Preparation Before the High Performance Driving Event
Prior to attending the event, there are several things you should look over. They are pretty basic but all are important:
Brake Pads and rotors: One of the most important things when driving on a track is to have a good working brake system. Can you imagine going 100 mph on a straight only to get to a turn and find out that the brakes are not working properly? So the number one task is to check your brake pads and rotors. What type of brake pads do you need? Unless you are driving a high performance sports car, a Corvette for example, which already uses a very high performance brake pad, I would suggest you purchase a set of high performance brake pads for the front of the car. (Even in racing conditions, I often use stock rear pads with my front wheel drive car.)
Change your brake fluid if it has not been done recently. Flushing your brakes with a high quality brake fluid is very important and needs to be done at least once a year, especially when driving the car on a track. Changing your brake fluid is much easier to do yourself (with an assistant) than it may sound. Worst case, bring it to a garage and have them do it. Don’t underestimate the importance of doing this, or you may just find out the hard way.
Verify that your wheels and tires are in decent shape.
Do a suspension check. Jack up one side of the car at a time and pull on the wheel on the top and sides. There should be very little play, or as some may say, it shouldn’t “wobble.” This will help ensure that the car’s ball joints, wheel bearings, and tie rods are in decent shape.
Make sure the engine does not have any major leaks from oil or antifreeze. I am not talking about an occasional drip here and there.
If you have not changed your oil recently (within the past two months), it would be worthwhile to change it to help preserve your engine. You also need to make sure you have enough oil in your car so the engine does not starve for oil when going around the turns. But make sure you don’t overfill it.
Verify that the battery is secured. If it does not have a battery tie down bracket, go out to your local auto parts store and purchase one. These are usually sold for less then $10.00.
Verify that the brake lights work.
Helmet: Be sure to check the club’s helmet requirements. Do they accept motorcycle (M) helmets or do they require the helmet to be certified for automobiles (SA)? Also, assuming the club requires that the helmet has a Snell rating, what is the oldest year certification they will accept? Although some clubs may allow you to borrow a helmet, I suggest you get your own. It will be one less thing you need to worry about once at the event. Helmets are discussed in greater detail in the “How Safe is Club Racing?” section.
Do you need a membership in the club? Some clubs that host HPDEs require that you become a member of their club before you can participate in their events.
Determine if there are any club specific requirements. For example, all clubs I have participated with require entrants to wear long pants. (Yes, even during the hot summer months!) Some also have a requirement for entrants to wear long sleeve shirts made out of cotton.
Does your car meet the club’s requirements? For example, it is usually required for convertible cars to have a roll bar.
It would be a good idea to purchase a standard 5-gallon fuel jug. Most tracks have fuel pumps open for a specified period of time during the event, but it makes things much easier if you don’t have to worry about this. As an instructor, I always hear students panicking about what specific times the pumps are open. Bringing your own gas will also save you some money. If you use a fuel jug, it is highly recommended that you buy the gas as close to the track as possible to avoid transporting it very far in your vehicle. Transporting fuel can be hazardous.
People commonly ask about the type of tires that should be used. Unless you have a high performance sports car such as a Corvette, which already has very high performance tires, you should consider getting a set of rims and tires to use for HPDEs at some point. Why? Many tires are not capable of standing up to the beating they receive at the track and will get destroyed. Take a look at what happened when I tried using my standard street tires. The tire was not able to withstand the heat generated by driving on the track, which caused it to bubble. You have several options as to the tires you choose. One possibility is to use other people’s used race tires. You might be surprised at what people throw away, or are willing to sell for a very reasonable price, especially at the larger club racing events. This is yet another example of how going to races and speaking with people can benefit you. If you decide to get new tires, look for a tire that will last a long time, and don’t concentrate as much on what is the fastest tire. Now you need some rims. Unless you are absolutely certain that you will be using this car when you start club racing, don’t purchase an expensive set of rims. Just go out and find yourself some inexpensive rims, such as steel rims, that can be found at a junkyard. This extra set can also be useful when you begin club racing. They could be used for a set of practice tires, or for your rain tires.
There are many things to think about before the event, and creating a pre-event checklist will help ensure you have the things you need. Below is a checklist of the typical items you should bring with you to a HPDE:
Lots of water
Money for event and lunch
Club’s membership card (if required)
Tire pressure gauge
RainEx or other similar solution for the windshield
Car shop manual
Miscellaneous tools including: torque wrench, jack, and jack stands
Paper and pen
Extra engine oil
Spare tire (just in case!)
Because I do several events each year, I have assembled several of these items in cases ready to go. It makes things much easier, and you will be less likely to forget something.