Getting on Track

In-car footage from an RSC Motors client in a 981 Cayman S

As a relative newcomer to track driving, I’m going to share my experience getting on track – which seems to be pretty common.

Stages of Getting the Track Bug

  1. Automotive Passion
  2. Frustration with Public Roads
  3. Research (this phase can last a looonng time)
  4. The Two Step
  5. Pulling the Trigger
  6. Driver Education
  7. Upgrading Your Hardware

So you have a performance car or sports car (yes, those are different things). But have you ever been able really open it up? Maybe don’t answer that question, especially if you live in Virginia.

Experiencing the full capabilities of your car cannot be done safely or legally on public roads. So what to do?

For brevity, we’ll just assume you’ve already graduated from Passion to Frustration and are now doing your Research.

Have you identified tracks near you? Clubs that can help get you started? Track Day insurance for your sometimes ride?

You’re probably now in something of a Two Step – leaning forward, and then stepping back. I can’t wait, let’s go! Followed by, Hold on, wait a minute…

Let’s get one thing out of the way right off: Motorsports are dangerous.

Can you take precautions to reduce risk? Yes, and you most certainly should. But can you eliminate risk? Most definitely not.

Stuff breaks. People make mistakes. You are going to make mistakes, probably a lot of them. That’s how you’re going to learn. Case in point: Finding out first hand how weight transfer affects gripwhen you come in to a corner too hot and then brake hard. Yep, snap spin. Because you just took away a lot of the grip from the rear end.

So should you fire up your brand new Stingray or GT4 for hot laps at the next public track event? It depends…

Maybe once, until the bug takes you? Then you’re going to want dedicated machinery, for all the reasons below.

Power Isn’t Everything You can’t be serious. Oh, we are. Yes, power is intoxicating. But it’s not necessarily how you go fast.

Braking is actually everything. And many powerful cars are also astonishingly heavy.

And how do brakes dissipate all the energy from the speed these cars can achieve? They make heat. LOTS of heat. Which compromises their efficiency. In a big powerful car, you might be able to get one hot lap in before the pedal goes all mushy and takes the fun away.

Corners are really where fast drivers and fast cars excel. And to excel at this, you want the lightest car possible, with exceptional suspension underpinnings and upgraded brakes. And probably with a lot of weight removed from carpet, sound insulation, and extra seats. AND for safety reasons you’re going to want a full racing harness and probably at least a partial roll cage. Yes, rollovers happen – as do other incidents. See above, motorsports are dangerous…

Are you telling me I need a dedicated track car? Yes, that’s exactly what we’re saying. But wait, you’re biased, don’t you sell track cars?

That’s exactly why we got into the track car business…you don’t want to put your daily driver or weekend runabout through this kind of abuse. And it will absolutely lower the resale value of your car if you do, possibly by a lot.

If you drive your favorite car on the track, you’re not going to get everything out of it, which is probably not so much fun as it could be – and it will certainly not help you learn anything to become a better driver. You need to be able to take some appropriate risks and find the limits – which means you’re going to exceed those limits some of the time. If you have an off-course excursion in a dedicated track car, you can just hammer out your damage and get back on track. But if it’s your road car, then now you have problems. And how are you even going to get back home if you stuff it…?

Okay, that’s all well and good – but how much is all this going to cost? Maybe less than you think. You can get out in anything from a front-wheel drive Golf, to an old rear-drive BMW, to a Boxster or Cayman like the one below, all the way up to highly modified GT3s and race cars.

In fact, if you’re just starting out, one of the very best cars to learn on is the seemingly humble Miata. That’s why you see so many of them on the track, and there are multiple race series based on them.

One other key consideration is whether or not your car is registered for the road as well as the track. Again, if it’s track only – you can focus it more for track driving without having to consider ride quality or noise, vibration, and harshness. If it’s also a road car, you’ll have to keep it registered, inspected, etc. – and make compromises to accommodate driving to the track.

Either way can be more or less economical, depending on your goals. Do you need a trailer and a hauler? Do you want to lease a garage space at the track? Definitely talk to other drivers and to experts (yes, like us 🙂

And keep in mind that you don’t have to have everything figured out up front, you can learn as you go – and make corresponding upgrades to your hardware as your own skills develop.