Want to learn to really drive your Focus??
OK, someone suggested I take a shot at helping those who are unsure about what it takes to get some "track time" to learn how to properly drive their Foci (or most any car for that matter).
I envision a list here of racing/driving schools, car clubs, etc, plus tracks they visit and FF members' experiences. Read this Wikipedia page for a good definition of the HPDE (High Performance Driver Education) experience, which is often the best way to get exposed to proper performance driving technique:
Some HPDE education basics: This is serious business! First and foremost, take a deep breath and check your ego at the door. I have been on track in both non-competitive "high performance driver education" and competitive time trials, in 4 different cars, for a total of only around 15 events or so, not including autocrosses long ago. Obviously I am no expert here, but am happy to offer an "intermediate" driver's perspective. The single best thing you can do is listen carefully to the experienced drivers. A little knowledge goes a long way...absorb all you can.
I invite anyone with prior experience in these sorts of events to list, (a) the organization, (b), the track, (c) your experience in a nutshell, how that group ran the event and what you gained from it.
This will be a work in progress...I'm writing this late, when I ought to be in bed so hopefully I've got a foundation built here anyway.
Thanks for your time, and let's help each other. Ignorance is not necessarily a negative reflection on someone...not knowing is often just that, "not knowing". Let's share info.
Be safe folks.
Just for the record:
EMRA (emraracing.org): Three time trials, 3 cars, 2 trophies. Very friendly bunch for the most part. Novices are advised to hook up with an instructor and try to stick with him or her (what I did anyway) for your 2 or 3 practice sessions before timed laps at the end. Not maximum track time but good instructors from what I experienced. Lime Rock Park
SCDA (scda1.org): Non-competitive "track day" or HPDE events. Very well run, efficient, on time, great staff and instructors. If you are lucky you might just get an instructor who led Skip Barber for many years (I was fortunate in this way). Safety first, fun second...but tons of fun because of the amount of track time. Lime Rock Park and New Hampshire International Speedway
Porsche Club of America (chicago): Gingerman Raceway in Michigan...impressive place! I borrowed a friend's former SCCA champion '92 Camaro, and he was my instructor. Nice group, lots of track time, other instructors seemed well suited to the task.
Fast Lane Racing School (raceschool.com): Streets of Willow and Willow Springs. These folks teach the Toyota Celebrity racers for the Long Beach Grand Prix support race and other events. It's modified Celicas on two tracks, experienced instructors (one of mine had driven in the Indy 500 more than once, so not a slacker exactly!). You can get as much or as little instruction as you want...You can spend the whole time with a ride-along teacher or just get some pointers once or twice, then spend the rest of the time on your own.
the local autocross segment. it gets you at least onto a track (wir- and a big go kart track too) there are a few great instrutors and its all real informal. best part is no one acts better than you for not really knowing. there are slow guys and fast guys there. so plenty of time to learn the coures and visibly watch other cars go round to get some insight as to where thay are putting it on the track. (yes everyone works the course and races)
Just to wade in on the discussion.
Often, a specific "school" isn't required to get your feet wet.
Porsche (PCA) was mentioned earlier, but also consider the SVT Owners Association (SVTOA), Mercedes Benz, BMW Car Club of America (BMWCCA), Car Guys, NASA and regional track days like Friday at the Track (FATT) - run at Summit Point in WVA.
All of these clubs have seasoned and patient instructors that often move between events and clubs to assist and to get seat time.
Some additional thoughts on track days:
Get lots of rest before and during the event. Use the week before to eat right, get lots of sleep, stay away from alcohol
If possible, take the day before the event off from work. This allows more time to get ready and packed without having to rush. You'll be a bundle of nerves anyway, why make it tougher. Go ahead and drive up the night before, even if the track is close to you. Most events have a night-before check-in which will make your 1st morning that much more pleasant. You may also have a chance to meet your instructor the night before, hang out with other attendees
At the event, make sure to keep hydrated... preferably with water or sports drinks
Read as many high performance driving guides as possible such as the High Performance Driving Manual from HSR or others
Come to your first track day with an open mind. You may have a very high performance street car, you may have driven it very fast on highway off ramps but that does not make you track driver. Show up and consider yourself a blank piece of paper that you and your instructor will color in during the day. As I've heard at some beginner driver meetings "check your ego at the front gate". You and your instructor will both have a more enjoyable day.
