I'm a weekend track guy. I know there are many more of you out there, spending the occasional night in a hotel for a few hours on the track. Maybe I'm better described as an occasional track-day-guy, but who's counting?
The car clubs are counting, that's who. Audi Club, BMW Club, Porsche Club. There are about as many clubs as there are cars. The clubs organize the High Performance Driver Education (HPDE) events and try to make them as safe, educational and fun as possible. This means that they are counting the days you have on the track in order to get a baseline of your experience. In three years I have accumulated nine track days. That generally means I'm not a total newbie, but I'm also no expert.
My start came when I purchased a gently used a 2001 Estoril BMW M Coupe. A couple of months later I found myself learning the line on the Shenandoah Circuit at Summit Point Motorsports Park. Curiously, my local BMW Club wasn't what I was looking for, but I found a great group of guys in my local Audi Club to talk cars, talk tracks and talk shit.
And it's the shit talking that matters least. Things like: You need a faster car. You need a set of coil-overs. You need R-comps. Forget all that remember one thing. You suck as a driver. If you can keep that straight, nothing else matters. Hell, I wish I had taken my Saab 9-5 to the track just so I could have the experience instead of having an excuse.
I recently convinced a friend of mine to join me with his Porsche Cayman S. I figured he was the kind of guy who likes cars, likes driving and likes going fast, so I couldn't see why he wouldn't do it. It took two years to convince him and now he's hooked. At the track he realized that safe, controlled, speed, on a closed circuit, was more fun than just "getting it up to 120" on the highway. Or, maybe it was the ride-along in the Audi R8 V10 with Hoosier slicks. Either way, we'll be visiting VIR together soon.
That will be track day 10 and 11 for me and track day 2 and 3 for him.
Beginners take heed; do not tread lightly into the world of the HPDE. It's not cheap and it is addictive. Some parts wear out faster on the track, so tires and brake pad will cost money. A helmet costs money. The weekend rate at a decent track with a club will also run you around $400, plus hotel and food. You can go broke pretty quickly. And then there's the car…
Any car that barely approaches the definition of "sporty" will suffice for your first outing and your tenth. I got passed by a Saturn on my first outing. There are guys in Civics doing laps around Corvette Z06s. Miatas dancing around Porsches. And Ferraris, well, if you have a Ferrari you either drive it or you don't. All these cars make for great track cars; we all have our own automotive preferences; and all the cars have their own quirks. What you have will work, for now. There are probably limits to the fun you can have in a front-wheel drive, auto-transmission, four-banger. But I don't know what they are, and no one racing at LeMons is complaining.
And remember, the car matters less than the driver at this skill level. Sure a Porsche Turbo will haul ass away from a VW GTI on the straight. But if the driver can't keep it on the line in the curves you have a chance to catch him. And let me tell you that's the biggest thrill.
Find a local club and a local track and take your car out there and learn to drive it. Start slow, build speed, and learn. It's the most fun I've ever had learning something. And as far as fun goes I can only thing of one thing that's better. Don't be intimidated if you feel slow and don't be cocky and think you can go fast. Find the groove, listen to your instructor's advice, and remember that you will have to drive the same car home and maybe back to work on Monday. The clubs love to have new blood and it allows them to keep the events going. And that's what it's all about: doing it again. Once is never enough and once a year is such a tease. I know, because that's where I sit. I'm the occasional track-day-guy.
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