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Rev Up for Track Day: Tips and Tricks | Mullinax Ford FL Blog

Rev Up for Track Day: Tips and Tricks | Mullinax Ford FL Blog

Posted at Mon, Mar 11, 2024 1:00 PM

Start Your Engines. It’s Track Day.

Maybe it’s – ha ha – rush hour and nobody’s moving. Maybe you’re trapped behind that one slow what-the-freak-is-wrong-with-you guy in the fast lane on the interstate. Or maybe you’re just taking the kids to soccer practice when it happens.

Your eyes start to drift toward the extreme upper range of the speedometer and you wonder… what would it be like to put the accelerator all the way down? To experience g-forces as you lean into the curve. To feel your pulse quicken and the (figurative) wind blow through your hair?

We’ve been there. And we know what the remedy is: track day.

At a track day event, you can – safely – feed your need for speed. It may not be quite as Bill Elliott/Dale Earnhardt/Mad Max/Tokyo Drift as you envisioned, but man, it’s a rush.

And an education.

What’s a track day?

Simply put, it’s an organized event that allows non-race-car drivers to let loose on an established course – with no backseat drivers and no Smokeys. You can test your driving skills and the limits of your vehicle (more on that in a moment).

Tracks have different formats. Most often, participants are members of a car club; other times, individuals can sign up. Track days may be organized by manufacturer or model. Drivers are usually grouped by experience level to ensure that the vehicles are traveling at about the same speed. Tracks also usually allow various runs throughout the day, and experts or instructors are often on hand as well.

Do I have to have some sort of souped-up sports car? Different tracks have different rules, but, in general, no.

An estimated 95 percent of novices use their regular street cars with no modifications. Unmodified vehicles are actually preferred over heavily modified ones, according to the website No Money Motorsports.

Your car needs to be in decent mechanical shape with relatively new tires (less than 5 years old) and fresh brake pads and brake fluid. Because racing is super hard on brakes, NMM adds that track-specific pads are a good idea but are not a requirement, especially for your first day on the track.

What you can’t run on the track are vehicles with a high rollover risk such as lifted vehicles and certain trucks and SUVs. If you have a convertible, it absolutely has to have rollover protection. As of early 2023, most tracks also have stopped allowing hybrids and EVs.

If you drive a Mustang, you’ll be in good company on track day. But don’t let the GTs and Shelbys – or the super-competitive Dark Horse® — intimidate you. Yother vehicles in the Ford lineup perform just as well. If you’re still driving a Fiesta (discontinued in June 2023) – good for you. The car’s tight handling does especially well in the curves.

If you have questions, talk to the staff at your dealership. We love to share information about ways to enjoy your vehicle.

How do I find a track?

Most track days are organized by car clubs, so finding a local enthusiast group is a good place to start. You can also check out your preferred raceway and see if it has a track-day schedule. Another good strategy is to visit car shows to connect with folks who share an interest in track days or your specific vehicle make and model.

OK, cool. I’m ready! I can show up and put the pedal to the metal, right? No. Absolutely not!

First, go check out track day – or two, or several – as a spectator. Talk to experts and other track enthusiasts. Pay attention. Ask questions. Watch how things are done. Ask some more questions.

When you’ve done this homework, you’ll be almost ready for the track.

FINALLY you can start prepping for your track day. Here’s how:

  • Find out if you need insurance.
  • Bring your driver license. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But it’s easy to forget even simple necessities in all the excitement.
  • Make sure your helmet – yes, you will need one – has the right safety rating for the track you’re running. Most places require SA2010 or the current SA2015 standard.
  • Wear the right clothes: comfortable pants, a long-sleeved shirt and comfortable, flexible shoes. You may eventually want to invest in some driving gloves or driving shoes. And don’t forget sunscreen. You’re going to spend more time outside watching and talking to other car folks than behind the wheel. You may also need a hat or a jacket, depending on the weather.
  • Show up early for the drivers’ meeting.

This is when you’ll find out all the details that will make your day easier, including:

  • How the event will be run
  • What vehicles will be on the track
  • How long the runs will be
  • Where you can pass slower vehicles on the track
  • Who is in charge of the event
  • The meaning of the flags

The meeting is also where you can ask questions, such as whether instructors will be available to share pointers and driving tips. If there are driving coaches or other experts on hand, listen, learn and take advantage of their knowledge.

Learn how to drive the track. Some tracks have classes for beginners, or lead-follow laps to get you familiar with the track. Other times you might need to talk one-on-one with an instructor or coach who can explain terms like breaking points, apexes and the proper line.
Many track-day organizers and driving schools will assign instructors to track beginners. This person will be in the car with you beginning with the first session and, increasingly often, for the entire day.

A few miscellaneous tips:

  • Consider bringing a GoPro or other recording device so you can relive the fun of your track day, share it with your friends and family – and identify where you need to improve. Track staff can help with that last part.
  • Stay hydrated. Driving is strenuous (and sweaty). Water and electrolyte-replacement drinks can keep you prepared for your next event.
  • Eat right. You need to keep your energy levels up, so prepare like the pros with carbohydrate-rich foods the night before and the morning of the event. Think pasta for dinner and oatmeal or a muffin before you suit up. Energy bars make a great snack during the day.

And remember: ask for help if you need it.

How to prepare your vehicle:

  • Check everything on the car – brakes, fluids, tires – and consider having the vehicle serviced beforehand. Many tracks have a pre-run tech inspection to make sure cars are ready for the event.
  • Bring your gear – a floor jack, jack stands, cordless impact wrench, socket set, wrenches and screwdrivers, just for starters. Experts also recommend a pressure gauge. Tires heat up on the track and pressure increases beyond the standard operating range for daily driving. Your tire gauge should be the type that lets you accurately drop a few PSI before you hit the asphalt. Check the pressure when you come out of a session too.
  • You may also need some blue tape (for putting your number on the car), a quart of oil, window cleaner and paper towels.

When you’re on the track:

  • Racing experts have some driving tips and track etiquette for newbies, including:
  • Don't overtake into corners. It’s disrespectful of both other drivers and the organizers.
  • Don’t tailgate other drivers.
  • Don't crash on your first lap. You would not be the first to let your excitement get the better of you, but – chill, ok? The track is cooler early in the day, your brakes and tires are cold and you can’t just jump put there and red-line it. Besides, you’ll need a few laps to get a feel for the course and how your car responds to it.
  • Don't overtake or pass other drivers until you can do it safely. Yes, you’re on a track, but you’re not in a race. Don’t get competitive.
  • Don’t go faster than you’re comfortable with.

Remember that the goal here is to have a fun day out, not smoke your fellow drivers who also want to have a good day at the track.

After you’ve enjoyed your first track day, come by and tell us about it! The staff at your local dealership would love to hear about your adventures. And if – or when – you’re ready for a dedicated track car, we are here to help you find the one that best fits your needs. Start your engines!

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