First Track Day Suggestions

(Especially for Miller Motorsports Park (MMP))

Not affiliated with MMP, SCCA, or PCA

A track day is awesome fun! It is like you are driving down the freeway, and the overhead signs start flashing "No speed limit today!" It is hard to describe the wonderful feeling of going 130 mph, or squealing the tires at 85 mph. Having gone a couple of times, here are some helpful things I learned:

Step 1: Do Autocross first

Autocross sets up a mini course with cones in a parking lot. Generally it is just 1 and 2nd gear, and if you spin out usually you just hit cones. It is a much cheaper and safer way to learn how to control your car than the big track. Your big track day will be safer and more fun if you autocross first. Do you really want the first time the tail gets loose on you to be at 85 mph near a concrete wall, or at 35 mph near rubber cones?

Step 2: Can you afford it?

  • $500. Between tire wear, brake wear, flushing brake fluid, bearing wear, gas burned, track fees, etc. a track day costs me about $500. Smaller, lighter cars tend to cost less. In contrast, I have noticed no discernable increase in car costs with autocross, except for tire life (my estimate is an autocross day takes around 1000 miles of life off my tires).
  • No insurance. Your insurance will not cover you on the track. If you have a mishap with your car, it is your financial responsibility.
  • Tough on the car. The track will put alot of stress on your car, particularly your brakes and cooling system.
  • Higher risk of injury. Self explanatory!

Step 3: Decide which organization you want to run with.

While the track itself runs "Open Track Days," often it rents the track to an organization. For instance, you can do MMP track days via: (Porsche Club)

Other car clubs run track days, too. It is fun to run with your car club, if your car club holds track days. If you have an enthusiast car, check into your local Corvette/Porsche/BMW/whatever club. Be careful you don't accidentally sign up for a race. You want to be sure to do something suitable for first-timers, with "point-by" passing (passing only when the slower driver points you around) on straightaways only.

Here are some things I have observed or read about the various organizations:

Porsche Club: The Cadillac, uh, er, Porsche GT3 of beginner track days. Beginners get an instructor the whole day! The Porsche club has the track to themselves. Your instructor runs in his own group, so you can ride with him. Also, since he runs in his own group, he isn't anxious to jump out of your car; he isn't missing laps because he is riding with you. My instructor drove my car for two laps, which was great. There were four run groups, beginner, intermediate, expert, and instructor. Since you were lumped with people of similar skill, there is less passing going on (a good thing for beginners). When I ran with them, I was in a group of about only 15 cars. I would pass or get passed only a handful of times each session. Porsche club members get first priority, but will allow nonmembers to run if there is room left over.

SCCA: Self teching of your car was permitted. It was fun to run on the track with people I had autocrossed. All the cars run at the same time, intermingled with other events. There were about 50 cars on track at one time, and alot of passing was occurring. Since your instructor runs at the same time you do, I thought it was great to have my instructor follow me (to later critique me), and for me to follow the instructor (what a great way to learn the line, and to realize you can be beat by a slower car (but faster driver!)).

MMP: You must first complete their "TORDE" class. You need to do it only once. You can do the TORDE class in the morning, and run sessions in the afternoon. The TORDE class is additional cost.

