7 essentials you can't afford to forget on track day.
With track-fever affecting more and more of us each weekend, I thought I'd share my two cents and hopefully prevent that early morning panic when you're at some racetrack in the middle of nowhere like Chuckwalla Raceway (a solid hour from any sort of town), itching to get that adrenaline fix and realize you forgot something.
When it comes to protecting your noodle, there’s one rule you never want to break: DON’T CHEAP OUT!
This may seem like common sense to most, but believe it or not, some people find the extra savings of buying the least expensive thing out there worthwhile because they can then afford that fart-can muffler or carbon fiber shifter knob…because racecar.
Thankfully, pretty much all of today's racetracks, track day groups, and car clubs require Snell-rated helmets that are in good, safe condition. The Snell Memorial Foundation provides a third party rating separate from the manufacturer or the DOT, and through a rigorous testing procedure compiles an up-to-date certification system every five years for motorsport related helmets. In car-related motorsport, the SA2015 (Special Application 2015) is the most recent and, depending on the organization, is usually good for up to ten years (2025) as long as it is in good condition.
Because these 2015 ratings have just come out, 2010-rated helmets tend to be more affordable and can still last you until 2020 depending on group regulations. Regardless, take care of it and it will take care of you!
Once you’ve narrowed it down to Snell-rated helmets, make sure you get something comfortable, fits right, and suits your needs. I always recommend full-face helmets even in hard-top street cars because of the visor which, if you get a tinted visor, is a life saver when the sun is blaring in your eyes or a little dust gets in the car as you’re flying through corners questioning your man/womanhood. Also, in the event of an accident, the chin piece and visor save you worlds of pain from getting slammed across the face by that airbag.
Lastly, keep your personal goals in mind. If you’re just going out for a day, maybe consider renting one if there’s an option, but if you plan on really pursuing the sport, then get something nice that will last you a while. Also keep in mind that some helmets are designed to work with head and neck restraint systems, forced air ventilation, or have an aerodynamic design for open cockpit racers and karts. Find the best fit for you and your personal needs.
2. Long Sleeves and Natural Fibers
This one is a hot topic at most track days, especially during those blaring summer days in Southern California, but many groups require long sleeve shirts and pants made from natural fibers (cotton NOT polyester). This is all in the name of safety because cotton burns while synthetic fibers melt, which as you can imagine leads to an extremely nasty and painful clean up in the local emergency room.
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There's a reason these guys dress up after all.
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No I don’t mean those black leather driving gloves with the knuckle holes. I mean real driving gloves. Most groups may not require this, but it may be a good investment. Especially so if you don’t want to be worried about death-gripping a hot leather steering wheel with nasty sweaty hands, while doing speeds well into the triple digits.
Once again the goal here is to get something that fits well and won’t interfere with that oh so precious “feel” of the wheel that performance driving requires. Some gloves also work better with certain steering wheel materials than others, but for the most part, the palms are generally lined with some sort of rubber or textured surface to relieve your forearms of death grip duty.
Proper footwear is another commonly overlooked item as many of us regularly drive in sandals, dress shoes, or even bare foot. Once again, you don’t need those $120 Ferrari-branded Pumas, but find something slim and flexible with a thin sole and no heal. Being able to know exactly where the pedals are and how much pressure you’re applying is absolutely vital, especially if you prefer three pedals and a gear lever. So leave those work boots and Air Jordan’s at home and grab that trusty old pair of Converse or Vans.
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5. Tire Pressure Gauge
Get a nice one with a big dial and never leave your house without it! As your tires heat up due to breaking, cornering, and accelerating, the air pressure inside will also increase a lot, and an over inflated tire hurts grip. Those pen-sized ones just aren’t very accurate and can be hard to read. Although most people are more than willing to lend you theirs if you're in a pinch. No one wants to be that guy who has to borrow tools, and I must admit, I have been that guy quite a few times.
6. Masking Tape, Duct Tape, Zip Ties
Many groups will require car numbers so they can identify which of the twenty black Porsches or BMW's you are. Unless you want to slap big racing numbers on your ride, just use masking tape and make them big. Just make sure you peel them off for the ride home. You may not want Highway Patrol to be able to pick you out that easily.
You can also use it to cover up your bumper and headlights if stone chips and track rash just aren’t your thing.
In terms of duct tape and zip ties, well, you know the routine. Sometimes things break or plastic fasteners decide to evacuate the premises. Just be prepared for it.
7. Properly Functioning Automobile
Surprisingly, this detail is often overlooked. Before you head to the track, you or a mechanic should go over the car to ensure it’s up to the task. Be certain your tires are in good shape, lug nuts are tight, brake pads have at least 50% left, nothing is making funny noises, and you’re not leaking anything.
Yes, I've been guilty of and witnessed all of the above leading to a few 7am runs to auto parts stores, rushed brake pad changes, coolant flushes in the paddock, and even a wheel departing the vehicle (luckily I was not driving for this one).
Rule of thumb: If you hear or feel anything unusual, come into the pits and look it over.
Brakes and tires take a beating and nothing is more terrifying than being out of control as a result of a tire failure or brake pedal dropping to the floor. That being said, make sure all your fluids have been changed recently and are not dripping out of their respective places. On behalf of everyone else at the track, please keep brake fluid, oil, coolant, and foreign objects off the track and in their respective places at all times. Also, clean out your car of any loose objects. That garage door clicker or cell phone has no place flying around the car or getting lodged behind a pedal.
In the end, no matter what the car, track driving puts a toll on your ride and you have to be sure it’ll do the job and allow you maximize your time on track, but more importantly, keep you safe!