No matter how we spin it, Track Days are an expensive hobby. It takes some serious cash to be able to participate, but if you are wise with your spending you can stretch your dollar and get a lot more track days out of your budget. Spend less, drive more.
While some money saving tips equal a “Drop in the bucket” of savings, others are large… but they ALL add up. Below are my 15 Tips for keeping spending down so you can drive more! Some of these tips include links to more detailed posts, check them out for more in-depth descriptions.
15) Ask for gifts for holidays
There’s no sense in getting MORE junk that you don’t want for the holidays. Fresh socks are fine, but fresh Nomex Socks are great. If you have someone asking you for holiday gift ideas… give them a list of things you need from driver gear, to tools, to car parts. Pro Tip: Have a running spreadsheet or Amazon wishlist always ready so you can pull from it.
14) Get a low consumable car
The car you choose for Track Days or Racing may be the single largest factor in how much money you need to spend.
The Faster, Larger, and HEAVIER your car is, the more forces it has to overcome as it thrashes around the track (Physics 101). Weight and Quick Acceleration means more Deceleration is needed before corners (Brake and tire wear). The weight of beefy cars wear more tires for cornering and braking. Large heavy duty components are often more expensive and end up needing more supporting mods (Start adding brake ducts, diff coolers, etc).
Get something small, nimble, light, and underpowered and you can still have a blast tossing it around the track at a fraction of the cost.
13) Don’t modify ANYTHING
The biggest mistake people make when getting started with HPDE is over-modifying their cars. Some modifications typically done to street cars actually hurt track reliability and/or make the car much harder to drive. A bone stock car may not be the fastest thing at a track day, but it is typically a much safer and more productive way to learn to drive.
Often, new people feel “trapped” with their cars because they dropped several thousand dollars into a car that is simply not a good track car. Because of the money already spent (And the fact that their car isn’t worth much more than a stock one) they continue on in a car that doesn’t work well, are forced to sell it at a large loss, or worse: stop doing track days.
Keep your car stock, get on track, and realize that your car is WAY more capable than you are as a driver. After you gain some experience and advice from actual people at the track begin modifying, wisely.
12) If you do mod, plan ahead
Once you develop enough skill with track driving, both you and your car will certainly benefit from some changes. Even most “High Performance” cars are designed to spend 99% of their time on public roads, not a race track. Having a full, concise plan when modifying is especially important.
If you decide you want to add more horsepower (Usually the last place where a car needs help), you’ll then be left needing to improve the brakes to keep up, and the cooling system, now your handling is off , etc etc.
Perhaps you are planning on just enjoying your car in HPDE, or maybe you are considering a move to Time Trial, or even Wheel to Wheel racing. Some common modifications to HPDE cars don’t fall well into Race classing. If I cut up my Miata’s body for Aero and shredded the wiring harness for an aftermarket ECU, it would take much more work to build it to Spec Miata rules.
11) Plan and research extra for safety upgrades
Having a plan for driver safety upgrades to your car is even more important than performance upgrades. Safety systems work as just that, a system. Any change to the OEM factory system must be planned and executed well to avoid making your car LESS safe (and failing tech inspection).
Unfortunately, nearly any change to car interiors lead to a cascade of required changes. Want Harnesses? You need a race seat. Now you need a roll bar. Now you need a Hans Device… now you have a great track car with decent safety, but a car that no longer does well on the street. The best way to navigate this? Do your research first, talk to local track day people, racers, and tech inspectors.
*There are a few specific exceptions to these rules. There are a couple belt options for specific cars that are approved for running in stock seats as one example.
10) Don’t skimp, but also don’t get “upsold” on safety
Safety gear is a very important element of track driving. Despite the average car continuing to get faster, Track days and Racing have incredibly few serious injuries. This is partially because of expert flagging and response from track safety teams, but mostly because of huge leaps in safety system design from both OEM manufacturers and race specific technology/equipment/design.
From Helmets, Clothes, Harnesses, Fire Systems, Cages, etc etc… Different levels of driving (From HPDE to Racing) call for varying levels of safety. While we may all be tossing our cars around a track at high speeds, the increased risk in Wheel to Wheel racing is undeniable and required safety levels follow suit.
