Track days. Everyone talks about them, but most people don't have a clue as to what they really are. Let's cut through the bullshit.
(Full Disclosure: To properly understand a track day, Raph and I entered Jeffapalooza at New Jersey Motorsports Park, an open-passing track event run by BMW CCA veteran Jeff Caldwell. It was all sorts of awesome.)
A track day? Like, I just get to spend a day on a track?
Pretty much, yeah.
Cool. So I just get to take whatever I want on a track for hours. Awesome. Bye.
Hey, don't go anywhere yet, it's more complicated than that.
Ok. Can I use it as a drift day?
No. A track day is for high-performance driving, it's not for trying to make a bunch of tire smoke and slide around, no matter how fun that is.
Oh, ok. What if I've never driven on a track before, can I do a track day?
Yes, but not necessarily every track day is a good fit. There are novice track days where you can pay to have an instructor in the car to show you the ins and outs of track driving. It's great way to learn just what you need to pay attention to.
The one we attended, Jeffapalooza, was not for beginners. There were race cars and street cars on track at the same time, and passing was totally open.
Wait, what do you mean open passing? You can't just pass always?
Oh, jeepers creepers. No sir. Most of the time, you have to use a point by.
Basically, you see a faster car behind you, and you point to the side you want them to pass you on. This isn't an opportunity to point and then drag race someone into a corner. When you point, you are ceding the position on track. But don't go off line or brake to do it. Stay on line and give a slight lift of the throttle, you need to be predictable. That makes it safe.
So open passing means you're racing?
What does it mean?
Open passing just means you can pass anywhere, but you still want to use caution. You aren't racing. There are no trophies at a track day, why take unnecessary risks? Pass where it's appropriate, but don't try and fight for an apex or go nuts in an unsafe area of the course.
What sorts of cars will I find there?
Really anything. But you'll most likely find a ton of cars that have the stereotype of being at a track always. We're talking 911 GT3, M3, E30s, Corvettes, Lotuses, and Miatas. Things like that. Of course, your Miata better have a roll bar on it.
Roll bars are for sissies.
Is hitting your head on the pavement also for sissies?
Yeah, you need a roll bar.
So I can just drive my car there and then go?
Pretty much. You will want to make sure that you're up to date on maintenance since you need to pass tech.
Oh, before a car can go on track, it needs to pass an inspection to make sure that it won't be an immediate danger to you or anyone else around you. Making sure you have fresh, good brake fluid, re-torqued wheels, and other basic maintenance done is a big help.
Fair. What are the people like?
They are generally awesome. Car people are almost always friendly and forthcoming with advice or help. Need a part? Someone in the paddock will almost definitely have a spare to help you with. Want advice on part of the track? Someone will tell you what they think you're doing right or wrong. It's just a welcoming bunch of people
Cool. I wanna go now.
Good. You should. It's awesome.
Fine. I will.
Photo Credits: Raphael Orlove