haven't done so, please read Part 1 of this post first.

You will usually have to take your car through a quick tech-inspection before you sign-in  (or sometimes after, varies by group) where they do a final simple check and verify your tech form is filled out.  You will then start the day with some time in the classroom talking about the rules of the track, flags, passing and the line.  Your first time out on the track (and usually your first five or more events) you will have an instructor in the car with you.  Different groups run instructor assignments differently.  Some pre-assign them before the event and may even get you in touch before the event.  Others just have introduction at the beginning of the day, and even others just have instructors hop in the car with you on grid.  Some of the groups also tend to have the instructors drive two laps in your car to show you the line (but don't worry, they won't be going that fast).  Then you are off on the track.

Rule 1 on the track - LISTEN TO YOUR INSTRUCTOR
Rule 2 on the track - LISTEN TO YOUR INSTRUCTOR
Rule 3 on the track - Stay safe
Rule 4 on the track - Have fun
Rule 5 on the track - Learn as much as you can

Why do I emphasize the listen to the instructor?  They know what they are doing and they are there to make sure you can adhere to rules 3-5 above.  When you first start going, your instructor will be mostly instructing you about the line on the track.  Don't get frustrated if he tells you to drive a bit slower, as the day progresses you will have plenty of time to drive faster.  You may also find your instructor actually pushing you to drive a bit faster or brake later than you are doing.  It all really depends on the student.  Most people, their first time on the track, will drive the same way they do on a back windy road.  (Although some will drive like total maniacs and that makes the instructors job much harder/scarier).

Once you have finished your first session, your instructor will have a little debrief with you, talk about what you did well, and what you will work on during the next session.  Then you should go, take a break, go to the classroom if you need to, and make sure to hydrate.  This cycle will repeat all day long.

Make sure to be mindful of your car through the day.  If you brakes start to feel funny, say something to your instructor.  Don't be afraid to give up some track time if your car isn't up to the task.  It is better to miss a session then to wreck a car.  You may still be able to go on track but just not drive as hard.

The Danger

I want to touch on the danger aspect before I give you the links to the different organizations to take a look at.  One week ago today I lost a colleague and friend when a student lost control of their car and crashed.  We may never know exactly what happened in the accident, but it goes to show that bad things can happen.  Remember that the instructors are getting in the passenger seat with someone they have never met and have no idea how they drive.   If it weren't for us, you wouldn't be able to get on the track, so please help keep us safe as we work to keep you safe.

Lastly, where can you register to get on track?

Summit Point Friday at the Track - Only runs on the tracks at Summit Point Motorsports Park in WV.  An added bonus of their program is the time you get on the skidpad learning how to handle front and rear skids (over- and under-steer).  A great program to start with especially if that track is close and where you plan on going.  I instruct with FATT and have been doing events with them for a couple of years.
Track Daze - Track Daze runs at VIR, Summit Point and New Jersey Motorsports Park.  Many of their events are on weekends and are almost exclusively two day events (where you have the option of registering for only one of the days).  I instruct with Track Daze and have participated in their events at all three venues.  I am instructing next weekend at NJMP.
Hooked On Driving - They have chapters across the country that run in different regions on a lot of tracks.  If you sign up with them, make sure you let them know I sent you.  I instruct with Hooked on Driving but have only done a single event with them thus far at VIR (with one coming up at NJMP next Friday)
NASA (National Auto Sport Association) - They also have chapters across the country.  A NASA membership is required to participate in one of their events.  You are looking for the HPDE events.  Currently I don't instruct with NASA, but have done events at Summit Point, and Pocono Raceway.
SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) - Another group with chapters across the country.  An SCCA membership is required to participate in their events.  The events you are looking for are called PDX (Performance Driving Experience).  The Washington DC Region runs 3 PDX events a year at Summit Point.   I have done exactly one event at Summit Point with SCCA as an instructor.

