If your only goal at a track day is getting “to the fastest run group” HPDE (High Performance Driver Education – Track Days) may not really be for you. However, I often hear from decent drivers with experience from LeMons and Champcar who don’t have a HPDE resume. They don’t want to start at level 1 and do a few seasons of HPDE events before they can earn a club racing license. Also, I occasionally hear from drivers who feel “stuck” in their level, be it HPDE-2 or 3.
When I began HPDE, I moved up very quickly through the run groups. My ego would like to say it was because excessive skill, gifted anatomy, or pure talent… but in reality, I was lucky in some ways and got a lot of good advice. I wouldn’t say I was promoted too quickly, but was in the right place at the right time and developed the proper skills, even if I wasn’t the fastest car in the group.
Now, after several years of instructing and driving at an advanced level (including racing in Spec Miata) I’ve identified a few tips to help bump up drivers who may feel “Stuck” in their current level. I have some what of an “Aggressive” opinion on track driving, and while safety is always a concern, I also believe we are here to push our cars. You won’t find the limit if you don’t exceed it occasionally, the trick is doing that in the right scenarios.
7) KNOW the flags
Pace is important when being promoted between run groups, but the most important thing to yourself and others is SAFETY. Flags are the only way that officials can directly communicate with you, whether there’s an emergency around the next blind corner, or you are simply being called in because corner workers think your hood isn’t properly latched (Note both of those things directly relate to your wellbeing). Seeing and reacting to flags must be second nature. Do not expect to be moved to a faster run group if you do not react appropriately to a black or red flag, whether in a drill or real event.
Need a refresher on the meaning of flags? Check out this post: The 14 Racing Flags you NEED to know for HPDE: Post 36
6) Understand traffic and be AWARE, give good; EARLY point-bys.
When I go out in different level groups, the awareness is always the most striking difference between each group. In HPDE-1 you may obviously be caught behind a slow moving car with an overwhelmed driver who waits laps to give a point-by. In HPDE-2 (beginner-solo) you may be caught behind a slow moving car with an unaware driver who takes a few corners to offer a point-by. It is not optimal, but some degree of traffic is to be expected as these are beginner groups. However, by HPDE-3 you should never be held up unless you are in an area of the track where passing is prohibited. HPDE-4 is often open passing and should flow more like a race group with point-bys.
What does this mean? By the time you are an advanced HPDE driver you should have a full, acute awareness of what’s happening all around your car, including behind it. Many drivers wait until a faster car approaches and reaches them before they give a point-by. This forces the passing car to lift and possibly even brake as they wait for permission to pass. If the approaching car is a low power car, they lost all their momentum and will need to work significantly harder to “earn” the pass again. As an advanced driver, you should be aware and confident enough to judge the closing speed of an upcoming car and give a point-by well before they reach you so they can cleanly pass without any thought of a lift on their part.
As an advanced driver, you should be aware and confident enough to judge the closing speed of an upcoming car and give a point-by well before they reach you so they can cleanly pass without any thought of a lift on their part.
Does that mean you will give pointbys that won’t be taken? YES. Is that a problem? No. Sometimes an approaching car isn’t going as fast as you judged, or perhaps they don’t want to press the issue… That is not a problem, the upcoming car knows you are aware and is expecting a point-by at the next easy opportunity. If your group allows passing in the corners, leave them enough room to go inside but KEEP GOING! Don’t slow way down or stop your car in anticipation of an inside pass. As an aspiring advanced driver, taking a turn a bit off-line at reasonable speed should be no problem. On multiple occasions I’ve seen two side-by-side cars nearly stop on track with the passing car unsure if they can/should make the move, and the car getting passed continuing to slow hoping they would just go already. This creates a significantly more dangerous scenario than one car “breaking a rule” and passing too deep into a corner, as cars approaching likely will not expect such slow traffic.
Obviously you should be following the passing rules of your group and your own comfort level. If your group does not allow passing in specific parts of the track, or in corners, that is a perfectly acceptable spot for someone to be held up behind you. Just give them a nice quick point-by as soon as you are in an acceptable spot (and remember to avoid drag racing them down the whole next straight… some cars will require a lift on your part to get around you, don’t worry… they usually won’t be in your way for long)
If this is something you are struggling with: before you get disheartened, know that this IS hard. The gap in pace between groups is often very large, and your first few days at a higher level are usually challenging. Show up to the to the download meetings, don’t be afraid to voice your concerns, and reach out to group leaders for help and advice. At the end of the day, we’re all here to learn.
5) Earn your point-by’s
You do not want to be overly aggressive on track, scraping bumper paint off every car that makes you wait more than one corner. The only HPDE trophy I’ve ever seen is a flatbed truck with a partially disassembled car on it’s back. However, some aggression has a place. There are times where you need to press the issue with a leading car that may be ignoring tip #6. Time and time again (mimicking the fast lane on the turnpike) I see a slow car in the lead with another car trailing them, and a dozen cars stacked up behind the second position car. That second car thinks “Car #1 knows I’m here, once they let me by I’ll let the faster cars behind me by.” …but it’s not always that simple.
