Chances are, you’ve heard of track days, especially if you’re the proud owner of a Volkswagen GTI or Golf R. These two hot hatches light up the track with ample horsepower and handling — much of which would be inappropriate and unsafe to deploy on a public road. If you do want to experience the amazing full performance of these cars, the safest, most regulated place to do it is on track.
But the prospect of actually preparing and participating in one can be intimidating for a number of reasons: How much does it cost? Will it cause harm to your precious baby? What about insurance considerations? And most importantly, what if you don’t immediately find yourself setting lap records as you channel the spirit animal of Scott Speed?
Never fear; we have your answers right here.
Who do I call and how much does it cost?
Choose reputable providers who have a proven track record (no pun) who take safety seriously and offer some form of HPDE (High Performance Driver Education) for all drivers, especially first timer track drivers. To find them, try local clubs, online forums, and track day aggregator sites. Pricing varies depending on your area and track rental costs, but you can expect to pay between $200 and $400 for the day including HPDE (more if you’re going to a high-dollar track). Tack on another $50-$100 for gas, and don’t forget about the cost to get to the track/stay near the track. If you do it often enough, it’s wise to amortize the increased wear on all consumables (tires, brakes, fluids, oil, etc).
How do I sign up and prepare?
With a reputable provider, there’s usually an instructor on-hand to help you learn behind the wheel, which is helpful for all levels of experience, especially first-timers. The list of must-haves will vary by organization, but at the minimum, you must have a helmet with a current safety approval, and it’s a safe bet to wear long pants, which are often required for safety reasons. Accept that you aren’t going to be walking any fashion runways and get some adventure pants that zip off at the knee for hot days on the asphalt, as well as a hat. Bring plenty of water – you may be surprised how much you sweat when coaxing your car around the track on a hot summer day.
How does insurance work?
You’re not planning on having a no-no, but accidents do happen, and most existing policies won’t happily cover your day of performance driving. Since this isn’t your typical day at the golf course, you might consider track day insurance. These insurers can cover you just for the weekend; the deductible is usually high (think $2,000), and the cost should be somewhere around $100 per day, depending on what you drive. Much like travel insurance, there’s no backdating the policy – you can only buy before the event.
How do I prep my car?
If you’ve picked your provider right, your car will get a tech inspection before it’s allowed on track, which should at the very least cover brakes, tires, and safety belts. You’ll want to have plenty of tread on the tires, and plenty of pad on the brakes. Tire pressures are very important, so you’ll want to find a good starting point for your car before going, and monitor it throughout the day. Be sure your maintenance is up to date – filters, coolant, and of course oil – and adjust your maintenance intervals based on the amount of time you spend at full bore on the track.
What if I’m not Tanner Foust and everyone laughs at me?
Set aside your track fears and/or fantasies — this isn’t a race, even in the advanced groups. Like you, these are people who want to enjoy their performance cars. Nobody is timing you, and unless you want them to, nobody will remember you at the end of the day. So take your time and learn your way around at your own pace; your speed will increase as your comfort does, and you’ll have a more rewarding experience in the end.
Any other tips?
Be punctual and don’t miss the mandatory driver’s meeting. This is where you’ll learn the day’s schedule, and crucially, the rules, the driving lines, and how incidents will be handled on the track. You’ll learn what each flag means, if and when you’re allowed to pass, and more importantly, how to properly let someone pass you. Basic driving technique may be discussed, and pitfalls of the track should be brought to your attention. Then, go have fun.