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Track Days: Everything You Need To Get Started

Everything You Need to Survive And Enjoy Your First Track Day Experience

Track days all you need to know

We clued you in on 3 cheap ways to get on a race track, one of which was to take your own vehicle. And don’t worry, we won’t hang you out to dry if you’ve decided that’s the route you want to go for some track time. We also want to guide you through how to prepare for your first track day — with everything from how to find and register for an event to what to pack for your first day on track. Track days are special, so stick with us as we help you collect the tools, supplies, and even get you in the right mindset before you head on track.

Sign Up For an Event

Aerial view of wet race track for track days

We suggest checking out Track Night in America (TNiA) as this is pretty much one of the cheapest track day event series you can find. You can sign up via their website TrackNightinAmerica.com, but they aren’t the only show in town.

Maybe you know a buddy who runs with BMW CCA, the Porsche Club of America, or one of the hundreds of other track day series. Nearly every track event series (with the exception of TNiA) runs their event registrations through MotorsportReg.com. You can search for track events in your area and, once you find one you want, get registered. TNiA was our cheapest mention at $160, and other event registrations run in the $250-400 range.

Check MotorsportReg to see what might pique your interest. You don’t have to own a specific brand to run with that brand’s car club, and there are plenty of non-brand affiliated track event series to choose from.

Don’t Forget About Track Insurance

So we’ve convinced you to give a track day a try — but before you think that the entry fee is going to be your only upfront cost, you should really think about purchasing track insurance before you head out. Your normal road-going insurance will not cover you on a race track.

I know what you might be thinking; “I will drive safely. I don’t need insurance.” The reality is track insurance protects you when something out of your control goes wrong. For example, perhaps you have a nice big brake kit, good DOT 4 brake fluid in your lines, and are going hard into a braking zone. But, what if someone behind you boils their fluid, their brake pedal hits the floor, and they plow into you? You can hope and pray that they have track insurance to cover their fault, but why leave it to chance?

Hagerty and Lockton Motorsports are just a few track insurance companies I have used in the past; luckily, so far I have not had to make any claims. They aren’t the only option, and many track insurance companies allow you to purchase additional track day insurance all the way up until the start of the event. Depending on the value of your vehicle, track insurance can cost you upwards of $100 or more.

Be Aware of Consumables

Track days worn tire

Here comes a bit of financial bad news. Taking your car out on track will reduce the lifespan of many consumable parts on your vehicle.

Brake pads, brake rotors, brake fluid, and tires are the main items that have their lifespan shorted by track driving. It is difficult to put an exact financial value on consumables as the rate that they deplete is dependent on several factors. First, every track is different. For example, a track with a very long straight that allows for higher top speeds will potentially eat away at your brake system consumables a lot faster.

Second, everyone drives at what I would call a different “aggression” level. You might drive 7/10ths because you know you have to drive your car home in one piece, whereas someone else may think they are going to win an imaginary award at a track day by going 10/10ths. A more aggressive driving style will put more wear and tear on consumables. Finally, a lot of the consumable’s cost will come down to your car’s set up and whether you choose to run your car as is or if you choose to invest in a few key track-day upgrades, such as a new set of tires.

You shouldn’t have to worry too much about consumables for your first ever track event, but be aware there is the potential to find yourself at a service interval quicker the more you drive on track.

Get Your Vehicle Ready

m3 brake fluid flushNearly every performance car nowadays comes ready for some light track duty right out of the box. Sure, you always hear of some powerhouse performance car overheating or going into “limp mode” after being spanked for consecutive sessions on a track, but it’s unlikely this will happen to you during your first track day. Regardless of whether you have a new model or an older car, there are a few key things to double-check before heading out.

If your tires are nearing the end of their life, don’t replace them after the track day — do it before. The same goes for any other maintenance items. You want your vehicle to perform at its optimum level. When you go to work with a hangover, don’t you perform horribly? Do you really want your vehicle going 130 mph down the main straight of a track with the car equivalent of a hangover? Take care of your car, and it will take care of you.

If your vehicle is leaking from every bolt and hose (or even just a few), it probably isn’t ready to track and will not pass tech inspection. Your brake pads should generally have more than half their life left and the same with your brake rotors. And your windshield shouldn’t look like SpiderMan’s web.

Be sure to check the event’s tech inspection form and verify your vehicle will pass before you arrive at the track.

Do Some Homework

All of the premiere tracks around the country can be loaded up in your newest copy of Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo. For some of the lesser-known tracks, I would guess someone has loaded in Assetto Corsa. This makes it very easy to at least have an idea of the track layout before you even drive it.

If for some reason the track you are visiting isn’t in a video game for you to test out, you can bet someone has a point-of-view video on YouTube that will give you the driver’s view of a couple of laps of the track.

I personally recommend doing both prior to driving on a new track if possible. Drive as many virtual laps as you can and definitely do some YouTube research in the days leading up to the event. Knowing the track will save you a lot of on-the-spot learning when you finally get behind the wheel of your own car at the event.

What to Bring With You

How to prepare for a track day

The Bare Minimum

I suggest being prepared with some basic tools and supplies, but truth be told, there are only a few things that the track staff or event holder will require you to have to get on track. After signing up for and paying the event fee, you’ll need a vehicle that passes technical inspection, a completed tech form, and a Snell rated motorsports helmet.