Make sure to have any requried safety inspection completed well in advance of the event. If one is not required, do one anyway!
Have normal maintanence done as well (oil, filters, wheel & tire balancing/rotation, radiator check).
Bring with you extra consumables (oil, water, brake fluid, brake pads)
Toss your cell phone in your back pack and forget about it. If you are a doctor on call, your wife is preganant and due at any moment, or you are needed to fend of a pending alien invasion, then spending your time at an HPDE is probably not the best use of your time. Schedule your event where you won't be interrupted.
More importantly, the phone is off of your person. Things can get really exciting in the car if the phone rings at mid-apex. Worse, if you have the unfortunate experience of having an incident, the phone becomes a missile inside the car.
TURN THE RADIO/CD PLAYER OFF (I have stories about this one)
VISUALLY RECHECK EVERYTHING ON THE CAR PRIOR TO EACH RUN - MAKE THIS A HABIT
I'll post more soon.
^^^^Many, many words of wisdom, clearly from experience. I agree with every bit of it. Thanks!
One additional point I'll raise: For the maximum amount of track time you might choose a group that does not have a competitive element to the day's events, that is, no timed laps at the end of the day. Especially for the novice, the time trial portion can be a bit of a waste as you are waiting around for your shot at a couple of laps to try for a trophy, time which you might otherwise spend in another 20-30 minute lapping session. Just a thought...
I decided that this should be a STICKY !!!
Thanks to APEX214 for getting the ball rolling! [thumb]
A few more thoughts. For the sake of convenience, I borrowed from Wikipedia for many of the terms.
Going to the track for the first time is intimidating and confusing for a lot of people. The learning curve can be steep because of the time table involved. Very little time between classroom, one on one and the next thing you know, you are in a strange high speed environment where things get intersting really quickly.
Below are some terms and thoughts you should familiarize yourself with in advance of your track day.
This stands for High Performance Driver Education. Also sometimes refered to as simply DE. This is what first-timers need to be looking for. Most HPDEs have run groups separated into different experience levels, including Beginner. These events are typically run on a weekend, although some of the more popular tracks, and tracks where professional race series are held, may also have them during the week. These events (or at least the HPDE groups within an event) are non-competitive with strict passing rules designed to keep everyone safe, and to keep the cost of entry down (generally nothing more than standard car maintanence and a helmet are required to participate.)
You drive your own car, and beginners will be given an in-car instructor for all their on-track activities. Additionally, there are classroom sessions between the track sessions to educate and bring everyone up to speed.
All HPDE events should use corner workers (unlike Autocross, participants don't also have to work) and, more importantly, Advanced Life Support should be on-site at all times there are cars on track. If these elements are absent, pack up and go home. It simply isn't worth the risk to yourself or your equipment.
Most HPDEs are run by clubs that are not affiliated with the track, however, some tracks have their own HPDE programs
Open track, or lapping day events are geared more for the experienced driver. These events are typically one day events, during the week, without a lot of structure to get in the way of track time. It is not unusual for Open Track participants to have to progress through the other HPDE groups then be tested.
These events are geared towards someone who is looking to get immediately into wheel-to-wheel racing. Sometimes run in conjuction with HPDEs, they are usually more for experienced drivers who want to take the next step. You should already have a basic understanding of on-track protocol including traffic and crisis management. Most have a pre-requisute of a number of HPDE events before you will be allowed to participate in a competition school. These requirements and their intensity vary from club to club.
A subset of competition schools are the Racing Schools like Skip Barber, Jim Russell, and others. These events typically run in the thousands of dollars to attend, but you drive the school's cars, usually open wheel formula style. Upon completion of these schools, you will usually be issued a provisional race license with the organization that runs the school, where after you complete a minimum number of races, will be upgraded to an official race license.
Includes but it not limited to:
Transportation to and from track
Event pricing ranges from free to upwards of $5000 depending on what type of event and its target attendee. You won't find many free ones, but you can get on track for little or no cost. It just won't be a high speed event. It may be a charity lapping day hosted by the track, or even parade laps sometimes held at HPDE events.
For high-speed events, the pricing usually depends on the track. The more popular the track, the more money they charge to the renters, so the more expensive the entry fee will be. Some fees are based on the organization who may have a set fee no matter what track they are running at.
