Trackday Diaries: A New Life Awaits You In The… Other Sports Beckon!

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
trackday diaries a new life awaits you in the other sports beckon

I’ve been doing this racetrack thing for sixteen years now, and I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Mustangs on fire off the shoulder of Shenandoah. I watched Xenons glitter in the dark near the Thunderhill gate. All these moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

As you might imagine, I’ve been exposed to pretty much every sort of idiocy that is possible on four wheels, and pretty much every sort of idiot who can squeeze or fold himself behind the wheel of an automobile. When I started my trackday career, under the tutelage of a private instructor who kept me on a very short leash and deliberately prevented me from indulging in the typical foibles of the novice driver, I was extraordinary contemptuous of the mishaps and mistakes I saw happening all around me. As the years have passed, I’d like to think that I’ve become a bit more accepting of my fellow track rats.

This past weekend, however, I believe that I observed the ne plus ultra of on-track stupidity. After a decade and a half, I’ve finally seen the worst, most dangerous, and most idiotic driver out there. There can be only one, you know, and this guy is the Conor MacLeod of open-lappin’ jamokes. If I saw this dude pushing a shopping cart towards me in the Kroger, I’d drop my Ketel One and run for the nearest exit. I think he should be nuked from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure. But since I’ve renounced the use of violence in my personal life, let’s focus instead on what we can learn from him.

The setup goes like so: I was driving a very hot hatch at a private trackday event in the Midwest. I’d agreed to give rides in the car to various friends, readers, fans, and curious parties (cue the Clerks track) who wanted to see what it was like to go around a racetrack at speed.

I wasn’t exactly getting the fabled Eleventh Tenth out of the car, since I was carrying passengers ranging from an eight-year-old girl to a seventy-two-year-old man, but neither was I lolly-gaggin’ around. Of the forty cars or so at the event, only one — an Exige on Hoosiers — was going faster. During my three-lap tours, we’d regularly catch five or six cars ahead of us. Never did anybody appear in our mirrors. Not once, in the course of three hours.

You can imagine my surprise, therefore, to see a white Challenger Hellcat come from a dead stop in pitlane to about 100 mph by the time the blend line ended. I was on my second of three laps with a group of three Millennial dudes who were laughing their asses off at the speed our little hatchback could carry around the track. The only problem was that we weren’t all that fast on the front straight, so the Hellcat was able to basically catch me before the entrance of Turn One even though he’d been stopped at the flag tower when we exited the last turn.

Idiot Moment Number Zero: Don’t drag race in the pit lane. Pitlane speed limits exist for a reason: to protect your friends, relatives, fellow competitors, and track safety personnel. Even Formula One regulates pitlane speed to about 62 mph — and that’s in a series where everybody over the pit wall is an experienced professional. Blasting to 100 mph before you even hit the end of pit lane? That’s a douche move. Keep it to 15-25 mph, maximum.

Idiot Moment Number One: The car on track has priority. In F1, getting out of the pitlane ahead of your competitor can be the difference between winning and losing. In an open-lapping day, getting out of the pitlane ahead of the cars on track can be the difference between going home in your car and going home in a pine box. The cars on track have priority. Blending with them is your responsibility.

Even with the Hellcat’s massive blast out of pitlane, I was still even with him at the entrance to Turn One. Since I was on the outside, I had priority. In a real race, the inside car has the right to the corner. At a trackday, the inside car must yield. But this fucking idiot swerved out to the racing line, forcing me to panic-brake my car and yield the position.

Idiot Moment Number Two: Respect the blend line. Don’t swerve outside it. Particularly not when there’s already a car out there. This will disqualify you from a lot of events, and with good reason. An improper entry onto a racetrack can GET YOU KILLED. Ask that one guy with the Carrera GT. More specifically, ask his family, because he’s not around to answer your question.

Having cut me off and shoved me nearly off the track, Mr. Hellcat proceeded to lose control of his car no fewer than four times in the next four turns. Each time, he entered the turn wayyy too early, then slammed on his brakes, forcing ESC to save his stupid ass. Then he slammed on the gas, forcing ESC to save his stupid ass again.

Idiot Moment Number Three: Don’t try to hustle around a track when you don’t understand any racing theory whatsoever. There’s a reason novice drivers are given severe speed and passing restrictions. It’s to keep them from entering a 50 mph turn at 100 mph.

We trailed the Hellcat around the Carousel turn at Nelson Ledges. By “trailed”, I mean “drove up on his back bumper and flashed the lights, repeatedly.”

Idiot Moment Number Four, Guest Star Edition: Don’t let your temper get the better of you on the track. If somebody’s holding you up, cycle through the pitlane so you can be as far away from them as possible. Don’t provoke them into doing something stupid. Although I was maintaining a safe space between us and the Hellcat, the smart thing to do would have been to back off 500 feet and call it a day.

At the exit to the Carousel, the Hellcat decided he was gonna DUST THESE HOMOS IN THE HATCHBACK. There was a MIGHTY ROAR from the 707 HORSEPOWER, a SQUEAL OF TIRES, and a SHOWER OF GRASS ON OUR WINDSHIELD as this idiot drove right off the track at full throttle, doing perhaps 90 mph.

Idiot Moment Number Five: Don’t floor the throttle on exit until you’re pointed down the track on your correct and safe exit line. Imagine there is a laser beam on your front bumper that is illuminated by pressing the throttle to the stop. If the red dot illuminates Armco, grass, tires, or a concrete barrier, that’s too soon, Junior.

