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!

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