In very general terms:
One-day lapping/open track - $100 to $300
Two-day HPDE - $250 to $600
Two-day HPDE w/race - $400 to $800
Half-day race school (open wheel cars) - $700 to $1000
Three-day race school (open wheel cars) - $1500 to $4000
Four or Five day race school w/race and comp license - $3000 to $6000
False Grid- Staging area for cars waiting to go on track. The pit may be divided by a wall, with the side closest to the paddock the false grid, the side closest to the track being the Hot Pit
Hot Pit- This is the area of the pit lane where cars will be coming through when coming off track. Usually left clear, it is used to check out a car that has had an off-track excursion, and other situations where cars must come off track
Pit-Out Marshall- This is the guy or gal that directs cars when to leave the pits and enter the track. If its a paid track worker, will be dressed in all white. He/she has the final say... even if an event steward or pit worker tells you to go, if you don't see a signal from the pit-out person, don't go.
Grid Marshall- This person's main function is to stay in constant communication with the corner workers and pit personel, making sure everyone is where they should be, and that everyone is following the rules. This will be the person you speak with if you have to be black flagged for anything.
Grid/Pit worker- Usually volunteers for the event, they keep the grid orderly, and they make sure the right cars are gridding up, and that those cars have all the proper identification/tech stickers/numbers, etc. etc.
Corner Worker- Usually paid workers from the track or local SCCA region, these are the people that keep you safe out there.
These terms are listed here simply as a primer for people just starting out in tracking their car. It is by no means a comprehensive list, and the definitions are purposefully simplified.
Vision Up (EYES UP) - You'll hear this probably more than anything. It means looking as far ahead as possible while you are driving. Most people have a tendency to look about 20-30 feet in front of their car (or at the speedometer)... when you really need to be looking hundreds of yards in front of you. Sometimes not in front of you either! If the road bends around, you'll need to adjust your vision around as well. Its an easy concept, but very hard to make yourself do.
Threshold Braking - Essentially this means using as much braking force as possible, in the shortest distance possible, without locking up the wheels. The trick is to time it so that the car ends up at the right speed for the turn-in. In cars with ABS Threshold braking is accomplished by quickly and decisively using the whole pedal until ABS engages. True mastery of this technique maximizes braking WITHOUT engaging the ABS. Maximum braking is achieved just before the point of lock up - not an easy thing to accomplish (use your toes).
Turn-in - Refers to the moment you begin turning your steering wheel to start a turn
Apex - Refers to a point within a turn where your car is at its inner-most point on the turn's line.
Early Apex - An apex before the physical center of a turn
Late Apex - An apex after the physical center of a turn
Track-Out/Exit - The point at which you are at full acceleration coming out of a turn.
More to come!
Track safety is paramount. The main objective of a track day is to be safe and drive home afterwards. Different clubs/schools have different rules but generally the rules are similar to the following.
Drivers education is about providing a safe place for drivers to improve their driving ability. Most schools break drivers in to groups based on ability/experience. A fast car does not mean that you'll be in the fastest group as you'd be amazed the horsepower upgrade that an experienced driver can make to a car.
It's Only an HPDE. How Dangerous Can It Be?
Any time you sit behind the wheel of a car, you're putting yourself in a dangerous situation. You're probably more likely to get into an accident on the way to the track than at the track... because at the track you'll be subject to rules, instruction, and supervision designed to make it as safe as possible. Unfortunately, if you do happen to have a problem on a track you're going to be moving a lot faster then your garden variety fender bender. As a result, the consequences can be much higher.
Some say HPDE is not as dangerous as racing but if you hit something at speed then the physics don't care whether it's a DE or a race. It's going to hurt. 110mph into walls that line many tracks, even for an offset collision, will do a lot of damage to your car. There are steps you can take to limit that damage to your car.
Some drivers recommend:
Rollbar with back braces
Helmet with neck restraint
This is expensive, expect around 5k USD for this no matter what the car. It's cheap if something happens. Your odds of being hurt will be significantly lower than in your stock car. However, these are NOT REQUIRED for most events. Cars today are very safe. I mention them here as a reference only.
How much safety equipment you need for your car depends on:
The Car - if you have a high horsepower car that his hard to handle, you can probably afford to invest in safety equipment.