If you are the second car in a train of cars and the lead car is not giving you a point-by, you have three main options:
Option 1 -Press the issue: You do not want to drive overly aggressive, but there is a chance the lead car doesn’t notice you (tunnel vision) or thinks you’re happy poking around in their mirrors for the whole session. Get good and close to them on corner exit, appear like you are ready to pass if they only just gave you a point-by. My first instructor once told me to “Fill their mirrors” by driving a bit to their left through one turn, then a bit to the right on the next. This made sure they had plenty of bright red car flashing between both of their side mirrors. If you’re directly behind someone, they may not see your brightly colored car (And you won’t be able to see through them well either). If you maintain several car lengths between the you and the lead car, you may never get a point-by.
Option 2 – Let the car immediately behind you past, giving them the opportunity to push the issue with slow car #1. Often times a fresh car in their mirror reminds them of their responsibilities and you’ll both get past on the next straight.
Option 3 – Pit in on the next lap, let the cars behind you deal with the slow car and get yourself a “gap” for some clean track. This works well to an extent, but you can’t always run from the issue and the ability to comfortably push the issue with stubborn point-bys is important.
In any case: Hopefully your group does “Download Meetings” after sessions, make sure to address this to the group, or at least to your group leader next time you meet. We are all out here to have fun, so open lines of communication off the track leads to a better day for everyone. I have seen issues where the lead car simply wasn’t sticking his hand far enough out the window for the point to be seen, once it was addressed the driver corrected and the issue was fixed for the rest of the day.
4) let your intention be known*
Let people in the group know what your intentions are. If you want to move up through HPDE, tell your group leader you hope to move up soon. If you have a goal to race in Honda Challenge? Talk to some Honda Challenge racers, they will give you advice and may advocate for you when you deserve to be moved up. They may even come out for a session with you to help you get up to speed. Do you want to instruct? Start speaking with the Chief Instructor early and they may be able to show you specific things to work on when you are on track. At the very least, you get on these people’s radar so you aren’t a stranger. When they eventually see an application with your name on it, they’ll know you.
I have found that the track is one of the easiest places to make friends. Nearly everyone is super friendly, helpful, and there for the same reason you are. Be open, say hi, make friends.
This point is the only one with an *Asterisk in the title. Be mindful of yourself when stating your goals, do not go straight to the event organizer and demand to be placed in the fastest run group. Don’t bring up your goal of immediately jumping from HPDE-1 to TT in every single group meeting… just be a reasonable.
3) Be OPEN for and SEEK feedback
Most run groups require instructors for their entry level run group, but after that many drivers never sit with an instructor again. When you are speaking with group leaders and racers, on top of stating your goals, ask for feedback. Seek out instructors to jump in the car with you, even as your driving skills continue to advance. See if faster drivers will do a lead-follow on track. You may develop bad habits over several track days and never notice them until someone else hops in the car with you. Even the world’s top level drivers get (and use) feedback from others, constantly.
2) Have a passenger seat
Lead-Follow and even video review can only really help so much. Most HPDE run groups have instructors ready to sit with you in the car. If an instructor can’t sit in the car for a checkride or to give feedback, you may get left behind. Passenger seats don’t add a lot of weight, but they’re worth every ounce, even if they’re empty 95% of the time.
If you have started upgrading your driver seat and harness, you should do the same for an instructor/passenger seat. If you are trying to showcase your skills, instructors will be much more able to focus on your driving if they’re not fearing for and holding on for dear life… (not to mention most clubs require equal safety levels for driver and passenger seats)
1) DO NOT TRY TO WIN ON YOUR CHECK-RIDE
One certain Chief Instructor I know hates check-rides more than anything else (More than the DMV, Dentist, or recurring nightmares about high-school). He hates them for good reason, after being in a pretty significant crash with an overly excited driver hoping to be promoted to HPDE-4.
Some of my criteria for the check-rides include: Awareness, Smoothness, Ease of Passing and being Passed, Comfort. We are not running stopwatches in the passenger seat, while some degree of pace with the rest of the class is important… being smooth, safe, and comfortable are the most important. Don’t do something stupid trying to prove your speed, a checkride is to promote you to the next group, not earn a NASCAR seat.
Remember, the only way to make a small fortune in racing is to start with a large one. We are are not out here to make money. Any career in motorsports is VERY hard to succeed in… we should all be out here for the fun and love of it. Don’t overly push yourself to skyrocket up the HPDE ladder. Note that I don’t specifically give “GO FASTER” as a top way to move up, if you drive better, the faster part will follow.
However, If you are feeling stuck, run down this checklist again and see if you’re missing something that may help… If all else fails, just do what this guy does:
Did you like this No Money Motorsports post? Check out our other posts covering multiple HPDE, Trackday, and Racing topics with a low budget mindset.