Track day events allow even the greenest of drivers to get out on track in a relatively safe environment with low commitment.
A couple of weeks ago, we introduced you to what it takes to get started in autocrossing. The necessities for enjoying track days are pretty much the same – a safe, suitable car, a helmet and an event.
Track days, like autocrossing, go by many different names depending on the club or organization that’s putting it on; High Performance Driving Event, the term used by the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) is one of the more prevalent, but most follow a similar theme. If it’s your first time, you’ll get some classroom time and be paired with an instructor. Your first laps may be riding with the instructor before it’s your turn to get on the track with the instructor in the passenger seat. As you progress, you’ll be able to get out on track without an instructor. Some organizations also tier the sessions, so new drivers don’t share the track with more experienced track day participants and vice-versa.
NASA’s HPDE events are usually run within their racing weekends, so if you’re interested in stepping up to wheel-to-wheel racing, you’ll be able to get a good look at what goes on there as well. While many participants don’t have an interest in moving to Time Trials or wheel-to-wheel racing – and for them an HPDE can be treated as nothing more than an opportunity to get on track – NASA’s program is structured to allow progression from HPDE to club racing.
The newest style of track day, and one usually carrying the cheapest and easiest route to entry, is SCCA’s Track Night in America. Held on weekday afternoons and evenings throughout the summer, the events cost $150 for around an hour of track time divided into three sessions.
SCCA’s senior manager for Marketing and Communications, Reece White, describes Track Night in America like this: “If you decide to go skiing for the first time, they’re not taking you to the top of the biggest mountain and putting a stopwatch on you and letting you see how you stack up against everybody else the first time you get in the car. That’s the way we’ve always done it in motorsports. Track Night is a way to come out, get involved, do it in a low-pressure environment, have a little bit of fun and not have to worry about if you’re fastest or your car is fastest. That’s what we’re trying to do with it.”
SCCA also holds Performance Driving Experience events, which are a little more involved, are often conducted on SCCA Club Racing weekends, but give a participant more track time. The next step would be Club Trials, where participants are timed.
These two motorsports organizations are some of the most prolific organizers of track day events, but there are many, many others. National marque clubs put on many track day events and often welcome participants with other cars. Local clubs also rent track facilities for events, and many tracks also conduct their own track days – often similar events to Track Night, where for a lower cost of entry, you can go out and run for a few hours in the late afternoon and early evening.
Track days are a great way to get your feet wet in motorsports. They don’t require expensive safety equipment other than a helmet (although be advised that some organizations require a rollbar for convertibles), they allow a driver to see if he or she is interested in pushing their car at higher speeds and usually come with some instruction. Keep in mind, though, that accidents can happen if you push the limits of traction, and damage to you or your car can occur in these types of events. The great thing about them, though, is thanks to the tiered structure and limited, safe passing zones, you can go out and have fun and push your car at a comfortable limit in relative safety.
So find a local event if you’ve got a track near you (and fire up that search engine – you may be surprised at how close your nearest track is), buy or borrow a helmet and get your MX-5, RX-7 or RX-8 (or Mazda2, 3 or 6) ready to hit the track!
SCCA Track Night in America