The Track - some tracks have lots of space and run-off area, some are tight and have close walls.
The Event - Time Trials, Driver's Ed, Club Racing (Requirements are different for each)
The Driver - Your attitude towards driving and how hard you are going to push makes a big difference in how likely you are to go off, and what will happen to you when you do.
Regardless of how much equipment you decide you need, you'll find some advice about making the final choices here.
What's equivalent safety?
This means that what ever you did for safety on the drivers side of the car, you need at least the same on the passenger side. You can't be sitting in your car with your instructor wearing a 6pt polyester harness in a carbon fiber seat with your instructor in the stock seat with a 3pt belt. Have a heart, that would be a very nervous instructor...
You need the same level of protection for both occupants. I have seen some cars with only one 6pt harness on the drivers side. That looks suspect to me and I would be very hesitant to get in the car as an instructor.
Upgrade the carbon unit in the car
The biggest safety factor in the car is you. The more you educate yourself in driving, the safer you'll become. Spend money on modding yourself by gaining school/track time before any other performance modifications.
First and foremost, plan ahead and read any and all rules and regulations for the event in which you will be participating. There's nothing worse then showing up for an event, only to be denied tech because you didn't read the requirements.
Many HPDE days have a minimum as a stock street car with a 2.5lb fire extinguisher mounted where the driver can access it. Most, if not all organizers will want the car checked and signed off by a dealer/mechanic before allowing you on the track.
Again... check with the organization running the event. Even though some event hosts still allow M rated and non-Snell tested helmets, it is recommended that you go with a reputable brand that is tested to Snell standards.
SA rated helmets (Special Application) are tested for multiple impacts and fire protection
M rated halmets (Motorcycle) are tested for a single impact and are not required to have fire resistant materials
Helmet ratings are helmet ratings, no matter the price. A $200 SA rated helmet will hold up the same way a $500 or a $1000 SA rated helmet will (a bit over-simplified... a better fitting, lighter helmet will be worth the money)
Fit is more important than the name or the price. Too tight and you'll head will go numb, too loose and it won't stay on your head properly
Never buy a used helmet... you never know how its been taken care of or how it will fit
Open or closed face mostly comes down to personal preference. In vehicles with an upright seating position, non-competitive, and airbag equipped... there is no real reason not to get an open face helmet if you want. If you don't have an airbag, definitely buy a closed face helmet. One added benefit that has nothing to do with impacts is the added fire protection of a closed-face
Motorbike helmets won't do. If you aren't using a head and neck restraint then buy the best helmet you can afford. A composite model if you want. A lighter helmet is safer than heavier one in an impact. If you aren't planning on buying a neck restraint then I recommend the lighter composite helmets.
Most require cotton pants and a cotton sweater with long sleeves. A fire proof racing suit is optional and really depends on your level of paranoia (yep, I have one). Fire suits aren't as good as you'd think. I was quite surprised that a fire suit will only give maybe 13 seconds of protection before second degree burns. This kind of shocked me. 13 seconds isn't a whole lot of time. Course, in a t-shirt and jeans you're already cooking at 13 seconds but still, I thought you'd have longer. Adding nomex underwear apparently adds 6-9 seconds to this, but it's not a whole lot of time but is a lot better than normal clothes.
Most people use sneakers for shoes and you can buy driving shoes from between 100 and 200 dollars.
Above all BE SMART, BE ATTENTIVE, and LISTEN !!!
Dont spend a dime modding the car except for safety equipment.
Roll cage, cool. 6 pt harness, cool, better brake pads, cool. Stop there. You will definitely be the weakest link. A stock 996 (or a focus) is an absolutely super fast car. It is not the limiting factor. Better suspension/tires etc will only mask problems with your driving. Stay stock and spend the money on drivers education. Plus, I can't think of a more dangerous scenario than driving poorly at faster speeds due to more horsepower, better suspension and tires. When you screw up in that case, you're probably walking home if you're lucky...
Get the car teched and safe
All organizations that offer bring your own car track days or drivers education require a technical inspection form to be completed by a mechanic for your car. It usually asks the mechanic to check the car is working correctly, brakes, shocks, tires, engine etc.
Most dealers or racing shops will do it. If you're not sure just ask the organizing body to recommend someone they will accept it from.
