How to get on track

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Have you ever longed to drive a car on a real race track?

It’s easier than you think. Years ago, it was all or nothing – if you wanted to drive on track, you needed a race car. No longer. The past 20 years have seen middle ground arise, where you have an opportunity to participate in a “track day,” using your personal vehicle.

A new livestream from Hagerty explains the process in detail. It’s hosted by Eva Gregory, manager of motorsport marketing partnerships, and it features Sports Car Club of America executive Heyward Wagner, and Le Mans-winning driver Patrick Long— who was the only American on Porsche’s factory team until he semi-retired last year.

Long started out in karts, and quickly worked his way up to become one of America’s premiere sports car racers. “There are track days locally where you can take your car and put on a helmet and have fun,” said Long.

Wagner is in charge of the SCCA’s Track Night in America Driven by TireRack.com, which may be just what you’re looking for. Track Night in America is typically held on a weekday, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. The SCCA rents out a track and hosts Track Night, which requires you, your car and a helmet. That’s it. The main requirement, Wagner said, is that your vehicle must be “wider than it is tall,” possibly ruling out some tall SUVs or four-wheel-drive pickups, but most any car works.

Cameron Neveu

It must undergo a rudimentary safety check—no bald tires, no loose batteries—but you don’t need racing safety equipment like five-point belts or a driver’s suit. If you have come equipped with it, all the better. Some participants do, but Track Night is really targeted at the first-timer. There’s the Koni Novice program, with classroom learning and a dedicated coach assigned to you.
Cost? Usually about $150 to $200, for three 20-minute on-track sessions. And believe us, for a beginner, that’s more than enough time.

The objective is to get a feel for driving on a racetrack, not racing. If you want to do that, the SCCA has plenty of programs that cover competition. One of them is autocross, a no-contact form of racing usually held in a big parking lot, with a course laid out in orange cones. It’s the cheapest, safest form of competition and you can race your daily driver.

Track Night in America isn’t the only host for on-track experiences. BMW and Porsche clubs typically host them, and no, you don’t have to drive a BMW or Porsche for the open track days, usually held on weekends.

Cameron Neveu

You will need a helmet for any type of track activity. The sanctioning bodies sometimes have loaners, which may work for your first time. Wagner recommends buying a helmet if you think you’re hooked. Usually, it must be Snell rated, not just DOT rated, which rules out a lot of helmets. Summit Racing Equipment and Racequip.com are sources of inexpensive Snell-approved helmets, usually under $260. Like having your own pool cue, there’s a certain amount of swagger that comes with your own personal helmet.

There is, of course, the possibility of damaging your car, but it’s rare, and Hagerty offers insurance packages that cover Track Night in America-type track days. Wagner said that they have hosted more than 62,000 drivers, and there have only been eight car-to-car incidents. Off-track excursions are rare, but not unheard of. “As long as long as everybody goes home with shiny, wrinkle-free cars, we can tell the event was a success,” said Wagner.

Watch the video, and if you want more information, then, log onto TracknightinAmerica.com, and to Motorsportsreg.com to find individual track days near you. Happy driving!

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