Track Day Diary

Mar 9, 2009

If you’re into cars, a weekend at the racetrack is as good as it gets. The local chapters of car clubs (BMW CCA, PCA, FCA, SCCA etc.) rent a track for the weekend, organize instructors from member volunteers, and allow you to Drive Like You Mean It on a real racetrack while teaching you to be a much better driver. Track weekends are variously called Driver’s Schools, High Performance Driver Education (HPDE), or simply track days. The weekends aren’t cheap — the NCC BMW CCA I used to drive with charges $430 and the GGC BMW CCA $525 — but are worth every penny. Your first time can be quite daunting, since it’s hard to know what to expect or how to prepare. Hopefully this overview of my most recent day with the Golden Gate Chapter at Infineon Raceway will be helpful.


Two to three weeks prior to the track day, I get my car inspected by a mechanic I trust. They usually charge an hour of labor, but if you’re lucky you can get it thrown in with some maintenance you require — ask other club members. All clubs I know of require an inspection to ensure that your car is in tip top shape for being pushed to the limit. Common to all such inspections is that you have sufficient brake pad material left (more than half the pad) and that the brake fluid has been changed within the past six months. Other than those two specifics, most cars in good condition won’t need anything special done to work on the track, especially your first time.


On the Thursday before my track weekend, I start packing. I have a track/autocross box that contains paper towels, windshield cleaner (Stoner Invisible Glass), a quart of oil, a good air gauge, duct tape, the manual for my car, a couple of common wrenches, a torque wrench, a breaker bar and a bottle of white liquid shoe polish. Every day at the track I will use the glass cleaner to keep my windows super-clean, the air gauge to set my tire pressure, and the torque wrench to check my wheel bolts. I often end up adding a bit of oil throughout the course of the weekend and I’ve found the duct tape useful on a few occasions to fix that stupid plastic undertray on my E36.

As for the shoe polish, it’s one of the best tools for adjust air pressure. Simply put a bit of shoe polish on the sidewall of the tire and onto the shoulder block of the tread; when you get off the track, see where the polish has disappeared and adjust the tire pressure accordingly.

Additionally, I pack my portable air compressor (though most tracks have air available), a couple of towels, my helmet, and tech inspection form — the last two being a absolute requirements, since you can’t drive without them.

Personal stuff I bring includes a cooler filled with lots of water, some sandwiches, apples, and energy bars. Being something of a photographer I bring along my camera, since hot cars driving on a racetrack makes for good pictures. I also toss in some reading material and the Eagle Scout in me requires a bag with a complete change of clothes. If you’re coming home each day (which I do, since the track is only about an hour away), you probably don’t need the extra clothes, but do bring a sweatshirt and jacket, even if the forecast is for highs in the 80s. For those of us who live in urban areas, we aren’t used to being up at 6 in the morning — it can be pretty cold then. Also, unlike that NASCAR crap, you will drive rain or shine and in cold weather, always with the windows down. It won’t be a fun time if you’re cold.


On Friday, I come home from work, pack all of my gear into the car, and head to bed around 10PM. I won’t actually get there until 11 and probably won’t fall asleep until later still, but since I have to leave the house at 5:30AM to get to the track by 7, I make the effort to get a good night’s sleep. Why 7AM? The drivers meeting will be at 8AM, the instructors will do ride-along intro laps thereafter and the track opens at 9AM. All track events require everyone to attend the drivers meeting and, like the rest of the day, things run a very strict time table. Renting a track is very expensive and everyone wants to make the most of it, so be on time and build yourself some extra cushion, especially if it’s your first time out.

To The Track