However, if you are getting started and shopping for a Helmet, or are about to go racing and need a suit beware the “up-sell”. When shopping for helmets, remember that a current SNELL rating is required and the helmet must fit you reasonably well, but beyond that you are paying for comfort and features. I began doing trackdays with a $200 helmet and it did just fine. When it expired, I upgraded to a $400 helmet because of how much I use it and I felt the features were worth the price jump. I do not plan on jumping to a $600, $800, or more expensive helmet for my next one.
Several years ago I was shopping for a suit for my first wheel-to-wheel race (Chumpcar at Lime Rock). I called a local speedshop and said I would like to try on and purchase a Racequip suit. When I arrived, the owner informed me he didn’t have any of “those potato sacks” in the shop, but tried all the sleazy sales tricks out there to get me out the door in a suit more than double my budget. Sure I would have loved to spend to spend “just a few Hundred more” for a way better suit off the clearance rack… but my budget simply didn’t allow it.
I ended up buying myself a Racequip suit without being able to try one on, having to send it back once to swap for a different size. I had some alterations made (with Nomex thread) at my local tailor and used it happily for multiple seasons of racing. If I did it again, I would also consider purchasing a lightly-used pro suit from a site like RaceImage.com
Track day entry fees are a LOT of money. The costs of track rental, insurance, and logistics are incredibly high, so the cost gets passed to us… Clubs aren’t out asking big entry fees to line their pockets with your cash, many are actively losing money.
If you’ve chosen wisely on your car then event entry fees will be the majority of your track budget. How can you cut down on a major expense? Volunteer to be an event official.
Volunteer program incentives range from a free meal and a hearty thank you to generous chunks of track time, so ask around. You can theoretically work your way all the way up the HPDE ladder solely on volunteer credit, then become and instructor and earn track time by instructing.
The entire beginner HPDE model runs on volunteer instructors. Instructors usually get a much higher track-time to-work time ratio than typical official volunteers. However, instructing is far from an easy gig. Your primary focus needs to be your student(s), and your daily schedule needs to revolve around your student (No tweaking your car or swapping brake pads if a student session is coming up). Some people take naturally to helping others go fast safely and enjoy it, others can do it but are uneasy trusting their lives to a stranger, and others just suck at it. If you are a very experienced driver and like the idea of helping others learn, instructing can be a great way to enjoy the track without spending much cash. Bonus: Seeing the track for many more laps from the right seat may help improve your own driving (Just avoid picking up bad habits from the new drivers)
There are multiple programs and certifications out there. Some seem great, others seem a bit like an overly bureaucratic moneygrab. Talk to your local instructors to get their opinions on the best path in your area, and if they think instructing may be a good fit for you.
7) Do it all yourself
Working on cars is challenging, time consuming work and mechanics charge accordingly. While a generally reliable car like a Miata won’t need an excessive amount of work, the costs of paying for regular track maintenance will add up very quickly. If you want to track on a budget? Do as much mechanical work as your are comfortable with… and a bit more.
If you have never worked on a car, start with simple things like doing your own oil changes. Get a more mechanically inclined friend to oversee your first brake job. Once you get comfortable with basic mechanical jobs, start tackling more intense work as it comes up. Internet resources like forums, youtube, and facebook groups can be very helpful for some of your first mechanical jobs… before long you’ll most likely surprise yourself with your confidence and ability.
6) Bring a friend
Clubs know very well just how addictive track days are. Because of this, many are welcome to offer generous incentive programs for current drivers (you) to bring new people (your friends) along. Every one of us knows a least 10 “car” people who have either “been meaning to” come to the track for years… or just didn’t know they could actually drive their own cars on track. Take them under your wing, guide them right into
our addiction the light… Most likely you can earn a discount for BOTH you and them by doing so. Easy enough, and you get to have another friend at the track.
5) Dual purpose tow haulers -family SUV
Once you get to the point where you really jump off the deep end and start looking at towing your car to the track, a whole new layer of cost appears. The Hauler.