Check with whatever track is closest to you to see if they have their own on-track experiences.  NJMP and Pittsburgh International Raceway both have their own programs for example.  Some tracks, to participate in the events they run, you have to be a member of their automotive country clubs, which gets pricey, which is why you check for other groups that run there.  BMW Car Club of America, Audi Club, Porche Club, many of those organizations run their own programs and are usually welcoming of other makes/models of cars.

You may run into the same instructor at events run by different organizations.  As I said above, I have worked with FATT, Track Daze, Hooked on Driving and SCCA, and all of those just this year!  Get out there, stay safe, have fun, and get addicted!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Getting on Track - Your Guide to Starting HPDE Part 1

More and more frequently, people are asking me how they get on track, where should they start, what should they do?  Well, I have decided to compile my advice into a simple to reference blog post that I can also update in the future if I need to.  First a few warnings.  
  1. Driving on track is expensive.
  2. Driving on track is addictive.
  3. Driving on track is not without danger - I will get back to this at the end of the post.
You don't need to have a high-horsepower car to have fun on the track.  My track car is a 2007 VW Rabbit that MAY be pushing close to 170hp at the crank.  I get passed by a lot of other people, but there are times when I actually keep up with and pass much faster cars due to my skill and or stupidity...err...comfort throwing my car into a corner at high speed.  There are a few things you will need to do to car and plan for these before you register so you aren't caught off guard by the tech inspection requirements.  Other items will need to be checked besides these, but these are the most common problem areas.
  1. Fresh Brake Fluid - Preferably high-temperature DOT-4 or DOT-5.1 fluid (BUT NOT DOT-5).  I used Motul DOT-4 RBF-600 at first and now use Motul DOT-5.1.
    Why fresh brake fluid?  Over time, brake fluid absorbs moister and this lowers the boiling point of the brake fluid.  Also, any time you boil you brake fluid, you again lower the boiling point.  If this happens on the track, you might find yourself going into a sharp turn at the end of the straight without the ability to brake.  
  2. ALMOST fresh brake pads
    You don't want your brake pads to be BRAND new...they need a bit of time for break-in.  It is best that you put on fresh pads and follow a proper brake bedding procedure, but installing them at least 1-2 weeks before the event and just using them as normal will help mate them to the surface of the rotors better.
  3. Sufficient tread on your tires
    There is always the chance of rain, so you need good tires.  Most groups will check your tread depth and not allow you on track with insufficient tread.
  4. Check your other fluids
    Oil, transmission, coolant.  Change whatever fluids are necessary.
  5. Check your suspension, wheel bearings, and all other critical linkages
If you can't take care of the above, find a shop you trust to do it, but in that case you will need to register first so you can have them fill out the tech form (rather than you filling it out yourself).  

Next, figure out WHERE you want to go to the track?  Is VIR in your back yard? If so, I hate you!  Try not to pick a track that is too insane for your first track event (If you are near Summit Point, Shenandoah is not the track to start with, start with Main for example).  Most people are a bit overwhelmed their first time on the track.  Once you have figured out where, then start looking for groups that run there that also fit your schedule.  If you are going to make a regular habit of this, plan to run at least your first few events with the same group.  This will give you some consistency and help you in your attempts to advance. (I will list some groups down below)  Based on what group you are going to run with, you may have to show up with your own helmet, whereas others can provide rentals.

Once you are registered, your car is ready and the track day approaches keep the following things in mind.  When you get to the track you will need to empty all of your stuff out of the car, so plan to have a tarp or containers or have a bunch of stuff lying on the ground.  I have never known there to be a theft problem at a normal HPDE style event.  In fact, most people would give you the shirt off their back if it meant you could get your car back on track for your next section.  You will want to have plenty of sleep the night before.  Show up with a willingness to learn and plenty of will be exhausted by the end of the day.  Remember the only "trophy" you can "win" is your car leaving in the same shape it arrived in at the beginning of the event.

So, that is part 1 and this blog post is getting long, so I am going to break this up, and post part 2 tomorrow.  Stay tuned!