It Can Be. Here’s the nitty gritty.
I have been track driving for three years, and have more than thirty track days at fifteen different tracks; I’m a solid intermediate driver. My husband, Ralph, has been tracking cars for over 25 years and is definitely an advanced driver with a hard core track car. You can read about how I got into the hobby myself in my story: how I went from stopwatch girl to girl racer here.
At most track days, I am among a handful of female drivers. But, like me, more and more women are getting into the hobby for the thrill, the skills and the fun! It is also very empowering and fulfilling!
It is still a predominantly male hobby, though, and can be intimidating to women. But it shouldn’t be! I have heard again and again instructors say that women are better students and drivers than men – because we listen and don’t think we know everything already!
Single men looking to meet women: you should take up ballroom dancing!
Single women: if you want to meet men, track days are where you need to be. All the single track/car guys that I know would LOVE to meet a nice woman who appreciates and enjoys cars (or at least tolerates their passion for the hobby).
First, What Exactly is a Track Day?
Often referred to as HPDE — or High Performance Driver Education, Event or Experience – track days are when people drive their own cars on a track for fun. Track day events are organized by the tracks, car clubs like Viper, Porsche, Audi, BMW and Alfa Romeo, private track day organizations, such as Chin Track Days, TrackDaze, 10/10ths Motorsports and 3 Balls Racing, and occasionally by private individuals and companies. Registration for a track day can cost $250 – $600 a day depending on the organization and track. Some organizations also require you to buy a membership (typically about $50 a year).
Track days start early with cars and trailers arriving, driver registration, tech inspection of vehicles, and a drivers’ meeting where rules, flags, passing zones, etc. are reviewed. Drivers divided into groups based on driving experience go out on the track for 20-30 minute sessions at a time. There are corner workers strategically located around the track who look for cars in trouble and other issues and communicate with drivers through different colored flags. Beginners usually go through a classroom session and are assigned an instructor to help them for the day.
Track days are not like races – you don’t all start together, there’s no winner that passes the finish line first, and contact between cars on the track is a big no-no. It’s all about improving your own driving skill and personal lap times.
Your Instructor: Your Best Friend
If you’re nervous about trying the hobby, take comfort in knowing that plenty of help and instruction is available. Most track days offer, or even require, classroom and in-car instruction for beginners. This is where, when and how you will learn the most! Instructors will show you the correct line to drive, help you learn when to brake, when to accelerate, point out the corner worker stations, help you look for flags, and watch your mirrors to let you know when someone faster is behind you and how to point them by.
There is no shame in working with an instructor. Even as an Intermediate driver now, I prefer someone in my passenger seat as a coach.
Track Driving is Available For a Wide Range of Budgets
You don’t have to be young, rich or even have a race car in your driveway to enjoy track driving; this hobby is for drivers tracking their completely off-the-dealer’s-lot daily driver, to drivers flying in to drive a car that a crew prepped and hauled to the track for them. We have a friend who even rented a Mustang to enjoy at a track day – although I’m not sure how car rental companies feel about this!
We started out on the ‘budget’ end. Ralph is a good mechanic, so at the beginning he drove his daily driver to the track with a few tools in the trunk, never thinking about what he would do if it broke down. After a few years (and it was clear this hobby wasn’t going away), we got an open aluminum trailer that we pulled with a Jeep Grand Cherokee. We brought a bag to stay overnight, more tools and a set of race tires. Just recently, after I got into the hobby, we got a stacker tracker (which holds two cars, one over the other) that we pull with a Ram 2500 truck.
As you get more serious about the hobby, costs can go up exponentially, such as a dedicated track car, a trailer, tires, brake pads, suspension upgrades, engine upgrades, a helmet, HANS device, racing seats and belts, registration fees, travel costs, track insurance…and on and on. But like any hobby, if you truly love it, it’s worth it.
Limiting Risks: Insurance and the Right Equipment Keep You Safe
This hobby has its risks, from damaging your car (a good reason to participate in a program at a racing school) to being injured in a crash. So being smart and covered are important.
Most regular auto insurance policies do not cover incidents that occur on, or even at, a track. However, there are companies that offer policies specifically for a track day. Hagerty and On Track Insurance are two examples, though your insurer may have a policy or rider you can add for the day. Track insurance will cost $200+, depending on the value of your car; it’s not required by track day organizers but they highly recommend it.
