Question: How do I get into track racing? I’ve been an avid car enthusiast for a while now, and I hear people always talking about track racing, and I’ve always wanted to go to a track and run my car, but I was wondering how do I do it? Do I need a special license to run a track? Mid Ohio is the track in question. I really just want some more information on how I can go out there and just run my car around the track.
There really is no better feeling than tearing around a racetrack — whether it be in a $1,000,000 purpose-built race car or a $500 heap of junk. However for the newbie, taking that first step into automotive bliss can be mighty intimidating, and I’m often presented with the question — Where do I even start?
Firstly you need a car. And no, it doesn’t have to be a race car. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a good car. A 1995 Honda Civic? Sure. Pontiac Aztek? Why not, just expect a few questions as to your sanity. A Hummer? You wouldn’t be the first.
The only thing that truly matters is that your car of choice remains safe (if you plan on using a soft top, you’ll likely need to install a roll cage). Beyond that, the racetrack awaits.
Supposing you have the perfect car, next you need a venue to drive it. Logically you may go straight for your local racetrack (in this case Mid Ohio) — and that might be what’s best — but first, take an honest analysis of your own driving ability. Do you understand the basics such as the ideal racing line? Have you ever been go karting? Do you suck even at Forza? Are you terrified of crashing?
If your answers to the above questions concern you, perhaps the safest way to get into fast driving is to partake in an autocross. An autocross is basically a large parking lot with a circuit mapped out in cones. Cars are staggered one at a time, and if you make a mistake, you’d have to be really talented to hit anything. It is, then, the perfect environment to learn a car’s behaviors and become comfortable sliding around at speed — plus the cost to enter is often lower than $50.
Some, whether sensible or not, will neglect this stage and jump feet first into proper track work. That’s fine, as long as you know and respect your limits: Driving a car on a racetrack is a cross between bravery, coordination, and a clear understanding of what you’re asking the machine to do. That last part, specifically, is the difference between hitting a wall and having a safe, enjoyable day — hence I highly recommend that for your first few days on track you utilize an instructor.
There are numerous ways to do this: You could go to a racing school, pay upwards of $1,000 for the day, drive someone else’s car and undergo extensive tuition. Mid Ohio has this option, and the instructors there are top notch. But admittedly, that’s expensive. The other, and perhaps more appealing option, is to enter a High Performance Driving Event (HPDE) track day using your own car.
For this you’ll need to become a member of NASA…. no, not that place filled with spacemen, but the National Auto Sport Association. That’ll cost you $45 for the year, and grant you access to its HPDE classes. Prices will vary, roughly starting at around a couple of hundred bucks per day: Depending on whether your auto insurance will cover your on-track activities, you may also need to purchase a one-day policy through a niche insurer which will likely cost around an additional $100. (Check with your primary auto insurer first, however, as some do cover it — much to my surprise.)
From there you can register for an HPDE-1 class. This is a session for absolute beginners, and you’ll be given an instructor who will ride with you in the passenger seat, helping you learn the basics such as the racing line, braking points, turning and throttle application — things that are imperative if you plan on not hurting yourself. You’ll also have some classroom time to ask questions and better understand the dynamics of driving around a racetrack.
This isn’t a race, though. Overtaking is strictly limited and officiated, and lap times are in no way relevant. This is all about learning; you aren’t an undiscovered future Le Mans champion, and even if you are, it takes decades to truly achieve that level of competency — no matter how many races you’ve won on Xbox.
You’ll also need to be 18 years old (16 with adult consent), possess a valid driver’s license and have a car in good condition with newish brake pads and tires. Additionally you’ll need to bring your own helmet (Snell 2005 rating or newer, usually). This may run you a couple hundred bucks, although renting one from the track may be an option.
When you start adding it all up, track driving doesn’t come cheap — and this isn’t even including the fuel you’ll need for the day and any hotel costs (plus tires and brake pad replacement after a few hard days on track). If you can, though, don’t let this deter you. Driving a car on track is one of the most exhilarating thing you can do, and no matter how often you do it — in my case 22 years, over two thirds of my life! — you always learn something new, and you can always improve.
Again, I can’t stress how much I recommend utilizing an instructor; having hit walls at 230 mph myself, trust me, you don’t want to muck about with racetracks. Even the slowest cars demand respect, and odds are you won’t have the safety equipment to save your ass like professional racers (such as a full roll cage, six-point harnesses, HANS device, carbon helmets, and so on). When things go wrong — if you jump in over confident — that’s when accidents happen, and they aren’t usually nice.
There’s a lot for a beginner to learn, and nothing eliminates the intimidation of turning up at the track for the first time with your stock Ford Focus, seeing a bunch of bros drinking Monster with their loud exhausts and race car decals festooned across the body of their stripped-out Bimmers. Like anything, those fears subside — especially after achieving the perfect heel-and-toe downshift, up and over the crest, back on the power cresting triple digit speeds, your surroundings blurred as if you’re in control of your own roller coaster.
It’s a magical feeling.
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