Most people think you have to have an expensive sports car or high end performance parts before you can take the car to the track. This is wrong. You don't need any fancy or special go fast parts before you can go on track. Actually myself and many instructors would recommend against it. You can take most sedan or sports cars on track without any work other than standard maintenance. Stock cars without any modifications are just as welcome as highly modified cars. If you are a car enthusiast and interested in driving at the track, chances are you already have a car that will be well suited for the track.
Here are the basic items you are going to need:
- A helmet
- Car in good condition with current maintenance
- Open mind and willingness to learn
Most track groups require an automotive helmet, check with you event organizer. You can rent one for the day at low cost (~$25) before you decide to invest in your own helmet. The other thing you can do is borrow from a friend if they have the same size head as you, make sure it fits well.
Prior to going on track you should have the car in safe and good working order. Driving your car at speed on a track puts a lot more load and wear on many items including tires, suspension, brakes, transmission and the engine.
SUSPENSION, Wheels & tires
Suspension bushings and wheel bearings should be in good condition without any play or clunking, you can check this by jacking the car up and moving each wheel side to side. There should not be excessive play in the steering. The wheels should be round without any cracks or dents. Tires should have 50% tread life, tire wear from high speed cornering is greater than street driving.
Repeated heavy braking on the track will result in higher heat and wear in you brake system. Make sure there are no leaks, you have at least 50% on your brake pads or shoes, and your brake fluids are at the maximum level and clear. If you haven't flushed your brake fluid in the past 6-12 months it is recommended you flush the fluid and replace, preferably with high temperature synthetic fluid.
Engine & Transmission
Ensure there are no leaks, overheating or smoking issues. The last thing you want to do is have your cars engine let go on the track spewing slippery oil and coolant all over the track. Inspect oil and coolant levels and ensure they aren't low. Check that the battery is securely fastened in place with the terminals covered. Most cars have this already you just need to do a check. There should be no exposed wiring and a good seal on the gas cap.
Seal belts are in good condition without cuts in the webbing. The factory belts are OK. Check your seats are secure, you don't need a race seat. You will need to clean out the car and ensure there are no loose items rolling around, the last thing you want is an old water bottle getting under the brake pedal at the end of the front straight. You will often see people with a pile of items stored next to the car at the track. Natural fiber clothing with closed toe shoes are required by most event organizers check with them for specifics.
Your first track day will be exciting, fun and very humbling. You might be a good driver on the street but driving a car at the limit is a difficult skill to master. It is very humbling to have a new high performance car be passed by a Miata driven by a racer with years of experience. My advice is check your ego at the gate and come looking to learn and have fun.
Here is a list of event organizers for the San Francisco Bay Area that will let you drive on famous race tracks including Thunderhill, Sonoma and Laguna Seca. Almost all have a beginner group for you to get started, including class sessions and instructors to teach you the basics and help you throughout the day.
Speed SF: Website
Hooked on Driving: Website
SCCA Track Night In America: Website