April is here and track season is just a few weeks away! It is said that Minnesota has two seasons: winter and road construction, or as I think of them – track and no track. Although it is snowing as I write this, it is time to start thinking about getting you and your car ready to get on track. If you have done this before you probably have a system in place. Generally, like Minnesota seasons, I think of track preparation as having two categories, equipment (car, tires, helmet, etc…) and the driver (mental preparation and planning).
Each HPDE event has tech inspection requirements that your car needs to pass before it is allowed on track. The areas of inspection target the interior, exterior, suspension, running gear, engine compartment, and trunk of your car. And the inspection generally has two categories, Before the Event and Day of the Event. See the Pre-Event Technical Inspection sheet from the North Star BMW Sommer Schnell website https://www.northstarbmw.org/sommerschnell as a guideline. If you have never done an HPDE track event always start with the tech inspection form used by the event organizer.
Before the Event
Two to four weeks before your track weekend is a good time to inspect and complete maintenance and service items like changing the engine oil and filter, flushing the brake fluid, inspecting brake pads and rotors, tires, coolant, shocks, struts, transmission, and bushings. These are the things that if a repair or replacement is required, you want to leave plenty of time to get the work completed. Is your helmet up to date? Check the requirements for your event but in 2022 you will need a Snell SA2015 or SA2020 helmet.
Day of the event
The morning of a track day: full tank of gas, oil topped off, tire pressure set, trunk completely emptied out, interior of the car (floormats, anything in the glovebox and seatback pockets) completely emptied out, camera and phone mounts properly secured. Did you remember to bring water and snacks?
My mental preparation and planning for the 2022 track season began right after my last event of 2021 at Brainerd. In the first week or so after that event I scribbled notes about ideas and things to think about for the next year. My notes are usually a mix of improvements to make to the car and how to further the development of my skills as a driver. One of my notes from 2021 led to the writing of this column.
My notes about improving the car will often become action items. For 2022 I purchased four-point harnesses. They are a significant upgrade on the stock three-point seat belts, will help keep my body securely planted in the seat, eliminate unwanted body movement, and provide a better connection to, and feel for the car.
Mental preparation and planning can also be separated into Before the Event and Day of the Event.
Before the Event
If this is your first or second track day, or you are at a track you have never driven, here are some suggestions for Before the Event prep.
First, read and watch everything the event organizer puts out on their website, sends to you, or recommends that you read and watch. And then read and watch it a second time. And a week later read and it all over again a third time. Overkill? Possibly, but there is important information that you don’t want to miss, such as:
Where is registration?
What do I need to bring to registration?
Is there an additional tech inspection at registration?
Where is the paddock, how do I get there, and where can I park?
What if I have guests, how do they get approved to enter the track facility?
Where is the nearest gas station?
What safety procedures do the organizers and track follow?
What safety flags will be used by the corner workers and what do they mean?
What are the passing zones and procedures for my run group?
Second, print out a map of the track (usually the event organizer will send one to you) and make a note of how many and what type of corners there are. Sometimes you can find a topographic map of the track that will give a sense of any changes in elevation. Some tracks like Brainerd measure elevation change in inches, others like Road America and Watkins Glen measure it in feet.
Third, find in-car video of the track and use the track map while watching the video to learn the flow of the track. Do it until you can identify where on track the car in the video is without having to look at the map. Extra points if you can visualize the track with your eyes closed and identify each corner by number.
I find watching track video to be a useful tool to learn basic information about a track. Before I went to Brainerd for the first time, I had probably watched two to three hours of video. While I did not have a physical understanding of what driving the track felt like, I knew the layout, the corner numbers, and could picture it with my eyes closed. I did the same thing before going to Road America the first time, and to other tracks that are “new to me.”
I find track videos by searching YouTube. For example, if I was going to Brainerd with North Star BMW, I would search for videos using North Star BMW and Brainerd International Raceway, or Sommer Schnell as the search terms. Or see if the event organizer has linked to any videos, those are usually good ones to watch. The North Star BMW website has a link to resources that will (soon, we promise!) have links to videos of our instructors and members driving at Brainerd.
Keep in mind that video of other drivers is just one tool you can use to learn an unfamiliar track or refresh your memory if you have not driven a track in a few years. Remember, your speed, braking, and turn in points will be different.
Fourth, if you have driven the track in the past and took notes about it, now is a good time to review those notes and refresh your memory. I try to clean up my notes, because as you can see from the photos below, my handwriting is illegible enough that often even I am unable to decipher what I wrote.
Fifth, think about and write down what you want to get out of the weekend. Keep your goals simple. Having fun, learning more about your car, meeting new people, and leaving wanting to return are great goals for a first track experience. If you have been on track a few times and are familiar with the track, perhaps your goals while including the above, will also include working on the braking point for turn three, improving your vision and awareness, and making smoother inputs with the steering, throttle, and brake (always something to work on).
Day of the Event
Get plenty of sleep and arrive at the track early. Leave enough time to empty out your car, complete any last-minute mechanical things such as mounting your track wheels and tires, finish registration, read through any last-minute handouts, look at your schedule for the day, figure out where you need to be and when, attend the driver’s meeting, and if you have not already done so, meet your instructor.
Finally, have fun. And just like Minnesota has two seasons, there are two types of drivers, those who have driven on track and will be back, and those who have yet to do so.
Cameron Parkhurst lives in St. Paul and wishes he had gone go-karting when he was five.