Anatomy of a Track Day

Track Day, Bro!

Bro. Bro! Track Day Bro! Bro… Bro! Track Day! and then we hi-five and watch Fast and the Furious Seventeen.

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No. It’s nothing like that, at all. Despite the crazy hardware that shows up, there’s a very friendly camaraderie amongst the people that show up and actually drive. It’s a great atmosphere where you can bug the hell out of a dude that shows up with a new GT-R asking for rides (he said yes, but I had to dip out before it was my turn), show respect for a dude that shows up with a black GT-R Skyline and actually takes it out, hang out with a crazy-cool dude who instructs at the Porsche Experience Center but shows up (and runs down Miatas and 370z’s) in a stock Honda Fit with drum brakes, gawk at guy who “has the same car as I do” except he dropped in a 2003 Porsche 911 3.4L engine and devoted his entire trunk to an oil cooler, and chase down a 2015 C7 Corvette in your stock 16 year old Boxster. All smiles all the time, as long as you keep the shiny side up.

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I’ve done over 150 laps at Atlanta Motorsports Park, which is the best track ever, and I’ve seen a couple patterns emerge. If you’ve never been, here’s what you can expect on track day.

To begin at the beginning, it’s an early morning. EARLY. My alarm goes off at 5:30. And I happily jump out of bed. Seriously, it’s the easiest 5:30 you’ll ever wake up for. 5:30 for a 7:00 meeting at work? Snooze. snooze. Snooze again. Then oh crap. Oh Crap! Think of a reason to tell your boss why you missed the meeting. Son was sick. Yeah, he’s never heard that one before, bingo.

Not on track day. You’ll pop right out of bed. You’ll be happy, but not necessarily sharp. Good thing you packed your car the night before. Before you go to sleep, you’ll need the following in your car: snacks, water, a towel, tools, a spare t-shirt in case you have to get dirty, your hat, sun block, sun glasses (sun’s not up at 5:30. Don’t plan on remembering it), your tech sheet (you remembered to fill out your tech sheet, right?), your helmet, your driving gloves, and some extra fluids like brake fluid and oil. I also always bring glass cleaner and wipes. Pack your loose stuff in a bin so you can keep your stuff from tumbling all over the paddocks, and take out everything else. Taco Bell receipts, your brief case, empty food containers from lunch, empty water bottles, coffee mugs, dead bodies, and floor mats. You don’t need your floor mats. You won’t want your floor mats. You want nothing to mess with your feet. Just leave it at home.

But your car is packed, so now you go to sleep, wake up, make some coffee, put on a blipshift, manufacturer, performance-branded, or an ironic and mildly amusing T-shirt, feed the dog so he doesn’t bark and wake up the whole house waking your baby and making your wife very very mad, and point your GPS to the track. It’s 6 AM on a Sunday, there is no one else on the road except for Johnny Law, and the track opens at 7.

As you near the track, it’s not quiiiiite 7 AM, but the sun is just starting to peak out and drivers are converging. You’ll find yourself on a twisty mountain 2-lane road with plenty of elevation changes, E30’s, E36’s, caged Miatas, 350z’s, Mustangs, Camaros with track packages, and a new C7 Corvette or 3. There is no place for the fuzz to hang out on this particular stretch of Highway 53, so you might find yourself in a spirited caravan and [redacted]. You make it to the track entrance and find a surprisingly long line of cars waiting to get into the paddocks. Fall in line, sit tight, and contemplate your left foot skills while staring up at the hill up to the check-in booth. Then you finally get up to the booth, sign the waver that says that you “Fully Understand and Agree That” something, I dunno, and then you’re in. That wasn’t too bad! Next thing to do is to head to Tech Check.

What’s Tech Check? It’s sounds like an interrogation booth for your car. If you’ve never done it, you might picture a team of Track Professionals going over your car with a fine tooth comb, checking shocks, motor mounts, lug nuts, flux capacitors, horns, but really all you do is hand them your Tech Sheet checklist that you went through the day before to make sure you torqued down your lug nuts and that your brake pads aren’t going to give up the ghost this session. Tech will check your helmet and give you a Run Group sticker, then you’re ready to head to the paddocks. Time to go find a nice patch of asphalt in the paddocks and settle in.

You found your spot (pro tip: go to pit lane at AMP. Almost nobody goes there and I don’t know why. It’s always open.) First thing you want to do is say hi to your neighbors. It helps calm your track nerves and you just might find yourself next to an instructor at the Porsche Experience Center driving a bone stock Honda Fit.

