Attending your first track day is like having kids.  If you wait until you are ready, you will never do it.  Nevertheless, here are a few things I wish I knew before my first track day.

Brake Fluid Boils

Most people do not know this, but brake fluid often boils when put under heavy workloads.  If you have a natural talent for driving on track, you may just be able to put your brakes under a heavy workload and boil your brake fluid. Once your brake fluid has boiled, air will be introduced to the brake lines.  Air in your brake lines can cause your brake pedal to feel spongy and even go all the way to the floor in extreme cases.  

To avoid losing your brakes on track, I recommend flushing your brake fluid and replacing it with a  Dot4 brake fluid, specifically Castrol SRF fluid.  A lot of guys prefer Motul 660, but I have had bad luck with it myself. 

Tire Age and Pressure Matter

My first time at Sebring, a few laps into the second session, my brake pedal went to the floor at turn 7.  Here I am, going 120mph with my instructor in the passenger seat and I pushed my brake pedal to the floor only for nothing to happen.  I told him the brakes went out and I did my best to keep the car from hitting the wall. Luckily, I was able to get the car stopped after an off road excursion.   

After some research, I found out my tires were a few YEARS too old to run on track.  Make sure your tires are younger than 3 years old. Don’t be like me, running 6 year old tires. Also, make sure to know what tire pressures you should be running. As tires age, they dry out and become stiffer. This caused my traction control to apply the brakes throughout my laps, boiling my brake fluid.

If your tires are new and you run too much pressure, you will have the same grip issues.  High pressures reduce your contact patch with the track.  Most street tires will be happy around 35psi hot.  To get your hot pressures to the correct pressure, you will have to adjust them right after you come off track.  As a beginner, you will probably not put much heat in the tires. Starting with your cold pressure set to what you want your hot pressures to be will be a good starting point. More experienced drivers can add over 10psi by heating the tires, especially on a cold day. 

Track Layout

When I went to my first track day, I had watched a few videos of the layout at Sebring and assumed that was all I needed to know.  Whelp, I couldn’t be more wrong. When you get to the track, you will get information overload.  You will be getting your car ready, meeting your instructor, then hopping in the car for your first session.  Knowing the track layout will help you tremendously (I love that word.)  An easy way to get familiarized with the track layout is to buy the game “Forza” and drive your favorite track.  If you have a big budget, you can even get a simulator setup and download Iracing. Practicing the track in a game will get you a basic understanding of where to put the car on track, which will free up some of your brain cycles to learn everything else you need to know while spending valuable time on track. 

Your instructor does not know everything 

 Instructors are awesome, and they do have good intentions, but I have gotten terrible advice from instructors.  Several times, I have even gotten terrible point-by’s from instructors.  So, yes, listen to your instructor, but make sure to vet the information they give you.  For instance, when my brakes failed, my instructor had advised me to set my tire pressures to 38psi cold.  The operating psi of that tire should have been 35 psi hot, so that exacerbated the old age of the tire. It may be worth using a track car rental service like Skeeter Track Car Rentals for your first track event to ensure you get good advice. You could also luck out and get an awesome instructor.  

Flags

When you go out on track, there will be corner workers at every turn.  Their job is to ensure a safe environment for everyone, and the only way they can communicate with you is through flags.  Read our Flags write up by clicking here. 

When to give point-by’s

Your instructor will be there to give you this instruction, but if a car is in your mirrors, he is faster than you.  Typically, beginner groups will only be allowed to be giving point-by’s in the straights.  You should research the track layout to see where the straights are and what direction the upcoming turn is.  When you give a point-by, you want to stay on the racing line and point the car by in the direction of the upcoming turn. If the next turn is a right-hander, point them by to the right.

People on track are friendly

When you get to the track, know that nobody is there to judge beginners. They’re there to judge the people in the advanced groups who don’t give point-by’s correctly (or at all).  It seems like everyone out there wants to bring new people to the sport.  It is a pretty cool sport if you ask me.  So don’t be afraid to park next to someone in a similar car and rack their brain for some advice or borrow some tools. 

Record Your Laps

This isn’t super important, but what gets measured gets improved.  If you want to improve on your second track day, you will want to record your first.  It is also helpful to listen back to the tips from your instructor. Nowadays, there are several ways to do this which fit any budget.  You can get an app on your phone, I used to use the app “ Racechronopro” with an external gps and a GoPro. Nowadays I use a Garmin Catalyst to record video and data with the press of a single button. 

Look Far Ahead

Easier said than done, on track you want to look far ahead.  You tend to go where you look, so if you are looking at the apex when you are at the apex, you aren’t going to get to the track out point too fast.  I like to remind myself throughout the lap to look far ahead. It will help you on track. 

Do not use your e-brake until your brakes cool down

if you drive a manual car and you are like me, you automatically want to apply the hand brake when parking your car. This can ruin your track day. Hot pads can stick to a rotor and leave pad material on the rotor or even bind to the rotor, causing the rotor not to rotate. The pad being stuck to the rotor can also cause the rotor to warp. This is because the portion of the rotor which the pad is binded to will cool down at a slower rate than the rest of the rotor.

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