Your first HPDE Day (or weekend) will be an action packed blur. HPDE (Track) days typically begin very early in the morning and go through the late afternoon. This guide is based on a HPDE day in my NASA Region and will vary based on club, but can hopefully give you a decent idea what to expect.
This guide is split into 3 sections:
3) Prep (Well before the event.)
2) Leading up to the event
1) Day of the event
3) Prep (Well before the event):
SIGN UP: Don’t forget to sign up for an event as soon as you can. Events can fill up weeks before they happen so you don’t want to miss out. Alternately, It is rare but not unheard of for events to be canceled for lack of registrations. Sign up early to avoid both these issues.
Look over your car: Do not wait until the last minute to make sure your car is in good shape. You don’t want to be in a position where you’re forced to pay for overnight shipping on parts, work overnight, or worse… have to back out of an event because a “simple” project turned out to be an issue you didn’t have time to fix.
I learned this lesson with my tow vehicle. The day before leaving for the track I was putting new brakes on my truck and stripped the caliper mount threads (Which were in the spindle). After a panicked search for a solution, I was lucky that this was a common enough issue that local parts stores sell a “Fix it” bolt. Had those parts not been stocked locally I could have been in big trouble. Get your stuff ready with plenty of time to spare.
2) Leading up to the Event:
Wash the Car: A Clean car is a happy car, plus it looks better in photos so give a final wash before you hit the road.
Plan the Drive: Because of their unique requirements (massive amounts of land, neighbors who can put up with the noise, etc) road race courses are few and far between… Often you will need to drive a long distance for your nearest track. It may not seem convenient to drive a few hours to a track day, but it is certainly worth it. Instead of doing a single day, sign up for a full track weekend!
Staying The Night: With many tracks being multiple hour drives for the average participant, most drivers arrive the night before and stay at a local hotel or camp at the track. Tracks usually allow camping and have shower facilities. I almost always camp at the track. Nights at the track are a lot of fun and I save a TON of money on hotel bills.
1) Day of the Event:
The timeline below is a rough outline of a typical HPDE day, make sure you go off the published event schedule. The amount of track sessions as well as length of sessions varies but you will typically have at least four 20 minute long sessions.
Gas: Once you get close to the track, make sure you fill up on gas. No need to worry about “The extra weight” of Gasoline, you will be burning plenty of gas at the track and many will even need to run out to fill up once during the day. Some Tracks sell gasoline on site, but the markup varies from reasonable to “Seriously?!”
6:45 AM: Arrive and Pick your Paddock Spot: Pick a spot to make your “home base” for the event. The space available at different tracks varies greatly, but there is usually plenty of room. Many events send out “Paddock Maps” with guidelines where to park. I like to find a place near enough to the office, classroom, and bathrooms, but not where everyone will be on top of me. When parking near trailers, know they may need a good amount of space to maneuver out so don’t set up a big encampment on top of them.
7:00 AM: Sign in at the Office: Once you find a paddock spot, head to the office to sign in for the day. You may need to bring your Driver’s License. You will usually get a Day Schedule, Track Map, Tech Inspection Form, and Group Wristband. *If you are doing a two-day event you typically won’t need to sign in or go through tech inspection again on the second day – make sure you keep your group wristband on overnight.
7:10 AM: Empty your car: Empty your car, ALL of it. as a general guideline: If it isn’t bolted down, it should come out. Empty your Glove Box, Remove your floor mats, Remove the junk from your trunk that’s been hiding next to the spare tire for years, etc. Make sure to add your car number (Either with Masking Tape, Magnets, or Stick on Numbers). Before rolling up to Tech Inspection, your car should be in Ready-To-Roll-On-Track condition.
7:30 AM: Tech Inspection: If your car is in halfway decent shape and you emptied it, Tech inspection should be a breeze. Make sure to bring the signed tech form if they gave you in registration.
8:15 AM: Driver’s Meeting: These are typically called the Driver’s meeting, or all-hands meeting. If you are driving, you should be here. Driver’s Meetings give a brief overview of the days guidelines, goals, and procedures for the day.
9:00 AM: First Classroom Session: If you are in the beginner group you will have multiple classroom sessions over the course of the day. The curriculum is designed to give you the tools to maximize your learning for the day, and keep you out of trouble. Don’t worry, no pop quizzes! Grading is done on a curve (Get it? …sorry)
9:50 AM: First Session out on Track: Here you go! Bring your car up to the grid and line up. If you haven’t met you instructor yet, you will now. In Most cases, the instructor will offer to drive your car for the first lap or two. While not required, I HIGHLY recommend it. The instructor will drive at a leisurely pace while talking you through the turns and showing you where the car needs to be. After that, you will switch seats in the Hot-Pit and it’s time to go!
10:40 AM: Second Classroom Session: The second Classroom will dive into another subject, now building on the knowledge gained after your first track session.
11:30 AM: Second Session out on Track: Here you go again. Get to Grid, Meet your instructor, and have fun!
12:00 Noon: Lunch: You may be surprised at how hungry and thirsty you get on track. It is important to snack and stay hydrated through the course of your day. Depending how hungry your car is and how full your tank was, you may need to sneak our for gas.
1:20 pm: Third Classroom Session: More building on concepts learned on track and in the classroom.
2:10 pm: Third Session on Track: Another Session, At this point many people begin to get comfortable with the track, their car, and the other cars. You will hopefully notice things start to “Click”
3:00 pm: Fourth and Final Classroom Session: Your Final Classroom session. Often this covers “next steps” for both your driving and car prep. (Hint: keep driving, don’t modify your car yet)
3:50 pm: Fourth Session on Track: Hopefully all the scariness of the track has worn off and you are out continuing to improve and having fun!
5:05 pm: Fifth and Final Session on track: Some days you get a 5th session. Things will continue to click, but beware of fatigue. The last session is where you may get fully comfortable, but between fatigue and a sense of “I got this” people have gotten themselves in trouble.
5:30 pm: BBQ, Party, and download: The club may put on a trophy ceremony and Barbecue, all are invited. There may even be a “Track Walk” to get a closer look of the track and it’s turns. The moment the track “goes cold” you can hear a collective “pop-hiss” of beers opening around the paddock. First timers and Seasoned racers alike spend many a night hanging out, sharing beers and stories. These evenings make some of the best memories of track weekends: walk around, introduce yourself, welcome others… The friends you make here may last you a lifetime.
As you can see, the days are BUSY. There is a bit of time between sessions to hang out and check out what else is going on (Watch races, check out cars, etc), but expect a very intense experience. Hopefully you signed up for a whole weekend. If so: Get to sleep and be ready to repeat tomorrow.
Now that you’ve done your first track day, check out more of our posts on how to continue doing this, no matter what your budget may be: