By on May 19, 2015

civic1

Trust me on this: You will start your trackday career because you love cars, but if you are any good at it you will end up hating cars.

Allow me to explain.


I took my first lap around a racetrack (Mosport, back in 2001) because I wanted to eventually race wheel-to-wheel and I knew I’d have the greatest chance of success if I followed a defined path of individual coaching and patient but consistent escalation of speed and and risk. I wanted to race wheel-to-wheel because I’d had a series of injuries that had effectively murdered any chance I had of racing BMX competitively into my thirties. In that respect, I was unlike the vast majority of the people I’ve met at the over two hundred open-lapping days I’ve attended since then. Every once in a while I will get a student who is focused on a future in club racing and/or LeMons-style enduros, but most of my guys (and girls) don’t want to have anything to do with racing.

The typical “track rat” is, first and foremost, a car enthusiast, not a would-be racer. He’s there because he wants to drive his car as fast as possible. Very few of them drive an entirely stock vehicle; whether it’s swaybars, a turbo kit, or an engine swap, there’s usually something going on with their cars. But even the stock ones are fast. Lots of five-liter Mustangs, boosted Volkswagens, cambered-out Z-cars. They’re knowledgeable about the history of their preferred marques and nameplates. They can speak at length about everything from options codes to the differences between various manufacturing locations. They own a lot of T-shirts from Blipshift and various car clubs and tuner shops.

17-Racing_Vans_In_24_Hours_of_LeMons

By and large, they’re nice people, and most of them will enjoy their time on-track, but it’s important for me to remember that their goals are fundamentally different from the goals I had when I started – and the goals I have today. For me, the car was, and is, secondary to the purpose of racing. If auto racing didn’t exist, I’d be racing something else. I’ve been racing something for three-quarters of my life. I continue to attend open-lapping days and coach students because it makes me a better driver and therefore a better racer. The more seat time I have, the better I get. Even seat time as a passenger helps; it makes me think about how to get around a track better.

My students, on the other hand, primarily want to enjoy their cars in an environment without speed limits or oncoming traffic or SUVs. They want to take endless GoPro videos and bench race at lunch and maybe experience a moment where the car is sliding around on its tires a little bit. If they were transported back in time and found themselves in a situation where the only trackday opportunity involved forty-eight-horsepower MG TCs around a narrow track like the old Waterford Hills at an average speed below that of their commute, they wouldn’t bother to leave the house. Most of them would rather drive a Z06 Corvette at four-tenths the limit than run a Daihatsu Charade around just as fast as Lewis Hamilton could do it.

This fundamental disconnect between me and them causes friction more often that it does not. I ask them to go home and read a Ross Bentley book; they go home and buy a new ECU that promises ten more horsepower. I suggest they watch track videos and learn reference points; they log onto their favorite car forums and argue about option packages. When I ask them to attend additional weekends to get faster, they stay at home and do entire seasons of iRacing or, G-d forbid, Grand Theft Auto.

In short, they treat being the owners of performance cars the way I treat being a guitar player. I’d rather work extra hours to buy a new (insert name of exotic wood instrument here) than stay at home and practice the modes and scales. I’d rather visit vintage musical-equipment stores and argue about “Murphy aging” than memorize jazz standards in Nashville-number notation. Most of all, I’d rather shop for guitars than fix the ones I already have.

Whenever I start to become frustrated with my students, I just remind myself how my guitar teacher(s) must feel, and it really helps me put things in perspective. They love cars more than they love driving; I love my Paul Reed Smiths more than I love creaking through a twelve-bar-blues with one of them.

This past weekend, however, I was lucky enough to have two of my favorite students return for the Trackdaze season opener at Summit Point Shenandoah. My novice student was Benny Blanco, now resembling a Platoon-era Willem Dafoe due to a program of exercise and nutrition, cheerfully reporting a complete brake-system service on his Boxster in preparation for the event. My intermediate student was a TTAC reader and occasional contributor who had swapped out his rental car for his own high-mileage 2008 Civic EX 5-speed, fortified with Akebono pads and rotors. We met at the hotel Friday night and discussed goals a bit. I was pleased to see that they’d both been devoting some time to the theory of performance driving over the winter, although neither had driven on-track since last October.

While there were three car-into-wall incidents before lunchtime on Saturday, none of them involved my guys. They were both fast and smooth, if a bit rusty from the time off. By Sunday morning, they were both very quick, and by Sunday afternoon neither one of them required much input from me other than the occasional reminder to stay off the throttle in the midcorner. It was a true pleasure to see how well they both did and how much improvement they were able to demonstrate over the course of four hours on-track.

Here’s the funny thing; although both of them were among the best students I’ve ever had, they spent much of the weekend letting faster traffic by. Time after time, my student in the Civic would get through three or four corners in a row in a manner that wouldn’t disgrace a good mid-pack club racer, only to have to put his hand out for a far less talented driver behind the wheel of a turbo VW or V8-powered roadster. In the “green group”, Benny strung together four kick-ass laps, gapping the new-gen WRX behind him at each corner exit, only to have the blue Subaru eventually pull out and pass him on the main straight from ten car lengths back.

I knew going into the weekend that our 2008 Civic would be painfully slow, even if it could be coaxed into some oddly heroic slip angles in my hands, with the help of the emergency brake. (See above.) But I wasn’t prepared for just how slow a 1997 Boxster is nowadays. True, Porsche never claimed it was terribly quick, and buying an entry-level model from Zuffenhausen has never been a recipe for massive horsepower, but when a VW Beetle (with a VR6) can drop you like you’re towing a trailer, it really opens your eyes as to the progress in modern automobiles.

When Sunday drew to a close, I stood with my students and we watched people load perfectly street-legal Corvettes and Mustangs onto trailers pulled by Denalis and F-250s. “I got pretty sick of waving people by,” my Civic driver noted with resignation in his voice.

“Buy a new C7. Or a C7 Z06.” But what I wanted to say was this: I’d rather be the kind of truly skilled, talented, and dedicated trackday driver who can get the most out of a Civic than any mere owner of a high-performance automobile. And there are those of us who can watch someone go around a racetrack, even at a distance, and pick out the very few drivers among those owners. A true driver shines at a trackday like a polished nugget of gold in a field of anthracite. There are few satisfactions in the world like the one you have knowing that you extracted what Michael Schumacher used to call “today’s maximum” from an automobile.

Even if that car is a Civic, trundling down Shenandoah’s back straight at eighty-nine miles per hour.

For a true driver, a car is just a tool. And to operate that tool perfectly, only to be forced to yield again and again to people whose lap times come from the showroom instead of the woodshed…

It’s enough to make you hate cars, really.

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85 Comments on “Trackday Diaries: Civics Lesson...”


  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    That’s some solid advice for both on the track, and off the track. And when I write “off the track,” I really mean “Life in general.” Well done Mr. Baruth. This is the best article of yours I’ve read to date.

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      Yeah, he’s like the Martin Luther of car guys railing against HP indulgences. But a lot taller.

      • 0 avatar
        EquipmentJunkie

        Nice analogy.

        Good work, Mr. Baruth. I suspect that a lot of us have areas of our lives where we’d prefer to simply discuss rather than put our shoulder to it and actually do the hard work.

    • 0 avatar
      EvilEdHarris

      Rod – I read the article very much like you did. The metaphor to life “off the track” is so realistic and well done. Just a good reminder to focus on what is within our scope of control and to ignore what is given to others (not implying that they did not work hard to purchase those high power cars but you get the idea).

    • 0 avatar
      Veee8

      Yes this is more an article of human behavior and condition, the list of endeavors is endless…why go for a simple walk or hike when you can run in a marathon and brag endlessly to friends and colleagues about it?
      Well done Jack.

  • avatar
    PeterKK

    I would love to have more car skills. I like cars, but I don’t love them that much. I do love virtuoso performance, though. :)

  • avatar

    Got to admit I love cars,but have really no interest in racing. I watch sometimes but again for the cars and tech.
    I may do a track day sometime but it will be to have fun in a fast car not to race.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    You nailed it Jack ;

    My Son fits this , he’s a track racer and has mad skills I never did nor do I want to go that fast truth be told .

    I’m one of those Old guys who likes to drive slow cars fast .

    So far I have never hated cars and I hope I never will .

    -nate

    • 0 avatar
      Rasputin

      I cannot remember where I heard/read this, but over the years, through many cars fast & slow, I have found it to be true:
      It is more fun to drive a slow car fast than to drive a fast car slow.

      I’m talking street, not track. In my youth, in the 60’s & 70’s, I owned a few truly fast (for the day) sports cars and had a blast driving them on lonely roads in the Adirondacks & occasional trips to the Glen & Lime Rock. But some of the most fun I’ve had was when my wife finished her residency, bought a new car, and her ’91 Geo Metro became a “third” car for us. One could drive that little 3-cyl 5-speed at its max in suburbia and I did, constantly stirring the box in an attempt (often in vain) to keep the revs in the sweet spot – all the while rarely ever breaking the speed limit.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Exactly why I love my Triumph Spitfire so much. On a good day, it has ~75hp. You can beat the ever loving whee out of it on public roads and nobody notices. It has very little grip by modern standards, and merely adequate brakes. You have to plan ahead and pay attention to what you are doing, and what others around you are doing. It’s like a really slow slightly safer motorcycle that you can drive safely(ish) in shorts and a t-shirt. And it is about the most fun you can have with your clothes on. I do worry that the car I have on order, which is by far the fastest I have ever bought, will prove boring to me.

        I don’t have any interest in racing against anything but the clock at an autocross. And even then, really only against myself – I am merely mid-pack on my best days. I’ve had some driving instruction (and read a lot of books) but I am waaay too fearful to really go for it in a car that has to get me home after. Which is why Jack is a racing driver and I am not. Though I did race bicycles of the many-speed variety when I was a kid. We real bike racers looked down our noses at those BMX punks of course. :-) One four day stint in the hospital due to a crash was enough to make me give that up, I admire Jack’s ability to take a licking and keep on ticking. One experience of having two burly nurses hold me down while a third used a brass bristle brush on the road rash was more than enough for me, and I didn’t even break anything!

  • avatar
    ccbc

    I eas feel

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    Back when I was club racing, I had a test day. I remember thinking, “Well, this is kind of fun, but if there were no wheel to wheel racing, it wouldn’t be worth the effort.” Eventually, the day came where I didn’t want to race any longer, and I stepped out of the car. I always planned on doing some track days after that, but never could find the motivation. I guess for me, just driving fast isn’t enough. Later this year, I am going to do one of those Xtreme Xperience events Jack wrote about. That’s easy, all I have to do is show up and pay. I don’t think I’ve ever hated or even disliked cars, but they’re just the tool that gets the job done.

    Speaking of iRacing, it’s valuable for at least one thing, and that is demonstrating just how hard you have to drive a car to get it to its limits.

  • avatar
    ccbc

    I was feelIng the same last august when I tried track racing for the first time. Not in car, but on a bike. I was riding a small Kawasaki Ninja 300 beside 1000cc bikes like Panigale, S1000RR, Streetfighter, Street Triple 675, etc… For those who don’t know… Top speed of my 300cc is about 100 mph, compared to 180 mph… 0-60 in about 6 sec compared to 3 sec…

    When I saw those, I was like how they will learn doing track days on those ultimate machines? It is a beginner course…

    1-2 hours later, I was passing them on the track. Learning a lot quicker, flicking the bike with ease, having no fear to drop my $5k bike (compared to up to $25k bikes). My choice to get on the track with such a small bike was the best decision of my ‘biker carrer’.

    • 0 avatar
      ekaftan

      I race a 180cc Bajaj Pulsar. Its a US$1000 bike. I have improved a lot racing it and it has no plastic bits to break if dropped (which I of course have).

      The only real problem I have is that I am big guy. 6’5″ and 280 pounds. I really need to shed weight.

    • 0 avatar
      wstarvingteacher

      Your shot is middle of target. That’s why I have a 175 Yamaha in my yard.I don’t race but the idea is the same with off road play. More would be wasted as there is no place to use top speed. I live on the edge of a national forest and a 175 can go around a tree as fast as a 350.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      ccbc – it takes a smooth hand to go fast on a litre class bike and as you have pointed out, it isn’t the right bike to learn riding skills upon.
      There is a reason why all of those bikes have traction control. Meer mortals cannot handle it.

      In motocross circles we used to say “when riding a 125 it works hard, on a 500 you work hard.”

  • avatar
    pbr

    The arms race in HDPE/club events is kinda nuts. And it’s not just cars, take a look what shows up at motorcycle track days. Puts an AMA National grid to shame. On the other hand, there are more and less expensive options for door-to-door racing than there were when SCCA was the only game in town. Makes me wonder, tho, if there’s a market for HDPEs with a run group for low-dollar/low-HP drivers? Would knowing they weren’t going to spend all weekend with their arm out the window entice anyone show up?

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    The thing that motivated me to go racing was the opportunity to go wheel to wheel with another driver in a similar car. I wonder about things like LeMons racing, since the car preparation rules are so loose. It sounds more like an engineering exercise than a motor race.

    I’ve never been to a LeMons race, please correct me if I’m getting it wrong, I’m just going by the descriptions I’ve heard.

  • avatar
    319583076

    “The racing car is not a technical exercise. It is not an art object. The racing car is simply a tool for the racing driver.”

    -Carroll Smith

  • avatar

    Two guys on my Lemons teams are true drivers. They have blown two engines now. I keep telling them to go slower and preserve the car, but it’s to no avail. They’re programmed differently than the two guys, both engineers, that built the car.

  • avatar
    Driver8

    Great article.
    Similar themes to your ‘155 is enough’ article at R&T.
    Agree x100.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    I’m looking forward to some instructional track time this summer. I’ve got enough track time and lapping days at this point to be dangerous, but have never had any one on one professional instruction. I feel like that’s what I need to take things to the next level, I’ll probably be doing it at Mosport.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    I would rather use the full potential of the car I have than buy more unused potential to make up for the inability to use what I have. To be able to use the whole track properly is far more satisfying, regardless of the car, than bombing around like a drunken teenager.

    One day I will have the time and finances to get out there with a car for some proper instruction. Karts are a lot of fun, but get hard on the body.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Ha! Vindication is mine! And they called me crazy when I traded my Z for an 09 non-Si Civic! Out of the box its fun as hell to thrash and I enjoy its low, easily approachable limits rather than the ambiguous, high, snappy limits of the Z. And with some decent tires/brakes/springs/shocks it will be just as playful with higher limits. Sometimes less IS more….

  • avatar
    Toad

    The takeaway: skill is nice, but ultimately size matters.

    Bank account, basketball, horsepower, tits, junk, whatever. Life is like that.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      Toad – control is still required or you’ll severely crash your Bank account, basketball, horsepower, tits, junk, whatever into a cold unforgiving ditch.

      If one can’t handle the size then they are just another floppy poser hooked on Viagra.

  • avatar
    mitchw

    After taking instruction at SkipBarber, lapping their MX-5 cup car on the Advanced Car Control handling course, I’ve come to appreciate the challenge and fun of driving near my own and my car’s limit. That’s where all the fun is; when you have to control your eyes, guide the mass of the car, and maximize your contact patches to terra firma. And be smooth about it in my dinky, stick shift, not so sticky Civic.

    What is everybody else even doing? Why would I want more power or grip? I can have fun at any speed, any weather. And my heart pounds, my gaze freezes, thinking about racing.

    • 0 avatar

      I can relate. Did Skip Barber twice. I started out one of the slowest guys. Didn’t care. I just enjoyed it thoroughly.

      https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/david-holzman-goes-to-the-skip-barber-shop/

      After Skip Barber, there was a certain off ramp on the way to my coffee house that I used to take hard enough for the car occasionally to slide. After I’d done that a number of times, they put a policeman there. Luckily, I was alert.

      And I drive an ’08 Civic w/ stick.

      Jack, had I known you were at Summit Point this past weekend… I had been in DC for two weeks. Shoot. Great story though. I love both driving and my car.

  • avatar
    bobpink

    In the brief time I did track day instructing years ago, it rarely failed that it was the guys who talked about the mods they did to their car and how fast it was on the street that sucked on the racetrack. It was mostly because they were so sure of how stupid fast they were compared to drivers on the street who weren’t paying attention to them, that they couldn’t be bothered to listen to anyone. But they enjoyed themselves and smiled a lot so it was all good I suppose.

    The fast guys…the usual unassuming ones who didn’t say much and soaked up the lessons they got from any instructor/experienced driver who would share speed secrets with them.

    I did once have an instructor take me around Road Atlanta who tried to impress me with his speed when he learned that I had previously raced wheel-to-wheel and the ride was a spin waiting to happen. Not fun. We came within inches of hitting a wall head on when he finally boogered a corner so it goes both ways. And yes, I turned down an offer to go back out on course with him as a passenger.

  • avatar
    Undefinition

    Good for you for having a sense of perspective, being able to give the “car enthusiasts” some slack as you yourself are a “guitar enthusiast.” Likewise, I imagine that a person who NEEDS to play guitar as you need to race, could probably get a good sound out of any old guitar, and doesn’t need a vintage Strat or PRS to sound good. (As my old drum teacher used to say, “Don’t let the gear play you.”)

  • avatar
    SWA737

    You see this phenomena a lot in the sport fishing world. Rich guys in bejeweled, multi million dollar battlewagons. Brazilian rose wood cabinetry, marble counter tops, 6000 common rail diesel horsepower. Frequently outfished by the guys in the $30k putt putt’s.

    There’s an old saying in the fighter pilot community; “A hamburger wrapped in gold is still a hamburger.”

    That doesn’t mean as car/guitar/boat/airplane/whatever enthusiasts we can’t appreciate the engineering and craftsmanship that goes into creating an exotic high performance whatever, but I think Jack is exactly right. Our society has become focused on the capabilities and more frequently, the price tags of our tools, rather than the skill with which we wield them.

  • avatar
    JMII

    I fit into the group of those that just want to enjoy my car “in an environment without speed limits or oncoming traffic or SUVs”. Sure I try to improve my times by checking over my GoPro vids and Harry’s Timer data, however the truth is driving at 9/10s is HARD. It is tough on you both physically and mentally, plus it tends to break or wear out things on your car at an insane pace. At this point all my money is going into replacing brakes and tires, I’ve got no money for “mods”. Anyway I actually like my Z “as is”. Sure I wish it was faster – those M3s, GT3s, 911s, GTRs and C6s leave me in the dust, especially on the straights. I am getting better since I can catch some of them in the twisty bits which is very rewarding.

    Generally I’m very conservative on the track, mostly because my track car is also my daily driver! Also as mentioned in the article at least one car finds the wall during an event and that reminds me this isn’t my Playstation, there is no reset button. I’ve gone off track twice but stayed smooth and calm and thus things were fine. I’m still exploring the limits and as such the traction control is still very much ON. I do get a bit tired of waving cars (even Miatas!) past me, but often on the next turn I see them spun out or just stuck behind yet another “slow” car.

    When I do ride alongs or tell me people I track my car they all ask the same question – “How fast?” They are immediately disappointed to hear “about 100 mph”. They just don’t understand the how much ground you cover getting up to 100 then back down to 30 for a hairpin turn. Everyone things your drifting around like mad with tires smoking, similar to what you have seen on TopGear. Well its nothing like that, so prepare for disappointment. You will as JB says start hating cars. My Z which feels nimble and quick on the street instead feels like a heavy, under-steering slug on the track. It pushes on corner entry and bogs on exit. Its not the car’s fault – its mine… because I’m a normal person and not a professional racer or a mad man like Tanner Foust. The gap in skill is HUGE. I couldn’t tell if my tire pressure was right or not, heck most times I can’t even tell if I hit my braking points correctly.

    As Jack said the car is a tool. I tell people its a lot like a chainsaw: sure I can cut up firewood but I can’t carve ice with it. However I don’t hate on those with big pockets and super fast cars – at least they are out on track giving it a try, way better then those garage queens who’s only excitement come from an empty on ramp. It’s just so fun to push your car and yourself to the limit, it just happens my car and my limit are much lower then expected. Who cares? Its all good :)

    • 0 avatar
      Nick_515

      Thanks for posting this, JMII. I aspire to become a track participant very much like you.

      Jack, did your students drive their cars home? On the same tires? Those questions determine whether I can get into such a thing in year, versus in three years. I want to, but don’t have money for a truck to tow / carry dedicated tires.

      I have a B7 with the 3.2 liter and automatic (I bought the car from a good friend, nothing could be done about it) but it has the sports package. I live in proximity of Watkins Glenn.

      Jack – can you do a “Ask Jack” about what it takes for guys like me? I can afford to change tires in 25k rather than 50k miles, and do whatever’s needed for brakes, but that’s it. Am i dreaming? Do i not belong in the track, even if i drove conservatively? And yes – i am a great student, not a speed uber alles type.

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        Nick_515 – I drive my car to / from the track without issue, in fact almost everyone I know doing track days does the same. A few (maybe 20%) of the people in our group have the luxury of a dedicated track day car and trailer setup.

        Brakes are really the only MUST fix for the track. Your stock system just isn’t built to do panic / near ABS-level stops multiple times per lap, and then repeating the process for lap after lap over multiple sessions.

        Being able to swap tires (IE: having a “race set”) is nice because the wear rate is going to be high and your standard tire is clearly a major compromise of wet/cold grip, road noise and tread life. If you watch any racing you know tires make a huge difference. My brother has THREE sets of rims/tires, but I’m not at that level of insanity yet. Now I just recently upgraded to better rubber but its still a street compound (Potenza RE760s). I live in FL so I can run “summer” tires year round. The whole idea of track days and HPDE events is using your normal, stock, daily driver.

        • 0 avatar
          Nick_515

          Wonderful. This is great information JMII.

          This means I can indeed use my current tires. Since I live in such a cold climate, i have been thinking about winter tires anyway. Our winters are long… those could be the everyday tires, and I can have dedicated summer tires geared towards the track rather than touring, as I prefer to minimize road noise.

          Now brakes – my car, which as an A4, came with the previous generation S4 sized brakes – the front one is massive. I wonder if i simply need to make sure everything is good, or i need to upgrade to better components. My question is partially out of ignorance, and partially based on the hope that my brakes are already better than average.

          • 0 avatar
            Quentin

            Much like tires, your brakes/pads are a compromise between stopping power, noise, and longevity without being designed for major heat cycling that you’ll see on a track.

          • 0 avatar
            JMII

            Check the forums for people who track A4s as they’ll have the best advice. But here are some general recommendations:

            #1 MUST DO – upgrade to racing brake fluid. DOT 3/4 stuff will boil very quickly. Boiled fluid = massive brake fade = can’t stop regards of how “good” your brakes are. Everything else below is not a requirement but you’ll quickly find the limits of the stock system. Remember the OEM setup no matter how “sporty” was designed with aggressive street or maybe mountain driving in mind, but you’ll be pushing MUCH harder then that on the track.

            #2 upgrade to teflon stainless steel brake lines. Your stock brake lines are rubber, they will expand when hot which causes a loss of feeling. Soft or mushy brakes = no confidence = scary = slow.

            #3 upgrade pads to something designed to work at high temps. This is tough because more aggressive race pads squeal and don’t bite when cold. Be warned such pads will wear stupid fast, I only got 3 events out of one particular set. This is about as far you need to go to really explore the limits safely.

            #4 upgrade rotors. Don’t mess with slotted or drilled, those are just fancy show things. Instead focus on more mass to dissipate heat better. Larger rotors = larger calipers plus different pads, thus this is a major step – you’ll be replacing lots of common factory parts with expensive aftermarket solutions. You can sometimes find an OEM solution from a different vehicle so maybe newer S4 brakes could be option for you. Once again check the forums for what other owners have done.

          • 0 avatar
            FormerFF

            Quite a number of years ago, I did a track day at Mid Ohio in a 1987 VW GTI. All I did to it was to flush the brake lines and replace the fluid, and upgrade the front pads to something that was a street plus type compound. I ran the car on its stock Pirelli P6s, and everything worked perfectly all weekend. Unless your brake lines are old, I’d say upgrading them is optional. I would definitely say that upgrading rotors is optional.

            Mods lead to more mods. If you go out on stock type tires, your suspension should be fine. Howwever, if you get some DOT race tires, your grip level increases the load on the suspension, and you may very well wind up with more body roll than is ideal, so you may want better anti-roll bars, stffer springs, and firmer dampers. At that point you may be pulling enough Gs to where you need to add baffling to the oil pan so the engine does not starve for oil in longer corners. Better to start out in a nearly stock configuration, everything should work as the maker intended it to.

          • 0 avatar
            hgrunt

            If the A4 does not already have them, brake ducts will help quite a bit. There may be a little bit of DIY involved, unless you can transplant a set from another Audi.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            The main brake upgrade is fluid. A good DOT4 (like ATE) or DOT5.1 is a must. That will be adequate for most vehicles and most drivers. Maybe not a Z-car though, JMII!

            http://www.caranddriver.com/features/z-meets-wall-we-investigate-why-the-nismo-zs-brakes-failed-at-lightning-lap

            My buddy’s stock ’07 G35 Sport brakes are probably the same as that of the Z cars, and they gave him no problems on the track using ATE Super Blue.

            You can go easy on your tires if you avoid spinning up the drive wheels and learn not to plow the front tires with excessive steering angles. Figure on burning through about 10% of the tire life every hour on the track if you’re respectful of that.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      Spot on. My car is even slower than your’s (FR-S), but there is still such a gap between what the car can do and what I can do. The forums are full of people modifying this and that and it is super clear to me that my driving skill needs to go up significantly before the car’s ceiling will limit my lap times.

      Even on the street, the ceiling is way too high. There is a road on my commute that is posted at 40mph with nice pavement and great corners. Unfortunately, even approaching 6/10ths, I could maintain 60mph in some of the longer sweepers. The other section of my commute really has amazing corners and elevation but the road is only 1.5 lanes wide, so I can’t in good conscience push the car on it. I get extremely frustrated with the car at times because it is capable of so much more than my skill and the law allow. If nothing else, there is a small joy in holding the speed limit and taking corners at the speed limit while other cars have to slow down considerably. It is also a beautiful car, so that helps. :)

    • 0 avatar
      hgrunt

      I used to have a 350Z. About 3 minutes into my first lap at Buttonwilow, I realized the car had the ability to go much faster than I could. I had a fresh set of Z-rated tires, fresh pads, SS brake lines, new fluid, etc. but my friend, same driving skill, in a 150hp Passat wagon did better than me in the corners.

      Jack’s point is very similar to how I feel about ‘car enthusiasts’ who are often just into a particular brand, model or drivetrain configuration, as opposed to cars in general. I’m the latter, who’ll eagerly drive any car I’m given the keys to.

      There’s a lot of very practical, affordable, easy & cheap to maintain cars that are good DDs and can be fun on the track. A new Accord Sport with manual, and some brake upgrades, or a non-M E46 with refreshed suspension are both great choices. Neither will score cool points with other car enthusiasts. That said, I’m more inclined to track my four-banger E30, vs my other car, which has nearly 4x more hp.

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        It amazing how hard / fast you can corner in a Z. But I always wimp out and lift slightly, then realize the car still had grip, tends to understeer slightly (with VDC on) thus I was fine.

        After a few track days you fully understand the whole Miata and FRS/BRZ obsession of driving a slow car fast. Pushing the limits on handling is where the fun is at. After all how hard is it to push down on the gas? Doing a 130 mph in a straight line is something anyone can do.

        The proof of this is most guys in our group vote to run the infield at Homestead instead of the Roval (road course + NASCAR 3/4 oval) during our track days.

  • avatar
    ...m...

    …i posit that anyone serious about racecraft is far better-served with a dedicated race car than a street car, provided an environment where SRFs and the like can play freely…

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Ha! The top photo is _My Car_, right down to the trim and color…only one year older. I daresay my stock brakes wouldn’t last long on a track.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    “This fundamental disconnect between me and them causes friction more often that it does not. I ask them to go home and read a Ross Bentley book; they go home and buy a new ECU that promises ten more horsepower. I suggest they watch track videos and learn reference points; they log onto their favorite car forums and argue about option packages. When I ask them to attend additional weekends to get faster, they stay at home and do entire seasons of iRacing or, G-d forbid, Grand Theft Auto.”

    I dunno, I kinda get it, and I kinda don’t. First, you’ve got to remember that for most people, this is a hobby. And we’ve got limited resources (time, $$) to devote to the hobby. And if wrenching on the car is fun and memorizing reference points isn’t, they’re going to do the fun stuff.

    To illustrate, I play golf. I like golf. I’m not that good. But I just do it for fun and the shot at a $10 trophy in my work league. Probably my weakest point is putting. Sure, I could spend several hours every weekend afternoon practicing putting, but that’s not as fun as going out and playing a round. So I don’t. Does that make me a bad person, or a golf dilletante? Probaly, but I don’t care. I’ve only got limited time to devote to golf, so I just do what I enjoy, even if it’s at the expense of my success at that game.

    Similarly, for a lot of people, they want to own a fast sports car, like a Corvette or 911. And the best of those people want to learn to drive them faster and better, so they take them to the track. And if they go from driving 4/10ths to 6/10ths, yay, everyone wins. And really, that’s what most of these track days are designed to do. Have some fun, learn a little, but not groom future world champions.

    Thinking otherwise is like showing up to a beer league softball game and wonder why everyone isn’t trying to make it to the big leagues.

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      This is a great counterpoint to an insightful article.

      I think where some of the frustration in tracking cars comes from is that a lot of drivers *claim* to be the best, fastest, most dedicated speed demons, when the reality is much closer to what Jack describes. Weekend golfers and beer-league softball players aren’t usually claiming to do anything grander than they actually are.

      Stepping up to the tee believing you can drive a ball harder than you actually can doesn’t have the same consequences as overestimating your (car) driving skills, either.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      Jack is, of course, a driving instructor, not a car preparation instructor. I assume his students come to him to learn to drive, so it’s not surprising to me that he’s dismayed when they don’t take his instruction and instead put more effort into making the car faster.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      S2k Chris – I see your point but I think Jack’s point is this: Is your golf game going to be any better if you leave your current clubs at home and go out and buy a 50k set?

      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        Correct, and my point is this: that’s the wrong question to ask. Would I have more FUN if I was driving a Corvette versus a Civic? Probably. Therefore it’s worth it to me. Same reason I occasionally buy new clubs, because I want to and it feels good to spend money on my hobby even if it doesn’t always make me better.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          S2k Chris – we are seeing two sides of the automotive coin. On one side we have driving/racing first and foremost and on the other we have the vehicle first and foremost. Both involve enjoying vehicles. Just from a different perspective.

  • avatar
    bobpink

    Eventually taking a dedicated Improved Touring race car to a track day increased my skills quite a bit compared to using my street car. Something about a cage, harness and knowing that if I crashed, I was going to be able to get home even if the car was wadded up on a trailer that made me faster. ;-)

    It even made straightlining the esses through the grass at full speed at Road Atlanta with my instructor in the car like…pffft…no big deal.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    “but when a VW Beetle (with a VR6)”

    I thought only of repair bills in this moment.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    Thanks, Jack for posting this entry! I’ve only been on a track a few times in my life, but I have spent most of my driving years enjoying driving slow cars fast.

    I owned a 1969 Cadillac ambulance for ten years. If I didn’t have the tires lightly squealing as I cloverleafed-onto the freeway, something was wrong. And it was simply maddening when doing so, that I had to seriously slow down for some car ONE-THIRD the weight of my 6500lb lead sled!

    Later on in life, I also owned a 1981 VW Rabbit diesel 5-speed. The lowest-HP (51 or 56, not that it matters), slowest car I have ever owned. And you know what? It was one of the most fun to drive. Because you had to know how to coax every last 1/2HP out of it, how to not lose momentum, how to keep your speed up during corners, every little trick to maximize its minimal performance on the skinny 155/80R13 tires.

    Also MADDENING when merging onto the highway, having used every last inch of the on-ramp to almost get up to speed, to have to slow down for some 300HP car going 15-under! Then I was hosed, requiring another 22 seconds to get back up to speed.

    There couldn’t be more of a difference between the two cars above that I’ve owned. And they were both a blast to drive to their respective limits.

  • avatar
    SP

    This is an interesting article. I like the guitar comparison.

    As Jack said, I think a little perspective goes a long way. When it comes down to it, racing is primarily for fun. Very few of us will use the skills gained to deliver life-saving medicine like Balto the sled dog.

    Even for the people for whom racing is a professional career, it’s still a career bankrolled by a hobby. If watching racing wasn’t fun, nobody would show up to the races or watch them on TV, sponsors wouldn’t pay, and all the professional racers would lose their jobs.

    Some drivers get their fun by just tooling around in a way that is outside of their daily routine. Some drivers get their fun by having and using the newest, best toys – just enjoying the car as a sort of objet d’art, a sculpture that moves and makes nifty sounds, too. Some drivers get their fun by driving as fast as they can. Some drivers get their fun by going faster than other people.

    I think that, when we start deciding which types of fun are better, we are getting into moral judgments. But we need to be careful not to throw stones if we live in glass houses.

    Going fast, really nailing it, lets us feel for a minute like we mastered a little tiny piece of the world. That’s ok, but it also needs to be tempered by humility. Drivers that don’t know their limits are the ones that end up in the wall, or even worse, tangled up with other drivers.

    Having the fastest car is a great feeling, but is that really admirable? Should we be proud of having the best? Did we really work harder than the people with lesser cars? Did we get the same opportunities in life? Even if we did, couldn’t we have been better people by spending the money on something other than a turbo-go-fast-mobile?

    Going faster than other drivers by greater skill, even with a lesser vehicle, is a great feeling, but it also can veer to an excess of pride. Should we really feel superior to others because we can drive faster? It’s something to be proud of, but again, humility is needed, lest we become something not to be admired.

    • 0 avatar
      Chan

      Professional racing is entertainment.

      Race drivers, are, at the bottom line, entertainers. Sort of like a good singer, a good court jester, a good magician and a good athlete.

      It’s fun to dip into some of their skills, but at the end it’s just for giggles. I think Jack’s point is that despite it being just “some hobby,” it’s still more fun to go to a track to build skill than to go to a track to compare cars. Sort of like magicians comparing their gear instead of their skill.

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    “Most of them would rather drive a Z06 Corvette at four-tenths the limit than run a Daihatsu Charade around just as fast as Lewis Hamilton could do it.”

    I don’t want to race, but man do I ever understand *that*.

    I’d take my old 300D up Cornelius Pass Road (here in the Portland area; it’s a canyon-y road with a nice grade and some curves), floored.

    In no-traffic “as fast as the car would go” was barely over the limit – and still within the limits of sane safety, barely – and a *load* of fun; I’d only have to let off for the hairpin near the summit.

    I never get to drive my XC70 anywhere near its limits, which is very, very slightly sad.

  • avatar
    facelvega

    I’m a professor of design history. I like to drive reasonably quickly and precisely at times, and have a car or two that work with that, but I like cars primarily as objects of design and engineering, from various eras, in all different sizes, and built for various purposes. Will I ever take a course at a track? Quite likely one of these days. But that doesn’t stop me from loving the Citroen C6 from the recent crapwagon outtake, or think about importing an Askam/Desoto AS250, or wishing I had an Aurelia or Avanti to baby. I want performance, but I also want luxury, style, no-nonsense utility, absolute nonsense, and sometimes a car where I just stare in awe at how they executed the brake assembly or the door pulls. Basically this requires having a few different cars at any given time. Sometimes I want to channel Jack Baruth, but at least as often I want to channel Murilee Martin.

  • avatar
    wsn

    1) This is the best piece from JB so far.

    2) It explains why the typical BMW driver is driving worse than an average driver. He would buy the ultimate driving machine not for the driving part, but instead the machine itself hoping to fix (the image of) his poor driving skill.

  • avatar
    kablamo

    Jack writes what we’re thinking, we just didn’t know we were thinking it until we read it.

