By on July 15, 2010

If you want to spend fifty days a year on-track, or even twenty, every dollar must be watched. A decent hotel can run eighty bucks or so, including tax, near most East Coast venues. Two hotel nights an event, ten events a year, will run you sixteen hundred bucks minimum. A few years ago I came up with a way to save at least eight hundred of those dollars: drive to the East Coast the night before. Playing a bit of “pickup ball”, to be coarse, can save the other eight hundred. It’s also possible to sleep in bathtubs for free if you have generous friends at the event, so pack a pillow and thick blanket along with your torque wrench and HANS device.

Sunday night passes into Monday morning and I am on the road at 12:30AM to cover the 371 miles to Summit Point’s Main Course. There’s less traffic at night anyway, making it easier to read Wikipedia whenever I have 3G signal. I’ll pick a topic and wander through. From 2AM to 5AM or so I’m reading about the late Michael Bloomfield and the story of the “Super Session” record with Al Kooper and Stephen Stills. A few reviews, a variety of technical diatribes about the ’58-’60 Gibson Les Paul. The maple top is glued to the mahogany body, which stresses the maple under most conditions of heat and humidity, causing the guitar to resonate a bit more. Fascinating stuff. Yes, I read and drive. You’re not allowed to do it in press cars, but I hold the title for the Boxster and therefore if I want to spend the whole trip playing a Martin Backpacker on my lap I’ll damn well do it. If you want me to devote my full attention to the road, raise the speed limit to 195 and give me a plastic trophy for arriving at my destination before everyone else.

The last seventy or so miles takes place on a variety of two-lane roads. Now the morning trucks are out. Passing traffic in the Boxster avec trailer is tricky business but it must be done. Finally I’ve arrived and can get set up. Ugh. My latest set of $25 front tires is an inch too tall. They’re 40-series instead of 35-series. Makes a difference. I travel with a prybar for these occasions. I use the prybar to bend the spring mount on the shocks so the wheels will turn and head out.

Summit Main is an old-school track. It’s killed racers, and it’s even killed an HPDE participant as recently as 2007 or thereabouts. I encourage students to treat it with respect. The question I ask them is: “Where is your nose pointed when you are accelerating out of the corner?” Too often, the true answer is “at a wall” instead of “down the track”. If you are pointed at the open track or a nice safe runoff spot when something bad happens, you are likely to still be doing trackdays next year, rather than waiting for the orderlies to come change your diaper and move your arms to a different position for you.

Turn Four is one of my very most favorite places in the world. I’ve borrowed these photos from the Alfa Club.

What you cannot see is that it is seriously downhill and off-camber. Spec Miatas don’t need to lift for it, but they are also usually a bit iffy about full-throttle on the way out. This is what you see at the exit:

The tires on the left are calling your name as you head down the hill full-throttle. I drive this section with full commitment. It’s hard to beat the Boxster through this section; even the well-driven Ariel Atom ahead of me in one session swells a bit in the windshield as we dive to the inside of the 180-degree Turn Five. Once we reach the front straight he blasts off like a tube-frame Space Shuttle.

I have good students this weekend; a fellow in a 993 Carrera and someone with what amounts to a NASA GTS3-class BMW M3. Both of them suffer from what I think of as “street habits.” The first big street habit has to do with brake pressure. Imagine you are coming off the freeway toward the stop sign at the bottom of the ramp. How do you slow the car? Obviously, you start with light pressure on the brakes and build as you come closer to the stop sign. Your maximum pressure on the pedal probably happens right before you stop. That’s a street habit. All novice and intermediate drivers do it on the track as well.

What we should be doing is to quickly apply the maximum possible brake force at the brake marker and hold that pressure until we’ve arrived at the proper corner entry speed. Most people have never done this in their lives; maybe once, when a deer jumped out in front of them and stood there waiting for impact. On a racetrack we do it every corner, every time. If you brake too early… well, it didn’t kill you, did it?

Another street habit is unconsciously maximizing g-force in a corner. Imagine that you are at the Tail of the Dragon with all the jerkoffs in their S2000s and the neon rolling GSX-CHICANES. You’ll take each turn in a manner designed to press you into the seat with all the g-force possible, which means going in a little too fast, riding the outside of the corner, and not accelerating until you’re way past the exit. Your brain feels that cornering force and says, “Awesome! We’re really booking along, dude!” Meanwhile, I’ve slowed down more than you did, turned more than you did, and I’ve accelerated out of the corner while you’re marking time.