At this point, I put on my hazards, slowed to 60 mph, and watched this half-wit struggle mightily to defeat the efforts of his ESC to keep him from spinning. There was grass everywhere from his spinning rear tires. Every time the ESC got him straightened out, he’d tug at the wheel again like Harambe tryna take a kid to safety before the Illuminati ordered his execution, starting the ESC cycle again. After about five hundred feet of this stupidity, his ESC finally hauled him onto the back straight tarmac safely. Where he proceeded to cut across our bow, floor the throttle, and race away.

Idiot Moment Number Six: If you go off track, don’t floor the gas and saw the wheel. Instead, straighten your steering and brake as hard as you can without locking the wheels. Don’t try to “save it.” Unless your ESC engineer is a wizard, you’re gonna spin. Don’t try to accelerate. Most of all, don’t try to RACE THE CAR BEHIND YOU BACK ONTO THE TRACK.

Idiot Moment Number Seven: Don’t swerve back on the track without looking. You might collect an Corvette doing 190 mph or something. That’s how people get KILLED TO DEATH YO.

I apologized to my passengers for the Hellcat’s behavior and decided to follow the guy into pitlane so I could have a talk with him. But when I entered the pitlane, the Hellcat wasn’t there. But I did hear the sweet roar of 707 horsepower at the end of the front straight.

Idiot Moment Number Eight: If you go four-wheels-off, proceed slowly around the track then pull into the pitlane. This serves three purposes: It gives trackside officials a chance to check for something deadly like a tire that’s about to come off the bead, it gives you a chance to cool down, and it gives your instructor or the trackday captain a chance to explain what you did.

I got out of the car and walked to the flag tower. “Black flag for the white Hellcat,” I said. They waved the black flag at the guy for the next five laps. He ignored it.

Idiot Moment Number Nine: Don’t ignore flags. If you see a black flag, as the saying goes, it’s for you.

I decided not to put any more passengers in the car until the Hellcat was off the track. I was told that he did, in fact, go off the track a few more times, but in the almost-crashing-into-tire-walls sense, not the coming-into-pit-lane-to-face-your-mortality sense. Finally, the checkered flag was waved on the session and the car came in.

We were guests of the trackday organizer and very much not part of the supervisory organization, so I contended myself with telling the track officials that the Hellcat driver should be keelhauled. I swore not to go out again whenever the white menace was on track. As fate would have it, however, that was the last session for the Hellcat’s run group. I took a few more passengers out in another run group, where we saw two more people spin out trying to stay ahead of our hatchback.

Idiot Moment Number Ten: If somebody’s faster than you are, don’t take it personally. Nobody is born knowing how to turn fast laps on a track. If you’re not fast, learn to be fast. Don’t try to rage your way into being fast. That only works in the movies.

That was the end of my interaction with the Hellcat driver. I was told that the driver was a female novice, so I decided to chill on the anger a bit. Later on, after the trackday was over, I found out that the driver was actually a cop, or the friends of a cop, and the woman in question was a passenger.

Idiot Moment Number Eleven: If you’re doing to do stupid shit, don’t take a passenger.

I’ll forever cherish my memory of the worst trackday driver ever. But I know that if stay in this business long enough, I’ll eventually meet somebody even worse. In the meantime, I’ll just keep doing my best to coach new drivers, both in person and over the web. I might be a little snippy and snarky with the idiots out there, but it’s nothing the God of biomechanics wouldn’t let me into Heaven for, right?

[Image: zombieite/ Flickr]

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  • NeilM NeilM on Sep 08, 2016

    My favorite black flag incident was the Mazda guy at Mid Ohio who ignored the blag flag several times until the corner worker practically shoved it in his open window. Then he came to a stop on track at the end of the pit-out lane at the exit of Turn 1, engaged reverse and backed up a couple of hundred feet into the hot pits. Smooth move. Fortunately this was a BMW CCA event, so his next driving move was leaving the track property.

  • DedBull DedBull on Sep 08, 2016

    “At the exit to the Carousel, the Hellcat decided he was gonna DUST THESE HOMOS IN THE HATCHBACK. There was a MIGHTY ROAR from the 707 HORSEPOWER, a SQUEAL OF TIRES, and a SHOWER OF GRASS ON OUR WINDSHIELD as this idiot drove right off the track at full throttle, doing perhaps 90 mph.” Said idiot is lucky it was a dry summer or they would be fishing for him in the swamp. I'm surprised that he managed not to fly off the track at warp speed trying to negotiate the kink or trying to brake over the hump before 12. Inquiring minds want to know, how does the track look? Big changes are promised after the change in ownership.

    • Jack Baruth Jack Baruth on Sep 09, 2016

      It's the same as it's been for the last ten years or so, but changes are afoot.

  • Jeff71960 once a fun fast little car (if you can find an unmolested one)... unfortunately boy racer types trashed most of them
  • Pig_Iron How many second chances does Farley get? Is there a plan to deliberately destroy Ford? 😞
  • Tassos Neons, new, used, or junk like this one, were the right car to own if you wanted it advertised what a lame loser you were.
  • Damage My mother had a 78 with the FI motor. If you wound it out in first (not that she ever did) it would reward you with just a little tickle of torque steer. It was pretty reliable until water leaks from below the windshield found the fuse block. Once that was fixed, it was good for several more years. Eventually it got rusty and was sideswiped by a snowplow, and she sold it to my coworker who got several more years out of it. She traded it for a Mk2 Jetta, which was a fun little car. I don't miss the Rabbit but I'd love to find a clean Jetta again.
  • Tassos in the same league as Tim's so-called "used deathtrap of the day" today.Both emiently junkworthy,