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After Tech Check, and after you find a spot, the Driver’s Meeting is scheduled for 8:00, but always gets pushed out because Tech took longer than every one thought. So, about 8:15, you go to the Driver’s Meeting. They’re mandatory, and they’re all the same, and it’s all good reminders. Here’s the script:

“This is a High Performance Driving Event. This is not a race. There are no trophies, so don’t try to go be an hero. Let’s stay safe out there and have a good time. Be safe, don’t be stupid, ask around if you need help around the track. And I want good, solid, clear point-by’s. Don’t be a dick. Now Newt is going to go over the track and the flags, and then we’ll pair novices with instructors.”

Don’t be a dick. That’s the theme and most everybody takes it to heart on the track. Talk all the smack you want in the paddocks, but on-track if you try to take the inside going into the turn 1 hairpin without a point-by, you will have executed a dick move, and you will be shown a black flag, and you will have to pull in to pit lane to talk to the track marshal, and she will tell you that you have been a dick, and you get to sit and watch everybody not being a dick for the rest of the session. Then you can count on the person you cut off at the hairpin, or the event organizer, finding you in the paddocks to talk to you about not being a dick. It’s actually very rare and the track tolerance is zero. But if you do it, go out and do better next time.

So, with that important bit behind us, the next thing that happens is ducks-in-a-row. This is usually an open 10-minute period for anybody who wants to to get out on the track and drive it…. Slowly!…. to look at the track, see if anything is wet, remind yourself about the line, then get off. This is not a session, there is no passing.

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Now the fun part. You’ve got your run groups, you have your session sheet, and you’re only a couple minutes away from track time. Mount that Go-Pro, fire up your lap timer, set up the external GPS, check tire pressure one more time, put on the helmet, put on the gloves, and drive toward the track.

Line up in pit row. Heart’s thumping, lap timer is at 0:00 waiting to start, car is cold, track is cold, brakes are cold, tires are cold. You get waved on track. And now it’s go time!

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The first lap of every session is always a caution lap. Caution does not mean Sunday drive, but you don’t pass. You warm up your tires, your brakes, your mind and then you get all the way around the track to the finish line. Get the green flag flying from the starter and it’s time to GO!

Slam on the brakes at the 4 marker, heel-toe down to 3rd, then second, take the hairpin into Turn 1 and press in the throttle coming out of the turn. Track out and full throttle through Turn 2, get straight and tap on the brakes for Turn 3 and pop up to the skid pad at Turn 4. Double apex and let the track come to you to apex Turn 5 and aim straight for the spot between the 3 and 2 marker. Slam on brakes and heel-toe down to 2nd to turn in, then sharp right to head for the late apex at the Turn 6 hairpin. 7 and 8 just point you toward turn in at Turn 9, sharp left hander and take every bit of the curbing in turn 10. Turn once and let that wheel position take your car from track in to track out back to track in at Turn 11, then tap the brakes to send your weight to the front of the car to take a 90 degree right hander at better than 60 miles an hour. Drive straight up the hill staring at nothing but the sky, stay left ALL the way to Track In, Sharp right to take half the curb on Turn 12, unsettle your car in a straight line and drive off camber into 13 and aim for the meadow to pick up speed. Turn 14 is really just the longest carousel straight in the world so put your foot down, get your tires talking to you in three digits, touch the curb at Turn 15 and aim straight for the grass on the right side of the track before you can even see Turn 16. Get straight and kiss the curb on 16, because if you’re too far left you’re going into the wall. 150 laps and I still don’t have the nerve to keep my foot down until I’m through 16, so a little breathe off the throttle keeps you grounded. Scream down the front straight and cross the finish line, slam on brakes at the 4 marker, heel-tow down to 3rd, then second, then take the hairpin into Turn 1 and press in the throttle coming out of the turn. Rinse. Repeat. Time after time after time after time. Get better, go faster, brake later, accelerate harder. Spend all your money trying to take of seconds. Then tenths of seconds. Your heart is pounding, your tires are squealing, and the whole track smells like hot brake pads and a lil bit of clutch.

Go go go until you see the checkered flag. You’ll be on track for 20 minutes. Cross the finish line at full throttle and then it’s time to cool it. Take a breather, keep your line, smile at a job well done and curse yourself for your screw ups. So you missed a shift or didn’t dump your clutch smoothly. So you missed the apex at turn 14. So you didn’t get on the throttle in time coming out of 6. That’s fine. Do better next time. Go back to your spot in the paddocks and get up to the stands to watch the other run groups. Go find people that you pointed by on the track and ask them for pointers. Go find somebody replacing a wheel hub on their Miata and lend a hand. Go talk to somebody who shoehorned a LS6 into an RX8. Go find the dude that rolled up in a new GT3. You’re on the same track with all these folks so you have a lot to talk about. It is easy to make friends on track day.

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I’ve dropped more than 10 seconds since I started at AMP. I’m looking for 2 more seconds next time I go. The next track day is March 13. Sign up here http://www.jzillatrackdays.com/ and come join me!

Josh

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