Both of my students acquire a lot of speed during their eight sessions and pass a lot of their session-mates. This becomes addictive so they start to get a little crazy when cars appear up the road ahead of them. They want to push harder, and the old subconscious tells them they need to go faster in the corners. Without really meaning to, they start turning in early without braking as much. That’s too fast so they correct by turning the steering wheel more, which slows the car. It feels very fast, but now the Corvette ahead of us is getting smaller, not larger. When in doubt, relax and drive your line.

By the end of the first day, I’ve been awake for 22 hours in solid heat, six of which I spent on a racetrack, and I’m totally ready to sleep in a bathtub. Good times! Tomorrow we’ll talk about two more street habits, and how tire heat affects the speed at which you’ll hit a tire wall.

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32 Comments on “Trackday Diaries: the long night, street habits on the track....”

  • avatar

    Wow, I have infinite respect for people who not only drive fast on an unbanked asphalt snake like that, but also drive it safe and well.

    • 0 avatar

      And I have zero respect for people who read while driving. Thanks for letting us know how cool you are, Jack.

    • 0 avatar

      You must be new here:

    • 0 avatar

      @hakata, ChesterChi or me? I’ve been here a long time. I drive 85 to 100 mph or the interstate (and well) but there’s a big difference between that and what Baruth drives on the hwy or on the track where in both cases he reaches “ludicrous speed.”

    • 0 avatar

      I have respect for people who respect Al Kooper.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m with ChesterChi. Driving is risky enough already without trying to be cute. On public roads, nobody drives in a vacuum. Other people are affected.

      As a former airline captain, the pilots that were too cool for school were usually the ones that eventually experienced a runway incursion, incident, or accident, or at the very least did the carpet dance in front of the chief pilot for some avoidable screw up.

    • 0 avatar

      Aw, come now. Naturally I was referring to CC and his shock, shock, I tell you, at our resident daredevil’s philosophy of personal safety. Jack’s come a long way since teaching the kids to bunny hop their Diamondbacks.

    • 0 avatar

      Quoted for awesomeness

      “You must be new here:“

  • avatar

    Haters gonna hate so just ignore them Jack. I love reading articles like these.

    • 0 avatar

      I like reading his articles as well, because they are generally entertaining and well-written, with a point of view that is not often heard (referring to the racing). But that doesn’t have anything to do whether or not distracted driving is okay, because it’s not. At this point, I think Jack says these things in order to get a reaction.

      But I’ll bite. Regardless of how good a driver a person is (or thinks they are), if you’re not paying attention when it matters, bad things can happen. Good drivers who pay attention still get into accidents, but not paying attention will change even a good driver’s reaction time. I’ve seen enough people drifting from lane to lane or obviously paying only periphery attention to the traffic around them because they were texting or reading a newspaper (usually on the steering wheel of their large SUV). Just because it’s YOUR car doesn’t give anybody the right to endanger the people in my car.

  • avatar

    +10 on the braking.

    A few years ago after playing follow the leader during my first track outing with an instructor we swapped out for a lap in the instructor’s car as a passenger. One turn was all it took to realize the “instant-on” of the brakes at the marker. The concept was explained to us prior but the reality of the feel was a kick to the chest as a passenger, my limbs lurched forward as I gasped out a “Holy $hit”.

    Great write-ups…keep them coming.

  • avatar

    The Alfa Romeo Annual Convention was sponsored by the DC Chapter a few weeks ago with the time trials held at Summit Point main. Hearing all those high-strung Alfa engines (especially the flat-plane-crank V8s) at full song on the track was a joy. You couldn’t have been there and not yearned for Alfa to return to the US.

  • avatar

    Sad, really…just the other day I was reading JB’s posting on his incredible Audi, and now this. I don’t care if you decide to run your car into a wall on your own, but out on the open road where a stupid moment of not paying attention will get SOMEBODY else killed is beyond reprehensible. I know TTAC is a “no-flame” site, but if TTAC in anyway condones this, then maybe it is time to move on. The next time I see a car strewn into a thousand little pieces along an interstate, I’ll wonder if it was: a) JB, or b) some innocent driver who was run off the road BECAUSE of JB. Sorry, but any respect I had (and there was a lot) for Jack just went out the door…

  • avatar

    jack is jack

    if you want to leave, leave… it’s an internet site not a subscription to “Car and Driver”

    is this the new “cancel my subscription Csaba”

  • avatar

    Ahh Jack. You’re such a troll. Good stuff though.

