Beginners guide to track days

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Category:Drivers Education



There are a number of terms that the beginner should be aware of when starting out. Even before getting on track, you need to know what you're jumping into. Stack 05:55, 22 December 2006 (PST)


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.

Most HPDEs are run by clubs that are not affiliated with the track, however, some tracks have their own HPDE programs

Open Track

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.

Competition School

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


School Fees

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

Event terms

  • 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.

On-Track terms

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. For expanded terms, definitions, and theories, check out the Advanced Guide...Stack

  • Vision 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... 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.
  • 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.

Other Advice

Make sure you and your car are prepared

  • You
    • 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 referenced below from Ross Bentley.
    • 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.
  • Your Car
    • 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)

Don't be "That Guy"

Stack 04:30, 11 December 2007 (PST)

General thoughts

The best thing you can do, for your saftey, others' saftey and your piece of mind, is to get professional instruction. Preferably at an accredited racing/performance driving school. While HPDEs offer drivers' instruction, it isn't nearly as comprehensive as what you get from an established school. Unless you befriend a retired professional driver at an HPDE or track day, and have them take a full day to pay attention only to you, you'll never get the kind of feedback you will from some place like Skip Barber or Bonderant.

The above statement is being debated on the forums here: LINK

Once you decide to actually take your car on the track, the main thing is to find a low speed track. My own first track was going to be Brainerd International Raceway (BIR) and it rained us out. I then went to Mid America Motorplex (MAM) and with the PCA GPR and had a great time.

I like MAM because it's a low pressure track. There is nothing much to hit if you screw up, no walls and there are no real high speed sweepers.

We then tried to go to Road America with Nordstern and Phil Anderson politely said "NO WAY!!" which was a good thing. He told us to do the novice day with Nordstern at BIR for some high speed track training and then he'd consider it. These were wise words and funnily enough, I was paired with him for my DE at BIR.

I went to BIR with the PCA Nordstern next and that was fun too. Now that I had a couple of days at MAM under my belt, this wasn't so scary. But, it's a fast track with very fast corners if you choose to drive those corners at pace. Turns 1, 2, 3, 9, and 10 are the ones to watch in my opinion.

I've seen two different schools. DonnyBrooke Racing and the PCA. Which is better is hard to say. PCA is 'safer' for novices like me. They are stricter and enforce run groups with similar drivers/cars. Donnybrooke runs an open track day with instructors available when you want them. Anyone can go on the track when they choose. This makes passing the pit exit more dangerous as cars can come out on every lap. They also allow open wheel cars and sedans on the track together which can be dangerous as the sedans can't see the open wheel cars especially when cornering, plus there is usually a huge performance difference between even low end open wheel cars and sedans.

That said, Donnybrook has an awesome chief instructor, Gary Curtis. He's an ex professional race car driver and he's unreal around that track and an all round great guy.

So, at the end of the day, Donnybrook is good for the more experienced driver, used to a crowded circuit with different speed cars on. PCA is safer for novices. You can get a lot more track time with Donnybrook than the PCA.

The food is a lot better with Donnybrook. It's like an outdoor barbecue.

They are both recommended however.

Advice on Lap Times

If you're into track days or hot laps with your daily driver, consider buying a portable lap timer, preferably one that is battery-powered, so you don't have to wire it into your car. This keeps the work and hassle down, and keeps your insurance down, since an installed timer is usually a clue that you've been racing.

Make sure it's an automatic lap timer (usually this is accomplished with a trackside beacon or magnetic strip in the track) so you're not relying on your buddy to pay attention to hit the button on a stopwatch. A portable system is best so you can use it at any track as not all tracks have AMB transponsders installed. Another benefit is the ability to use the timer on multiple vehicles.

When driving a track, it's helpful to split the track into sections, for example splitting between turns and straightaways. If you time yourself on these segments, you can find out which section needs the most work. You might find that on some turns you're going as fast as you can, but by trying different lines you can dramatically improve overall lap times. A good lap timer will support segment timing.

Lap timers and insurance

If you use a lap timer in the car, then drivers education insurance will not cover you as they'll regard it as race training which is different. If you have track insurance then make sure you don't time yourself, encourage someone to time you or take part in time trial type events during the DE event.


Track Facilities

Schools and Organizations

Trackmasters Skip Barber Racing School Triangle Z Club/Tarheel Sports Car Club
Tracquest Chin Motorsports/TracQuest Car Guys
Apex Performance Phoenix CMR
Richard Petty PCA - Allegheny
PCA - Metro NY PCA - CT Valley
Hooked On Driving: CA, WA, OR, IL, WI, MI, PA, NJ, GA, VA, FL PCA - Eastern PA PCA - Northeast
PCA - Niagara PCA - Potomac
BMW CCA - Patroon/NY BMW CCA - New Jersey BMW CCA - Delaware Valley
Ferrari Club of America BMW CCA - Genesee Valley

Books and Reference Material

High Performance Driving Manual

Going Faster, by Carl Lopez Speed Secrets, by Ross Bentley Speed Secrets 2, by Ross Bentley
"Hooked On Driving" YouTube Channel "Separation of Controls" Blog about performance driving