We have touched on it before, but Snell rated motorsports helmets are going to run in the range of $200-500 and can get as costly as $1000+ if you have expensive taste. Many track events grandfather in helmets rated 10 years back. So for the most part, you need to purchase a 2015 or newer helmet.

I would also take a look at your local race track’s rules. Some tracks have a rule or two that might sound odd to someone who hasn’t been on track before. For instance, many track day programs or race tracks require that drivers wear long pants. This might seems like a strange rule at first glance, but it is actually an added safety measure in the event of a vehicle fire. If for some reason your car is engulfed in flames, you might wish you had on long pants instead of shorts.

Tools

There are two ways to approach bringing tools to a track day: bring your whole tool collection or bring only the tools you think you’ll need with some extras sprinkled in.

If there is a number one tool combo you need to bring to a track day, it’s going to be a torque wrench and a socket in the correct size to check your lug nut torque before heading out on track. A close second would be a tire pressure gauge to adjust your tire pressure for optimum performance (for your first time on track just make sure you have air in your tires). Some supplies that aren’t really tools, but that can come in handy, are zip ties, painter’s tape, and the often-loved duct tape.

Some folks will come with their full garage toolbox in their trunks, and there is always someone willing to help or lend a tool if you are in a pinch. I personally find myself somewhere in between the two approaches. I have what I call the “track box” — an old, beat-to-its-life Craftsman toolbox from the ’90s — that holds all the tools I usually need at the track.

Supplies

The focus for a track day is clearly on your car, but don’t forget about you. There are a few things you should pack for your first track day, and I bet plenty of them are already in your house.

Most track days schedule track sessions by three different skill levels or run groups: Novice, Intermediate/Experienced, and Expert. So even if you were to have the skills of a track expert, you’ll still be around for part of the day. I recommend bringing a camping chair. Many track rats opt to bring an EZ-Up canopy as well. I also recommend bringing a small cooler with water, Gatorade, and some snacks to munch on as a track day can be draining on your body. Staying hydrated will help your mental focus throughout the day.

Most track days take place during the hottest times of the year, so don’t forget to bring sunscreen or other sun protection. On the opposite side of the weather front, I recommend bringing a raincoat and buying a tarp big enough to quickly wrap around all your gear should the skies open up on you. And regardless of whether it was a scorcher and you sweat to death, or it pours and you get drenched, I recommend bringing a change of clothes for your drive back home or to a hotel.

Some additional supplies to pack for your vehicle are one extra quart of oil in your car’s oil weight, a bottle of coolant or distilled water, some glass window cleaner, and rags/paper towels to go with the fluids.

And finally, don’t forget that GoPro, its charger, some GoPro mounts, and an empty memory card. One of the best parts of attending a track day is watching your footage when you get home!

You Made It, Now What?

track days

You did it. You signed up for a track day event, bought some track insurance, and loaded up your trunk with some variation of the supplies listed above. So now what do you do?

Once you arrive at the track, you will likely sign two liability waivers. One waiver is typically provided by the race track, and the other waiver is provided by the event organizers. These waivers are your typical “you cannot sue us if something goes wrong” liability waivers. Once you sign these waivers, you will get either one or two wristbands which are your clearance to enter the track.

I will warn you that for some tracks, the front gates are nothing special. On the other hand, some do give off the vibes of a USA-based Nürburgring. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Either way, you are getting to drive on a race track! Well, you are almost there — you can’t just go drive right onto the track quite yet, young Padawan.

Paddock and Tech

track day paddock

Locate a spot in the paddock. The paddock is essentially the parking lot that houses all the day’s track toys including your own. Sometimes it is a black top, sometimes a rock pit, and sometimes just grass. Find a spot and begin unloading your car. The car will basically need to be completely empty in order to pass tech inspection.

Next, locate the tech inspection spot for the event and drive over with your Snell rated helmet in the passenger seat. Event staff will ask you to pop your hood so they can look around to make sure certain items are tight and your engine is not spewing oil. They will take a look at the trunk to make sure you aren’t hiding any bowling balls (or other loose items) and also check to make sure your lights, particularly the brake lights, work. Your car will then get a sticker to verify it passed tech.

track day tech inspection

Finally, they will also check out your helmet and make sure it passes the current year’s Snell rating. Your helmet will also get a sticker signifying it passed tech.

You signed the waivers and your vehicle and helmet passed tech, so you know what that means …

Get Out on Track!

As much as we would love for you to load up this article every time you attend a track day, we thought it would be better to create a nice checklist for you to quickly reference. You can use it to get ready to attend your first track day — or your 100th.

AutoWise Track Day Checklist

We hope this checklist helps you get ready and stay safe on the track! Feel free to save a copy and edit it to suit your needs. It features the bare necessities and minimum tools we recommend, as well as a bunch of suggested extras for when you catch the track bug and sign up for your next event.

(Photos by: Danny Korecki)









Danny Korecki
About Danny Korecki

Danny Korecki is a financial analyst by day and a freelance automotive writer by night. His words, photos, or videos have been seen on many well known automotive sites across the web. When he isn't creating content he enjoys loving on his dog and daily driving his BMW E92 M3.