When it comes to safety, one mandatory item is a helmet. A good helmet is a worthwhile investment and can cost as little as $150, though many track day organizers have loaners you can borrow or rent. A good rule of thumb is to spend as much on safety as you do on performance upgrades!
Next for me will likely be a HANS device, which protects your head and spine from a whiplash effect in the event of a crash, and then possibly a 5 or 6 point racing harness (upgraded seat belts).
Track Driving is Better Than Sex. Really!?!
Among the events I’ve attended was a class at Bondurant Racing School with 4 girlfriends. In our group was a guy who received the class as a gift from his wife. At the end of the two days when we were receiving our certificates, he shared with the instructors and entire class that the past two days had been “better than sex!”
What makes this experience so good is that you really learn how to drive before you get out on the track. In a 1 or 2-day professional driving class you learn about vehicle dynamics, line theory and more – driving the RACING SCHOOL’s cars! This is a great gift and is fun to do on your own, with a family member, or with a friend. Some schools offer teen classes and women-only dates. Exercises include: accident avoidance, skid car (when you practice losing control and recovering), autocross, and lead/follow on the track – each helpful for everyday driving, too.
I learned the value of these classes recently at Indiana’s Putnam Park; I went into a corner too fast, lost control and did a complete 360. Luckily no one and no walls were near me, and I was easily able to gain control and get back on track. I am sure the skid car exercises taught me how to react.
How to Have a Great Track Experience? Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!
If you decide you are ready to give high performance driving a try, here are some recommendations:
1. Go first as a spectator: find a track buddy! Most track rats are eager to recruit others to join them in their addiction. Join them at the track as a spectator, ride along as a passenger, sit in on a classroom session, ride along in a Parade Lap at lunchtime. If you don’t know anyone who has this hobby, the websites Motorsportreg.com and Clubregistration.net let you search for events by type, organization, date or distance. You can also check out event calendars at a specific track or car club.
2. Get a good track car: There are many cars that are fun and handle well on the track – ranging from low horsepower, low cost, low-wear Miatas to high horsepower beasts like a Dodge Viper. And here’s a pro tip: The lighter and less horsepower the car, the longer the tires and brake pads will last.
I started with a manual transmission track car but switched to a car that I can leave in automatic or use paddle shifters; it’s one less thing to think about. Many cars also come with a track, dynamic or race mode, which further simplifies set-up for you.
3. Prep your car properly: Driving a car on the track takes special preparation. Find a good mechanic and someone experienced to help you at the track. Luckily, I have my husband Ralph as that person for me. I do know, that even as a beginner, you need to think about tires, brake pads, and high-temp brake fluid; and on track day, checking tire air pressure and tightening or ‘torquing’ the lug nuts on your wheels. Some track day organizers require tech inspection of your vehicle from a certified mechanic while others let you self-tech.
4. The night before and day of: Get plenty of rest, hydrate and remember to eat! You need to be on top of your game. If you’re up until 2am the night before working on your car, it may be best to sit this track day out. If you start losing focus on the track or get hot-headed because you got cut off by an aggressive driver, it’s definitely time to get off the track and take a break.
5. Find the right track day organization for you: The various car clubs, private track day organizations and tracks that organize track days themselves each have a different personality. Although, every track day drivers meeting stresses “SAFETY FIRST,” organizers run their programs differently regarding passing rules, changing groups, etc. Some have skill building for every participant, others just for beginners. Do you like a more strict or laid back approach? Find the organization where you feel comfortable.
Go For It. You Know You Want to!
There are so many positives to this hobby: the wow of cool race cars, the thrill of speed, the sense of empowerment and conquering your fears, the excitement of the kill – I mean, the carefully executed pass. The camaraderie is also awesome. Track people are great – nice, friendly, helpful and there’s very little drama.
Of course there are negatives too: THE COST, the long hours on the road, the super early mornings, the truck stop food, the mediocre hotels, the waiting until it’s your turn to go back out on track…did I mention the cost?!?!
There is also the very real risk of damaging your car or someone else’s, or worse, injuring yourself or someone else. Knock on wood, major incidents happen very rarely. You can minimize risk by preparing, being smart, and knowing your car and your personal limits.
Find Your Zen
In the Netflix series, Abstract: The Art of Design Ralph shared the deeper meaning of high performance driving for him: “When I’m driving a car, literally, the world melts away. You and the machine meld together. Everything kind of goes in slow motion, and you’re dancing with the car…. I come alive in a way.” When everything is going right, it can be your zen moment.
If you’ve driven on a track or are thinking about taking the plunge, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please share in the comments section below!