Very few activities measure up to the excitement and thrills of driving on a race track. Track day anticipation and thoughts about high performance driving can sometimes overshadow a principal requirement: Your car must be up to the task. Driver enthusiasm must be matched by the car’s condition and durability. For high performance driving, it takes two to tango.
If your car’s been developed and manufactured in the last decade or so and well-maintained, then you’re in good starting shape. Modern performance cars are mechanically robust in stock form, and many are even equipped to handle the stresses of high performance driving. However, don’t take the preparedness of any vehicle for granted. Mechanically sound for public road purposes, and mechanically sound for track driving are two very different benchmarks.
In a single track day, even over the course of a few track sessions, certain components of your vehicle will endure more use, wear and tear than in tens of thousands of miles of standard road use.
In the lead up to your track day, budget time to conduct a full mechanical check of your vehicle. Nearly all track day organizations will require you to “sign off” on the mechanical condition and preparedness of your vehicle with their own set of criteria (commonly referred to as a “Tech Sheet”). So you know what to expect, here are some of the key points of mechanical evaluation and background on why each area requires a close look.
IMPORTANT: HONEST SELF-EVALUATION IS REQUIRED – IF YOU ARE NOT SCHOOLED AND INFORMED ENOUGH TO CONDUCT A TRUE MECHANICAL CHECK, BE SURE TO HAVE YOUR VEHICLE EVALUATED BY AN AUTOMOTIVE PROFESSIONAL BEFORE YOUR TRACK DAY.
It’s not just because we’re preoccupied with tires. Our favorite automotive subject matter is pivotal to vehicle preparedness, track day enjoyment and safety.
Think of your vehicle’s tires as being on the “front lines” of a track day. Your ability to safely begin and complete a high performance driving event hinges on your tires.
Check them carefully to be sure there are no cracks, bulges, splices, tears, or any structural issues whatsoever. You’ll get closer to your tires’ maximum speed rating on track than anywhere else. To do so safely, they have to be in excellent condition.
Tires must have tread sufficient to complete the event, but this is where things get a bit grey.
Motorsport tires begin life, and are designed to function with shaved, low tread depth. High performance street tires, which are subject to a more common tread depth evaluation, will wear more quickly on track and should not be run to as low a tread depth as motorsport (track) tires.
Be aware and informed on the tire type fitted to your vehicle. Begin any track day with tire life/tread depth that should be adequate to complete the event, and then monitor tire wear throughout the day. Always stop well short of the point where the tire tread layer is worn through and tire cords exposed.
If a tire has been previously punctured and repaired, check with your track day organization about its use on track. Some organizations prohibit even professionally repaired tires from being used. Regardless of policy, an abundance of personal caution is prudent here. Remember, your tires will be stressed on track more so than in any other driving environment. If in doubt, replace the tire and avoid the risk.
To extend the life of your tires on track tire pressure adjustments are absolutely necessary.
Ask any track day veteran who has lost brakes on track, and he or she will tell you it’s an experience to be avoided.
You can avoid this nightmare scenario by making sure that your brake pads have more than ½ life remaining to start the track day. Check rotors (aka discs) for cracks and questionable wear. If your rotors are near the end of their service life for public road purposes, they’re very likely unfit for a track day.
Equally important is your brake fluid and the fluid management components. Check your brake lines and calipers for any signs of leaking. A loss of containment at the bleed points of your brake calipers compromises the entire braking system.
The condition of the master cylinder should be verified. Brake pedal should be firm. A brake fluid flush prior to a track day is always a good idea.
Make sure your brake lights are fully functional – you definitely want those behind you to know when you’ve applied the brakes.
Like tires, monitor the condition of your brakes – especially your brake pad depth – throughout the course of a track day.
For additional braking durability and longevity on track, consider high performance (racing) brake pads and a high boiling point brake fluid.
Last but not least, do not set the parking brake after a track session, and avoid sitting stationary with your foot pressed on the brake pedal when components are hot.
Must be true, absent of cracks, or any structural issues. Wheel bearings should have no play.
Double check to be sure lug nuts are torqued to vehicle specification.
Check for any signs of deterioration on the bushings, pivot points, ball joints. Verify that shocks are not leaking.
Steering linkage movement should be free and smooth lock to lock.
Suspension inspection is also a good opportunity to get a look at the underside of the vehicle – confirm that your exhaust system is fully bolted and secured. Verify the condition of CV joints and drive axle, check for leaking.
So many avoidable track day incidents have started with a fluid spill. A spill on track spells trouble for you and potentially everyone else in the session. Check all of your hoses to make sure they’re in excellent condition and secured tightly.
Other inspection items in the engine bay:
Run through this checklist, add any additional points of inspection that are due on your track day Tech Sheet, and don’t forget to show up with a full tank of fuel.
Even if tip-top condition is verified ahead of your track day, always listen to your vehicle and heed warning signs. Mechanical condition is evolving, especially on track, so never ignore potential signs of trouble.
Be safe and enjoy your track day!