Thanksgiving week is upon us (Already?! HOW?). Before we’re totally overwhelmed with Christmas music and mall Santa Clauses, let’s focus on family for a minute.
Track days are an inherently solo activity, 99% of the fun is had by whoever is driving the car. It’s great to have help to check torque, tire pressures, start your video, etc… but that job isn’t nearly as fun as driving, especially if someone isn’t super into cars. Before your significant other, friend, or other family member squeezes into an overpacked car for a long drive to a longer weekend at the track, they may want to know what else they can do over the next 72 hours.
Road racing isn’t a great spectator sport. The general nature of a road course with many turns spread over a huge facility doesn’t lend itself to watching in person, typical viewing areas can only see one or two turns. Live-timing apps have made races much more interesting to watch, but in general race spectators see a few cars go by at once, pause, a few more cars, pause, a pack, pause, repeat. For HPDE, spectating is even less exciting. When you are driving it feels like you’re sliding sideways, on two wheels, on fire…. But outside the car, from a safe viewing distance, it often looks slow and boring, especially without cars battling for position mid-corner as they do in race groups.
But wait, there is hope! Here are some things you CAN do aside from just watching:
Take Photos & Video:
Everyone seems to have a good DSLR camera now, cell phone cameras have also really stepped up their game in the past year. Even with incredible equipment, a regular person isn’t going to wander in and take photos nearly as good as a true track photography artist like Mike Woeller of Windshadow Photo Studios, BUT they may get some fun ones. Plus, it’s more exciting to watch (Even HPDE) when you’re trying to get a cool photo or video of a friend driving by.
Be a Spotter:
A spotter isn’t helpful for HPDE, but if you are a Racer and read post 12: “Budget friendly race radios ARE possible” you know what a huge advantage a spotter can be. Nicole and Kate of “Spec 13 motorsports” have both come through with some excellent spotting for some of us racing in Spec Miata. Not only is it helpful for the driver, but it’s a fun activity for the spotter.
Come for Rides:
Once you become an advanced level driver, most clubs allow you to take a passenger on track. This can be a great way for a friend to appreciate what you really do (especially after watching you from a distance), just make sure you don’t try too hard to show off. The famous last words “watch this” come to mind.
If you are not yet at a level where your club will allow you a passenger, there are almost always instructors more than willing to take a passenger for a ride. I encourage this, even if you are driving… the more ways you can see the track, the better.
On a typical track day, you can get nearly two hours of track time. That is a TON of time behind the wheel (especially compared to other activities like drag racing and even autocross). Even with all that time, your car sits unused for the vast majority of the day.
Why not have your significant other Codrive your car? Many clubs offer some version of a “hyperdrive” where for a small fee you get one classroom session and an instructed, paced (but relatively quick) session while the rest of the track is on lunch break. It’s a great intro to track driving, but isn’t very overwhelming to someone who is on the fence.
There is also the option of two drivers running multiple HPDE levels with one car. It is actually pretty common for more than one person to share a car for HPDE. As long as you are in different run groups, there’s no reason why you couldn’t share a car. If you brought a car that is reasonably reliable and doesn’t absolutely shred consumables you should be fine (Just maybe bring a gas can or two (Yes, I’m talking to you, Devin!)).
My wife and I shared my miata for a track day. Not only did we both drive it, but I was able to be her instructor. (More on that day in a later post, but it was a blast!)
Track days take you to some pretty unique places. Some tracks are located near incredible landmarks that practically require a visit, others are in the middle of nowhere but bring you near some hidden gem restaurants, breweries or wineries.
Watkins Glen is one of my absolute favorite tracks, Not only is the track amazing, but the history there is second to none (Lime Rock Park and Laguna Seca are close, but not quite there). The Seneca Lodge Bar has been visited by nearly every professional driver who set foot(tire?) on the track for the past 70 or so years. Despite all this, the surrounding area may be just as exciting. The Watkins Glen Gorge Trail is an amazingly beautiful “Hike”, Seneca lake is surrounded by way more wineries and breweries than you could responsibly hit in a weekend (and that’s without spending your days driving). Last October My wife and I made a vacation out of a Watkins Glen race weekend. We drove up Wednesday, camped in the state park, spent a full day hiking, eating, wine tasting, etc. I spent Friday-Sunday at the track while she spent it between the track and local attractions with friends. We had an awesome time together, she spent a lot of time at the track but was still able to “escape” when it may have otherwise gotten a bit boring. It was one of my favorite track “weekends” ever, we could have easily spent a couple more days. We skipped the event this year (A one month old baby made it a bit tough), but are already planning next year’s trip.
Watkins Glen is obviously the exception more than the norm with it’s attractions, but many tracks have something exciting nearby. People visiting NJMP from a far often visit Atlantic City or Philly while they’re in town. If you don’t want to go a far, right around the corner is Glasstown Brewery and Verna’s Flight Line Restaurant (Both MUST are must-visits when you’re in town.)
Some tracks are in very rural areas. I haven’t found the local attractions for every one, but I’ll tell you… The small town next to Palmer Motorsports Park has one of the best diners I’ve ever been to. So when you do go to a new track, Ask people in your club, your instructor, etc… more often not there are plenty of cool, unique restaurants, breweries, parks, attractions, etc.
Do you bring significant others, family, or friends to the track? What else do they do at the track?