The fundamental idea behind the track day concept is the ability to enjoy your car, and exploit its performance in a safe, controlled environment. It’s essentially a driving haven where you can advance your own driving skillset, and get close to the performance limits of their vehicles without fear of legal reprisal, or endangering the public.
But contrary to somewhat common outside perception, race tracks and track days are not a sort of anarchical, dangerous driving environment where participants can simply “let loose.” There are written and unwritten rules of conduct that work to keep vehicles intact, race tracks undamaged, and everyone – from the drivers to the track workers – safe.
So follow these guidelines out on track and make driving friends, not foes.
Performance driving on track is an individual pursuit, but unlike in other soloist hobbies you’ll be far from alone during the activity.
A posture of high awareness and courtesy toward fellow track day participants is mandatory. Always be in tune with what’s occurring around you on track. Driver obliviousness and the resulting frustration from other participants can touch off on-track incidents.
The expectation of and predictability of passing is key to the safety of track days. The “okay” to pass is signaled by the car ahead, and a pass should not be initiated until that signal is given. Overtaking the car ahead by surprise is asking for trouble.
(The exception being advanced run groups with some track day organizations.)
Tailgating is hazardous activity on the 405; on the race track it’s exponentially more dangerous.
Due to the speeds involved on track, the margin for error is reduced. Always maintain a safe gap to the car ahead so if he or she brakes or loses control unexpectedly, or otherwise significantly alters pace, you have the ability to react and avoid.
It’s also important to recognize a possible mechanical issue and give space to that car. If a car slows suddenly, or seems potentially disabled, be sure to give that vehicle space, and watch for any hazards associated with a mechanical issue, e.g. oil on track.
“That guy” who signals a pass and then engages in a drag race with the car behind is well-known, and not very beloved in track day circles.
If a pass signal is given, the goal should be to make the pass as straightforward and easy as possible for the car behind. For many high horsepower cars this means lifting off the throttle, maintaining, or even reducing speed.
Even if you find yourself behind an oblivious driver, don’t engage in temperamental, frustrated driving behaviors.
Often the best solution to this problem is to exit the track, proceed through the pit lane, and then rejoin free and clear of the oblivious driver at the starter’s direction.
Corner workers and flag stations are strategically placed around the race track to provide critical information to drivers about what’s occurring on track.
Be sure to learn the flags, note the positions of the flag stations around the track, and follow the flag guidance without exception.
If experiencing a mechanical issue on public roads it’s protocol to pull off the road, exit the vehicle, and evaluate. The protocol is the opposite for track days.
If you’ve gone off-track and are stuck, or are experiencing a mechanical issue and stopped out on track, stay in your car and wait for the track workers to arrive.
Safely joining the race track relies on the starter’s awareness of track conditions at pit exit. If numerous cars are in the pit exit area, the starter will delay track entry. From the driver’s vantage point sitting in pit lane, the vehicle density and track conditions at pit exit (track entry) are almost always unknown.
Always wait for the starter’s clear go ahead and signal to join the track, then observe the blend line as you merge onto the track.
“Getting back,” “teaching a lesson” – these are not themes that can be carried out on track. The potential consequences of frustrated man and machine at triple digit speeds are just too great.
Never retaliate. Report any participant transgression to track management and/or the track day organization.
If a (stationary) yellow flag occurs during a session, this is a signal that all cars must proceed with caution. Passing is not permissible.
Most tracks begin each track session with a stationary yellow flag. This is intended for drivers and cars to warm up, and get back up to speed before the green flag flies.
Like a stationary yellow during a track session, there’s no passing on this initial out lap. Cars, tires, and drivers warm up at different paces. You’ll need to work within the pace set by the car(s) ahead to start the session.
The checkered flag marks the end of the session, and the start of a “cool down lap” from the start/finish line where the checkered flag waves to the pit entry.
The idea is to allow the vehicle’s components to cool down. A good rule of thumb: An ideal pace on a cool down lap does not require the use of brakes.
If you’re new to the track day hobby, you’re a Novice and requiring instruction no matter the car.
For more experienced track day participants, the decision of which run group to join isn’t always straightforward. An advanced group at your home track might be equivalent to an Intermediate group with another organization and track. For example, the advanced run groups at Florida race tracks often involve full-fledged international race teams practicing and gathering data.
If you’re not sure and joining a new track and organization for the first time, solicit their feedback on which run group to join.
This isn’t an opportunity to work on drifting and creative driving like Gymkhana. Intentional drifting is most often prohibited by race tracks and track day organizations, and is likely to attract a black flag.
If you have a negative read of a potential pass – for example, you sense that you’re too close to a pending corner or brake zone – then wave it off. You don’t have to accept a pass when signaled by the car ahead.
Sometimes your vantage point and read of the situation could be at an advantage compared to the car ahead that is signaling the pass.
Even if you’re driving in control and not looking to race during a track session, it’s human nature to want to keep pace.
However, depending upon the experience level of those in your session, their track knowledge, car capabilities, and other variables, this can quite quickly put a driver outside of his or her own limitations.
Recognize your limitations and those of your vehicle, and never push beyond them trying to keep pace.
There’s no shame in driving at your own pace no matter where that lands you in the “hierarchy” of your run group. As most track day managers will remind participants, there are no trophies awarded at the end of a track session.
For more track day content, check out our Beginner’s Guide to Track Days.
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