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!

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