  • avatar

    I look forward to tomorrow’s street habits brought to the track. I find Jack’s observations useful to my own on-track learning (not to mention entertaining reading). I was annoyed that he splits his dead-of-night attention between driving fast and reading the internet. It betrays a bit of over-alpha immaturity and bravado that I’m guessing is absent from his on-track driving if he is as successful as he sounds. Anyway, such is life — I enjoy his writing and his viewpoint and hope he doesn’t run someone off the road.

  • avatar

    Everyone who disapproves of Jack’s latest essay should submit their replacement article to Mr. N. for immediate review and subsequent posting on the site.

    (crickets chirping) Yup. That’s what I thought.

    Good write Jack. As usual.

    • 0 avatar

      Just because someone can’t produce a better product does not mean that they cannot criticize something.

      I probably can’t create a movie better than Gigli, but that doesn’t mean I can’t criticize it.

      Also, I can empathize with Jack. People get all pissed off when I tell them that I only drink and drive after 2:00 am, on the back roads when I’m drinking light beer.

      Some people can be so sensitive.

  • avatar

    Good guitar tone comes from the fingers. No real need for a ’58 Les Paul.

    A good set of (noise-free) pickups gets it to the speakers.

  • avatar

    From the mind of Jack:
    “they see me readin’…they hatin\'”

    I couldn’t imagine 22 hours straight with 6 of it riding shotgun around a challenging track with rookies at the helm. You’re either braver or stupider than I. cheers to that.

  • avatar

    You know, I was going to recommend/nominate this series for a collection/expansion into something like a bound/novelized track-head’s version of “Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, or “The Art of Racing in The Rain” as narrated by Jack’s tires,

    -until I read the bit about him checking the wiki and playing guitar while driving

    (note: the tone is in the amp, the pickups, the effects, the eq and ([email protected]) your hands.
    don’t let anyone bs you into one of Gibson’s overpriced quilt/flame custom-shop $5,000 gold-plated tonewood bon-bons. Spend your money on a JB/Jazz pickup combo and a Mesa amp.)

  • avatar

    Read second paragraph, stopped, won’t be reading future articles. Sorry Jack, but you’re essentially telling every idiot with a cellphone, or woman doing her makeup, that their actions while driving are acceptable. As a motorcycle enthusiast, as well as a car enthusiast, and long time on/off visitor of TTAC, I have to say that this was probably the most disappointing article I have ever read on this site.

  • avatar

    Playing the devil’s advocate here, he did say he left at half after midnight. Most highways are pretty deserted at that time of night, especially in West Virginia, where this track is.

    Assuming Jack can see tailights coming up miles ahead, which is pretty reasonable, he would have plenty of time to focus his attention back to driving when actual cars are around. Personally, I believe speed limits and other traffic laws should be traffic dependent, that is, if you are on an empty stretch of highway with no cars around for miles, there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to drive 150mph legally. Reading while driving, which I assume would be incredibly distracting, is not a danger to anyone buy yourself if there are no other cars around to potentially hit, and there should be no law against endangering only yourself.

  • avatar

    I’ve driven SP numerous times in my ’73 911 but if you drive to the track the way you describe, you’re an idiot, a moron, and the type more suited to the Ferrari Club or Friday at The Track than PCA events or any event based on sound driving technique.

    What a putz.

  • avatar


    I live about 45 minutes from Summit Point. I have a queen size air mattress*. Consider this your official invitation.



    *For you, not to share. Don’t get any ideas.

  • avatar

    NulloModo: Reading while driving, which I assume would be incredibly distracting, is not a danger to anyone but yourself if there are no other cars around to potentially hit, and there should be no law against endangering only yourself.

    Yeah, but the taxpayers will have to pay for someone to clean him up off the highway if he hits a deer.

  • avatar

    I think the driving/surfing bit was a joke. Reading puts most tired people to sleep, me included. My personal strategy for staying alert on long slogs involves cigarettes, coffee, and extremely loud music.

  • avatar

    Jack, had you ever considered using an RV of some kind and trailering the Porshe? A 3/4 ton pickup with a pop-up truck camper could do it with ease, and if the pickup’s a diesel the fuel mileage would still be pretty decent. You could stop for the night at a truck stop or Walmart lot and be well rested for your first track day. Just a thought.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      My tow vehicle left alone with my ex-wife, so I’m driving the Boxster to events and borrowing tow vehicles and trailers for my race car. Hoping to fix that in 2011.

  • avatar

    Sorry to read about the trailer but it was worth it!

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