If you’re of the few who already have a reason to own a capable tow vehicle, great! If not, you can approach towing by getting a cheap old truck or SUV (Hey, you only need it a few weekends a year)… but then you have another jalopy to maintain and may end up driving to the track with your fingers crossed over the curiously shaking steering wheel.
You can buy a brand new truck: Spend $40,000 on a truck to use a few weekends at the track and once or twice a year for mulch. A huge commitment… but hey, trucks are cool.
Or, if you are in the market for a newer “family car” you can consider getting a SUV. Most SUV’s (Including Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ford Explorer, and Honda Pilot) also have some very good tow ratings (5,000-7,500 lb) and would have no problem pulling an open trailer unless you live in the Rocky Mountains. The fact that they still retain very good daily-drivability and can fit the whole family helps justify spending more money on a newer one.
4) Contingency Prizes
There is not prize money in club racing, nearly zero real paying sponsors either. There are no fans paying money to watch or buy shirts, so there just isn’t a pot to pull from or reason to sponsor. However, one “prize” you can earn is a “Contingency Prize” (Which may be more appropriately called Contingency Sponsorship).
Contingency Prizes are put up by series sponsors: If you comply with their requirements (Usually just use their products and a have few stickers on your car) and finish a certain place, they will pay out. These Contingency Prizes are typically paid out as credit for their products. If I place 3rd in a Race with 9 other cars, Toyo gives me $100 in “Toyobucks”. A single modest finishing position won’t offset your whole weekend expenses, but with a good long-lasting tire like the Toyo RR you can drastically cut or eliminate your tire budget with some good finishing positions.
3) Beware Internet Advice
Online forums can be very helpful to quickly find a car’s common quirks and specific repair steps, but they can also be surprisingly toxic. Pressure to build up “post-counts” or gain some online clout leads some people to chime in with shoddy advice on every post imaginable. These same odd occurrences seem to happen regardless of which car specific forum you are on. People with little to no real-world experience misquote real advice, which gets misquoted by someone else… and on and on as the game of telephone goes. The vacuum of armchair debate often leads to gross exaggeration of possible dangers and “must have” performance upgrades.
The best place to get advice? Have conversations and get first hand advice from actual experienced people who track their cars. If the Racers say you don’t need it, then you probably don’t. But just because the racers have it, doesn’t mean you need it for your first (or fifth) season of HPDE. Develop your own trusted network of people and lean on them. Note: Bringing beer along helps get you the best advice.
This warning even includes my own advice. I am not the world’s #1 expert on everything cars, track days, and budgets. I try my best to combine what I’ve learned with the knowledge of friends smarter than me, and pile lot of extra research on top. Even with that, what I say anywhere may not apply perfectly in every situation. I’d be honored to be part of your trusted advice circle, but don’t make me your only source.
2) Money to Fun ratio
The Money to Fun ratio is best explained in the post linked below. Basically, I run every hobby related purchase through the question of “If I spend X amount more money will I have Y more fun?” Is buying a helmet 2x as much going to double my enjoyment over it’s life?
It’s hard, and sometimes even tedious. But it helps me stay on track with my budget (sorry, pun intended).
1) Be Vigilant and keep an open mind
Excessive spending often happens without even thinking because “That’s the way it is”. It becomes automatic, “What’s another $200?” I’ve heard the old “If you can’t afford $200 for ‘X’, then you can’t afford this hobby” WAY too many times. Do not be pressured into buying all the latest and greatest things. $100 here and $200 there adds up to a few thousand in a blink of an eye.
Ask yourself: Where do you get the most enjoyment? It may come from clipping that perfect apex on turn 7 in your junky old Honda… or maybe the enjoyment comes from gazing at the beautiful $2000 helmet on the shelf in your office, or maybe it’s having shiny billet aluminum caps on everything under your hood. We each have our own goals and dreams in the car hobby, none are better or worse than others… just make sure you use up your budget pursuing what you want the most, and don’t get hung up on someone else’s dream (or sales pitch).
For me, I’ll be doing what I can to maximize time at the track with my butt in the seat. I hope to see you there too.
What do you think? Do you have any other good tips or strategies to save money in this hobby? Shoot me a message or sound off in the comments and we’ll see what else we can come up with!