  • avatar
    cpthaddock

    You had me with “Daihatsu Charade”. The joy that comes from feeling the limits of unremarkable hatchbacks at impossible speeds on one track roads you know like the back of your hand came flooding back. Where you can grab a burst of speed before you need to look above the hedge in case there’s a tractor ahead. Tiny enough to run up the verge and avoid anything smaller. Ye gods, how am I still alive?

  • avatar
    Robert

    I’m a broken down old motocrosser who wants to learn to drive well enough to help out on a LeMons team someday. Can you recommend a cheap track day car that would be suitable for learning in? I know Miata is the obvious choice, but I want to be able to take both my kids for rides (on the street).

    Thanks!

    • 0 avatar
      bludragon

      The answer is a miata, and only take one out at a time ☺

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      Well, what are you driving now? if you’re only doing track days, then laptimes don’t matter, and anything in the passenger car category will work. Your biggest expenses will be entry fees and travel anyway.

      If you’re wanting to buy something specific for track days, weight and power cost tires and gasoline, so stick with something lighter and lower powered. If your goal is to go beater racing, you don’t need the stickiest tires either, since they won’t let you run them come race day. Get used to sliding around.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert

        I’m driving a Ford Flex. I’d rather not subject it to that kind of stress and risk. I looked into autocrossing it, but I didn’t see any class it would qualify for in the SCCA Solo rule book.

        For a trackday car and general hoonage, I’ve been looking at V6 mustangs, Civic Si, Focus St, that sort of thing. Looking for the most smiles per dollar, something relatively inexpensive to operate. I might realistically make it to 3 or 4 track days a year.

        • 0 avatar
          FormerFF

          Yeah, a Flex wouldn’t be the best choice for track duty. All of those choices sound good. There are certain advantages to having rear drive on a racetrack, and it should be easier to work on a car with a longitudinal engine, so the Mustang might be the preferred choice, provided you don’t mind driving the bigger car. If you’re only going to do a few events per year, the operating cost difference won’t be much.

        • 0 avatar
          rpn453

          Trucks, SUVs, and CUVs are not allowed at many track days. Here’s what my closest track says about them:

          “Safety is our first concern. The safety features incorporated in race tracks, such as gravel traps and concrete k-walls, are designed to contain vehicles that are similar in size and weight to a sportscar or sport sedan. Vehicles with a significantly higher ride height may skim through gravel traps with significantly less reduction in speed. Vehicles that are significantly heavier may overrun the length of a gravel trap, or significantly move a concrete wall upon impact. And of course, the risk of a rollover increases as centre of gravity rises. All of these factors place the occupants of a vehicle at greater risk, or may put spectators at risk. This increased risk is not acceptable, and therefore production Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs), Sport Activity Vehicles (SAVs), cross-over vehicles, trucks, and vans are not permitted at our events.”

          Something as heavy as a Flex would be hell on tires, too.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Civics, Neons, Integras etc. Basically anything that’s remotely popular with club racers. There are always a handful of these lower end cars at LeMons races.

      • 0 avatar
        bludragon

        I think a mustang is a good choice as well. Relativly cheap way into a rwd car while still having some space in the back. RX8 is another option. Doesn’t really need anything other than pads, fluid and alignment to run flat out on track. You do need to know something about rotary maintainace, but the car and parts are relativly cheap.

        • 0 avatar
          Robert

          I had not considered the RX8…I kind of dig that they’re a little different and you don’t see a ton of them (I drive a Flex after all :-) ) I’ll have to check them out. Thanks!

          • 0 avatar
            FormerFF

            I think an RX-8 would be an excellent choice. I’ve also wondered if the Hyundai Genesis Coupe would make a good track car.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            The RX-8 is a great track car. Change the brake fluid, add some pre-mix to the gas at 100:1 (200:1 for street driving), give it a proper alignment (stock setup has too much rear camber, too little front camber), and you’re good to go.

            Go with a 245/40R18 rather than the stock 225/45R18 if it needs tires.

  • avatar
    bludragon

    I guess I knew it subconciously, but this article made it clear that I am a racer first and a car enthusiast second when it comes to track time.

    Nice article, thanks.

  • avatar
    jimf42

    Excellent article and very true… However, I have raced care which were fast in the corners and slow on the straights, as well as a car which is very fast on the straights and somewhat slow in the corners. What your students experience is the reality of racing.

  • avatar
    dswilly

    I used to attend the BMW CCA driving schools with a mildly modified 2002. I was always the oldest car and usually the slowest car on the track, but not always. I had no problem being the guy that was pushing the “slow” car to 10/10’s among people pushing M3’s to 5/10’s. At any event I would be approached and told it looked like I was having the most fun.

  • avatar
    chaparral

    I have one question for all the “Racers” in this thread.

    Where is your kart?

    A LeMons race costs $1000 or so as an arrive-and-drive, renting a TaG kart for a race day is $300. The facts say more than even Ayrton Senna’s opinions – in autocross they get a .95 PAX index with street cars being below .84, on a sprint track we pull 2.1g steady state in flat corners, $30 worth of avgas and oil lasts all weekend with 2-4 hours of track time, if hung on a wall it takes up as much space as a big-screen TV – yet while every small-bore/low-cost form of road racing explodes in popularity, your average sprint track is on the ropes.

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