Track days are a significant departure from what people consider “normal”. There aren’t many parallels where you can do something so extreme, with so much responsibility, while also having so much FUN. Since my first time at the track (and still to this day) I pinch myself and ask “Am I really here? Can this really be happening? Whether you come for a Track Day or are there for Competitive Racing, there is nothing else like it in the world.
With this experience comes a lot of “What is happening? What do I need? and “Where do I go?” questions. Below are some of the most common questions for people considering their first track day: Click the story links under many of the questions for posts that dive deeper on the subject.
15) I want to go RACING on a real Race Track. Can I do that?
YES! There are multiple paths to go “Racing“ on a race track. There are also several different definitions that people use for “Racing”. The “In Crowd” refers to Racing is as a timed, competitive event. Most races have very strict rulesets and require some form of special license and isn’t something someone jumps straight into. BUT A typical Track Day is called a “HPDE” – High Performance Drivers Education event and is open to everyone. HPDE Events are the vast majority of “Track Days” you see and hear about. They are part open track day, part performance driver’s school.
Not someone who enjoyed school? Don’t worry! For new drivers, HPDE days usually include a few short but informative classroom sessions and a LOT of time on track with an instructor in your car. Rest assured, you will be driving as hard as you can, with your instructor there to help you improve and keep you from getting in over your head. For Advanced drivers, these HPDE track days are often open format to work on their skills and have fun doing so.
The format varies a bit per region, but most HPDE days are run by clubs who rent out a track facility for a weekend. These clubs are open to the public with a small (Usually around $50) annual membership fee. Keep reading for how to find them.
14) Do I need a special license or some specific driving resume to get on track?
NO! As long as you have a standard driver’s license you are welcome to sign up for a HPDE (High Performance Drivers Education) Track Day. In fact, new and inexperienced drivers are encouraged to sign up for HPDE days. Even though track days include driving to the limits of vehicles (without speed limits), the lessons learned on track can make you considerably safer and more competent driver when placed back in the street environment.
Different clubs have different experience leveling titles: Some use numbers, colors, or a “beginner, intermediate, advanced” to delineate the groups… but you typically begin in HPDE-1 and progress up through different levels based on your skill development.
Essentially, everyone begins in HPDE-1 regardless of “outside experience” as HPDE-1 sets a foundation of not only driving, but on-track etiquette. The etiquette includes things like safe ways of entering and exiting the track, passing and getting passed, and communicating with the track-workers (via flags). Following these guidelines and being predictable are essential for safely sharing the track with others. Perhaps you have spent 10 years playing Gran Turismo, have kart racing experience, or have competed in a few “24 hours of LeMons” races… share this information with your instructor but expect to spend at least a day in HPDE-1.
If you eventually wish to Compete in Time Trial or Wheel-To-Wheel (Traditional) Racing, you would typically complete a comprehensive “Racing School” or participate in HPDE and get promoted through levels before attending a Licensing class. Interested? Read up on the “paths to racing” in this article – How to go RACING: 4 Popular paths to earning a competition racing license.
13) Do I need to buy a very expensive Track Membership from a race track if I want to go there?
NO! There are many tracks who operate similar to a golf country club, with membership and annual dues in the tens of thousands of dollars: But that is not the typical way people get on track.
Nearly every race track in America either has either 1) Their own public open track days, 2) Is visited by Track and Racing Clubs (Like NASA, Chin, SCDA, BMWCCA, etc) who host track days to their members, or 3) A combination of 1-2.
Keep reading for more info on becoming a member of to one of these Track Day clubs.
12) Can I bring MY OWN car on track, or do I get to use a race car?
Nearly everyone brings their own car for their first track day. There are rental track cars available at most HPDE (Track Day) events out there… but the cost is significant (often near $1,000 per day). So nearly everyone at the track chooses to run their own vehicle; Whether it is their daily driver, weekend cruiser, or purpose built race car. Read on for more information about what cars are good for track days, you may be surprised.
11) Does my car need a rollcage?
NO! The best thing you can do for your first track day is bring a BONE STOCK car. No eBay turbo, no engine work, no racing seats, etc. A Mechanically sound car with relatively fresh DOT4 brake fluid, good brake pads, and tires is a great starting point.