Step 4: Getting ready

  • Flush your brake fluid. If you do nothing else, flush your brake fluid before your track day. Brake fluid steadily absorbs water from the air, greatly lowering its resistance to boiling. Stock fluids tend to have a low dry boiling point. You'll want to replace the fluid with a good racing brake fluid, like ATE Super Blue, Motul RBF 600, or Castrol SRF. If your pedal goes soft during the track day, the fluid is permanently ruined and must be replaced. If you have a heavy and/or powerful car, your car might also need brake air ducts. My LT1 Camaro has boiled its brake fluid both track days I have done, even with Motul brake fluid and brake air ducts the 2nd time. For my 3rd time I'm moving up to Castrol SRF (alledgedly the very best, but $80/liter), and improving my brake air ducts.
  • Check with your association for rules on inspecting your car. Some require you to have your car inspected by a certified mechanic. Be sure to have this done well before the track day, in case you need to get something fixed. If you are allowed to do self tech, you should lift each tire and check for suspension looseness, etc.
  • Put on new brake pads. Some cars will burn through a set of pads in one track day! Check out the track forum for your type of car and get recommendations. Check your disk thickess while you are at it, and replace them if needed. Save the old brake pads and bring them to the track, in case you need to throw them on between sessions, or to get home. Many high performance pads have a bedding procedure, where you heat them up via several fast stops. You should do this before the track day, following the pad manufacturer's instructions.
  • Fill your tires to the max sidewall pressure. This is to keep the tire from rolling under or even separating from the rim under cornering stress. My car seems to run best with 6 to 10 psi above in front (yes, 50 psi in a 44 psi tire), and 40 to 44 psi in the rear.
  • Make sure your cooling system is tip-top shape.
  • Make sure the oil is topped off. If the oil is low, the cornering forces can starve the oil pump.
  • Roll bar. If you have a convertible, a roll bar is a must. Some associations do not recognize a factory roll bar as adequate -- check with your association. If you have T-tops, check with your association.
  • Buy a helmet. Be sure to check what your association requires. Then check out other forms of racing that might interest you -- it would be a shame to get a helmet that is legal for one thing and not another. Generally a full-face, recent Snell "A" spec helmet will do the job.
  • Memorize the track layout. Print it out and refer to it every day. It is much better to know the track map beforehand than to waste valuable track time or speed learning the course. It is also a good idea to learn the turn numbers or names. Some tracks are in the PlayStation's GT4, that would be a fun way to practice.
  • Learn what the various flags mean.

Step 5: Things to bring to the track

This list is a bit conservative -- many people don't bring all this stuff and are fine. I'll put down a fuller list as food for thought, if nothing else.
Step 6: Things to do on track day

  • Leave your ego at home. You probably think you are a great driver. You probably have alot to learn, grasshopper. I had several people with 1/2 the horsepower pass me on my first day. Assure your instructor you have no ego so he'll freely critique you.
  • Look at the flag stations.
  • Know your brake pedal level, if your brake pedal starts sinking you may need to pit to cool the brakes. I found going through the "hot pits" at 30 mph would cool my brakes enough for another lap, my first day before I had brake ducts.
  • Keep glancing at your review mirror, and let faster cars pass. Do passing and being passed with a point-by, if required, and in legal passing areas.
  • If you start to spin, both feet in, in other words, push down hard on the brake and push in the clutch (so the motor doesn't get spun backwards). The helps your car skid in a more predictable straight line and other drivers to avoid you. People trying too hard to "save it" sometimes swing back onto the track into traffic. Your association might have rules you need to pit and talk to an official if you spin. You might have a spin limit -- so try to avoid doing it so you don't get kicked off the track.
  • Drive off the track like you mean it were words from one of my instructors. It is better to go off going straight, than to slide off sideways and possibly roll.
  • If you go off the track drive parallel to the track and enter at a point off the line, so you don't dump a bunch of gravel or mud in a turn. If you go off the track your association may have rules you need to pit and talk to an official.
  • Do late apexes. They are safer and faster. Google on "late apex" if your aren't sure what it means.
  • Slow in and fast out. It is better to hit the brakes a little too soon, than too late and wishing you had hit them sooner! Also, if you slow a little too soon, you lose time for those 10 or 20 feet that you hit the brakes too soon. If you blow a corner and exit it slowly, you've lost speed for that whole next straightaway. It's like drag racing -- tap the brakes a moment before the lights won't affect your time much. Blow the launch, and you get a lousy time no matter what you do after that.
  • Stay off the brakes, and don't use the handbrake after a session so your pads don't stick to the disks, or warp them while they are hot.
  • Use the cool-down lap to cool down, don't drive it all out. The moving air cools your motor and brakes better than when parked.
  • Inspect the car right after a session, look at the brake thickness and the tires. Be careful your don't burn yourself, the exhaust and brakes will be extremely hot.
  • Give the car alot of time to cool down, and just before the next session check the tire pressure, lug nut tightness, and oil level. Check the lug nut torque after they have cooled! If you torque down hot wheels, when they cool the studs might snap! Many cars that never use oil will use alot of oil under the duress of a track day. Check and top off the oil. Be careful, the oil can be very hot even after the car has cooled for a while.
  • For my big, heavy, powerful car I needed to water the brakes and tires, they were getting so hot during a session. I would also water the radiator to help cool the motor. If you do this use distilled water so you don't get deposits.
  • Fill your gas tank 1/2 way through the day. Some cars will starve the fuel pickup under hard cornering, even with several gallons of gas in the tank.

Many thanks to the Utah SCCA crowd ( ) and the Porsche Club ( ) for such great track days! They were among the most fun things I have ever done.

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