Change your oil before and after the event.
The cheapest insurance for your engine there is.
Change your brake fluid before the event
I use DOT 4 ATE brake fluid, better safe than sorry...
Bring a big plastic box with a water tight lid for your stuff in case it rains or is windy
The car has to be empty on the track so usually your stuff is in front of your parking slot.
Have a good tire gauge.
I bought one from Apex SPG for 80 bucks. Big guage, easy to read, automatically corrects for atmospheric pressure variations, half pound accuracy. 80 bucks sound a lot? Your tires will cost you 1200 bucks every year, 80 bucks is peanuts. Buy a good one.
Cordless Compressor for tire inflation.
I have a Campbell Hausfield one I bought at Walmart for 50 bucks. It's a cordless 230PSI compressor thats about as expensive as a cordless drill. I wouldn't bother with one with an air tank. This does the job and it's a lot smaller.
Have a torque wrench to check your wheel lugs
I have one from Sears which was like 90 bucks. I would also add, you will need the correct size socket for your wheel lug nuts!
Bug/Tar removal wipes and squeegee
Keep your windscreen clean. You'll observe bugs doing unnatural things striking your windows at large speeds.
Wheel Cleaner Wipes
There will be a lot of brake dust (regardless of manufacturer), I just like to clean them at the end of each day.
Bottles of water.
You'll sweat a lot.
4 quarts or Mobil 1 0W40 or whatever your car needs.
I couldn't find any around the track. Bring it with you. Why 4? Just to be safe. Put it in a plastic bag as I've have new bottles leak on me. Try to keep the oil level at 3/4s or better. I used 750ml (3/4 quarts ish) in 3 days.
Driving gloves especially if you have leather steering wheel
My hands sweated a lot and it's uncomfortable. Gloves fixed that. I have Sparco gloves that I bought from OG Racing for 120 bucks. Also invest in a good set of mechanics gloves. Things get HOT under the hood and around the wheels.
Helmet and neck restraint.
Get a good helmet and buy a neck restraint. Bell and Simpson both make safety collars that will help in an impact and also help in keeping the weight of the helmet off of your neck and shoulders. As you progress, so should your safety gear. The well known HANS devices start at 865 bucks. One of its competitors, the R3, starts at 995. Your tires are 1200 bucks, think about it. A lighter helmet (Bell M4 Pro) is a very good idea if you don't have a head and neck restraint.
Insulating tape in a contrasting color to your paint to make numbers on the car
Towels are nice to wipe up after the session
Figure out the FM frequency of the track announcements for your radio. You can listen to these easily when on the track then.
Turn off air conditioning on the track
`0% HP Drain. Plus, the compressor doesn't like being spun at 6k+ RPMs.
Don't wear red/yellow or black sweaters/t-shirts
These are flag colors and you won't be allowed on corners wearing them. Try white or blue.
Make your first lap a medium one with generous braking
Make sure everything is working. Start slow, speed up as the session goes on, small steps in terms of increasing speed.
Drive slow and first and stay slow for a few sessions.
If you whack your car then you aren't getting any better. Drive within your ability focusing on line, turn in, braking etc. Don't give in to speed up until the last day. The fastest people seem to be the ones going slowest for longest.
Abuse your instructor.
Use them as much as you can. Listen to them, ask questions, slow down when they tell you to, they really are better than you. There is a reason that they are in the right seat and you aren't.
Ride with the instructor.
Very good for the line and how the car feels when the line is right. Ask questions (at appropriate times) as you complete lap after lap.
OBD II reader.
I bought mine at Walmart. It's handy if the light does come on just to see what it is. Check this forum and get the code to text page so you'll know what the codes mean.
Find an auto shop with a racer.
It's worth paying a little more for that advice and knowing you got the right stuff the first time. Especially from someone who "understands"...
Spare Brake fluid
Bring a bottle of your brake fluid with you. Walmart won't have racing brake fluid.
Spare brake pads and tools to change them
I hope to read fewer "street kill" stories, and more "late brake, four wheel drift, apex clipping, perfect out to the rumble strips exit" stories. [race]
hey guys thanks for this. it was a really good read and now i know what to expect when i start looking to do this. i would really like to get my SVT to a track. i just have to find one first. how did you guys find your schools?
all of the info you guys gave was great. very informative. thanks.
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