Modifications to a car quickly become a slippery slope of added rules, lost reliability, and exponentially higher running costs. While Safety improvements to your car are important as you gain experience, many over-zealous modders do things like add seats and/or harnesses incorrectly, actually making the car less safe than it was delivered from the factory. Before you modify the interior of your car, be sure you know exactly what you’re doing, and how safety components work as a full system.
10) Can I bring a convertible to the track?
Yes and no. While many modern convertibles are allowed, there are some notable exceptions. A Miata is one car that does require the addition of an aftermarket rollbar . Check with your club’s rules or reach out to the club’s administration to find out where your convertible falls.
Beyond the approved list of cars, know that there are certain requirements for what type of rollbar you bring. Generally most rollbars will need diagonal bracing an at least 4 mounting points. Anything marketed as a “Style Bar” falls under the “mousetrap” designation and is not allowed. Rollbars will also require high-density (often SFI rated) padding to protect your helmet from direct impact to a steel bar.
9) My Car is NOT fast, Can I bring it to a track day?
YES! Your car is slow? That is fantastic! While manufacturers keep pumping out “Track Edition” after “Track Edition” there is a secret that people who go to the track already know: These ultra fast production cars are NOT good cars for MOST people to bring to the track.
The truth is, most modern performance cars are so fast that they are extremely hard to drive at their limit, and driving them hard wears out their tires and brakes very quickly. Some are even so high-strung they can’t actually complete a more than a few hard laps without overheating and going into a limp-mode.
Modern advanced traction control systems go to extreme lengths to compensate for errors in driving and make learning foundations especially tough. The computer’s corrections are often so seamless that a novice driver doesn’t know they did something wrong. However, many modern cars are so fast these systems are absolutely necessary to keep a novice driver (and their instructor) safe… So it’s a lose-lose for everyone but the driver’s ego.
I’m not saying you made a bad choice buying the latest M3, Corvette, or Hellcat Challenger, just don’t expect it to be an easy or affordable car to pursue a big track habit with.
If you wish to go to the track and “Win” HPDE by being the fastest car in your group, go ahead. If you want to go to the track, have fun, learn a lot, and not spend $1,000 in tires for one weekend… a “slow” car like a Mazda Miata or Subaru/Scion BRZ/FRS may be the right car for you.
8) Do I need to buy a helmet?
Not quite. A Helmet is required for track days, but most clubs do offer loaners. Feel free to try out a track day (or a few) before you make the sizable investment on a helmet. Make sure to confirm with the club that you can reserve and rent a helmet as some areas and clubs have limited availability. Some areas are also holding off on rentals as a COVID-19 precaution.
7) My Neighbor has a cool old Motorcycle Helmet in their shed, can I use it?
No, you cannot use that. To get on track, you need a current SNELL Rated helmet. “SA” (Special Application) should be accepted everywhere, most Tracks and clubs allow “M”(Motorcycle) Rated for HPDE. Simply having a “DOT” rating is not enough (Though many SNELL rated helmets also carry the DOT stamp). As of 2021 most clubs are only allowing Snell SA2015 and SA2020 rated helmets.
6) Do I need a fire suit?
No. For your first HPDE all you generally need are closed toed shoes, long pants, and a helmet. Some clubs require long sleeves.
But what if you HAVE a fire suit and other safety gear? You absolutely can wear them from your first track day. While the risk of crash, and especially fire are VERY low, many like the extra layer of protection, especially in a heavily modified car.
5) How do I sign up for a track day?
We mentioned clubs who put on track days earlier in the post. You may already have a preferred club to go with, but some simply choose based on their availability. My favorite website for finding track schedules and events is HPDEJunkie. HPDEJunkie lists nearly every HPDE event for every track in the entire country. From there, you will get linked you to either a Club’s site, Track’s own site, or outside scheduling website like MotorsportReg.
At this point, there are hundreds of different clubs who offer track days, from various regions of NASA and BMW CCA, to many smaller local entities. One word of caution: There is a broad range of mindsets between different clubs and even different regions of the same club. While some carry great insurance policies, have strict technical-inspection, and place their drivers in appropriate run groups: Others may have a reputation of being a bit more lax. My comfort level falls somewhere in the middle- but I suggest finding groups with instructors for new drivers, inspection of cars going on track, and reasonable expectations for on-track behavior.
