It’s that time of year again; time to pull the cover off your car now that winter has passed. Yes, winter is a good time to spend with your family, but it’s also an even better time to get some of the items checked off your to-do list in the garage. With the shift in car show vibe from sit and watch to get up and play, we’re seeing more owners expressing interest in road racing.
To satisfy our curiosity we’re taking you along for an open track day event. We signed up for the Northern California Racing Club (NCRC) track day at Thunder Hill Raceway of Willows, California. NCRC is one of dozens of organizations covering tracks all over the country that facilitate you in getting on the track with both fun and safety in mind. Here we will cover the basic topics you need to consider before and during your first or next track day.
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Making a plan is the first thing to take care of. Once you’ve booked your event, think about the logistics. Most drivers’ meetings happen first thing in the morning, around 7 a.m. Depending on how far the track is from home base, it may mean a 3 a.m. wake-up call. It’s really important to have a good night’s sleep before a big day like this, so staying at a track-adjacent hotel will give you a lot more time in the morning to relax. Splitting a hotel bill with a buddy is a small price to pay for a better start to your day. Weekday events often offer less congestion, compared to the more popular weekend events. If you can pull it off, we recommend a weekday event, especially if it’s your first time.
Before you even start packing, you need to get your car in order. NCRC has a downloadable tech inspection sheet that allows the owner/driver to do a self-inspection at home before the event. The checklist is very basic, and checks for loose, faulty, leaky, and missing equipment. This organization believes that we’re all adults and can do an honest inspection ourselves. Most others will have a final inspection on site before the event. This isn’t a place to cheat; the inspection checks for safety. If you’ve got a violation it’s in your best interest to fix it, not hide it.
The first thing in the morning is the drivers’ meeting. Though seemingly dry, this meeting is a crucial part of a successful track day. This is where they cover what each flag translates to, as well as on-course etiquette, safety, and special instructions for pitting and staging. They let the more experienced groups leave earlier in the meeting and keep the newbies around for additional instructions. This is a great opportunity to ask questions, so don’t hold back. Chances are if you’re questioning certain things, there’s a high chance someone else is wondering the same thing.
At this track day the groups were defined by passing rules. The beginner group (Solo) only permits passing on straights, which allows the less-experienced driver to focus solely on their driving where it’s most critical. The intermediate group (Point-by) requires the slower car to provide a signal to the faster car of where and when to pass. This can be on a straight or in a turn but the slower car has control. The most advanced group (Race) has no requirement for a Point-by so drivers can pass at any time. This group is for very experienced drivers and is usually the gateway between open track days and real competition driving. It’s much better for a track adviser to suggest you move up a group than down, so choose a comfortable level, no matter how many times you’ve seen the track.