Trackday Diaries: the Long Night, Street Habits on the Track.
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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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.
Sorry to read about the trailer but it was worth it!