4) Does my regular car insurance cover me if anything happens?
First off, crashes in HPDE-1 are VERY rare. Unfortunately, while they have in the past, typical car insurance companies no longer cover these rare on-track incidents. You may see a few anecdotes online where people had incidents covered, but most are old stories and they were few and far between even then. There ARE companies who do offer specific HPDE Event insurance for your car, but it is quite expensive and after a few weekends the cost often exceeds what you would pay for a typical Miata anyway.
If you are bringing a very expensive, newer car to the track, I recommend at least researching an insurance policy. Especially if you have a large loan on the vehicle. But I still say it is best to have a track car that wouldn’t cripple you financially if (in the extremely rare event) you had to write it off.
3) How do I find sponsors?
No one really sponsors drivers at HPDE Events. Even at the racing level, sponsors are quite rare. There just isn’t the viewership that would provide sponsors that return on their investment. While there are some sponsors who provide parts or provide small chunks of the costs for some racing drivers, don’t expect to be able to participate in this hobby for free… Read through other posts on this site to get the most track miles out of your dollar, and click the link below for a more in-depth explanation of sponsorships.
2) What do I need to bring to the track?
There are dozens of posts on the internet for what you need at your first track day: To sum it up as quickly as possible:
- Your Car
- Masking Tape or Vinyl/Magnetic numbers for your car
- Your “Gear” (Helmet (if you have one),
- Appropriate Clothes: Long pants, Shoes. And anything else depending on the weather (Jacket, Hat, Umbrella, etc). I strongly suggest packing flip-flops or sandals for rainy days, I’ve tried and tried unsuccessfully to keep my shoes dry on wet days. The best bet may be to leave your shoes in your dry car and embrace the water.
- Water and Snacks
- A Basic Tool Kit
- Tire Pressure Gauge and Air Pump
- Torque/Lug Wrench
- Extra Oil, Brake Fluid, and brake pads (If you have them).
- A bag to store everything you clear out of your car
1) Can I bring a friend to the track?
YES! Friends are very welcome! Track days have some incredible cars and scenes, but they may get a hair boring for people that aren’t driving… So, convince your friends to drive too! Many clubs also run referral programs so take advantage of discounts for both of you.
Unable to convince a friend to come along? No problem. Track-day people have been the most welcoming community I’ve ever been a part of. There are plenty of people who come alone and are also looking to hang out, socialize, and debrief between sessions. Don’t be intimidated by advanced drivers, racers, or even race teams… Unless someone has just broken their car or are rushing to finish a repair in time for their race, nearly everyone at the track is more than happy to hang out, chat, and show off their gear.
This all seems expensive. How do you have a website claiming to not spend money, then say I need to spend so much of my money signing up for these days?
There’s an old cringeworthy joke out there: “Why is Divorce so expensive? Because it’s worth it” While I loathe the sentiment, the content rings familiar with track days. “Why do we pay so much money to drive our cars around a silly track? Because it is worth it.“ No one gets rich putting on track days: Plenty of clubs are out there scratching by, or even losing money. Rental costs are high, insurance rates are high, events take a ton of time to setup and run.
People do the work of putting on events, and other people pay entry fees and spend endless time and money on their cars because this stuff truly is life changing.
The trick, (And the goal of this site) is to be smart about your spending: The car you choose to drive, the gear you buy, and how you run – in order to maximize the amount of time on track you can get within your own budget.
What else? Do you have any other questions? Is there something I missed?
My question to you, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? My only regret with track days is taking so long to start doing them.
Since I first wrote this post I’ve gotten some more questions and will use use this space to add some additional parts:
Bonus 1) Where do I stay when going to the track for a full weekend?
AT THE TRACK! There are usually a few options for hotels within a somewhat reasonable distance from race tracks, but all the best action is AT the track, read below for 11 reasons why.
Want to keep reading about your First Track Day? Check out: What to Expect at your first Track Day: A Day in the life – A Beginner’s HPDE Guide