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Track 101: Popular Driving Experiences (Part 2)

The goals for the events I’ll outline are strictly for driver education to learn how to properly control your car. These track events are non-competitive and begin with driving at lower speeds. There are other events and organizations (Like SCCA, Club Races and AER) for the more competitive experiences. Once car control is mastered, speed should come naturally and is encouraged as long as you are in control and remain safe among the other drivers.

The instructors will commonly advise new students and club members to leave your ego at the door. Be humble. Most likely, you will be one of the slowest drivers and cars will pass you. You can’t let this bother you. If it does, then perhaps this isn’t for you.

The Basics:

  • Drivers must be 18 and have a street driver’s license and wear a helmet (for HPDE and/or exercises in excess of 50 mph). Some events will allow minors with a full, valid license and a guardian’s signature on a minor release form.
  • You don’t need a race car. A well-maintained sedan or coupe with good tires, brakes, and a full tank of gas will do.
  • Helmet safety: Some facilities will have a limited amount of helmet rentals available. If helmets are required, they must be Snell approved (this is the industry standard).
  • Most events are run rain or shine.
  • Passengers must have the same safety equipment as the driver. (if the driver has a 5-pt harness, the passenger has to have the same). This is also the case with the new Hans devices that attach to the back of the helmet and provide back/neck support.
  • What to wear: long pants are usually required, and long-sleeved shirts are preferred. Wear natural fabrics (cotton, bamboo) because of their fire retardation qualities (vs. synthetic fibers that melt). Wear close-toed shoes with a simple, thin tread that won’t impede movement on the throttle.

Driving clinic sessions are done at the track at lower speeds (not race/full throttle speeds) and include classroom instruction and several skill-building cone exercises including the skid pad, threshold braking, and turning/slalom. Instructors ride along with you in the passenger’s seat to provide guidance for the whole day. The goal is to improve driver control and learn defensive driving skills in various scenarios at low speeds. These clinics are for new drivers or even skilled drivers that want to improve their handling and just want to gain more control with their vehicle.

Autocross is a low speed competitive cone course that is set up in a parking lot or large paved surface. There are usually several classes or groups that are based on the type of car. Drivers takes turns negotiating the course. This is a timed event that includes an in-vehicle instructor and with awards at the end and penalties for any cones that are knocked down. It’s a fun and perfect event to fine-tune handling skills without the bigger commitment of a track event.

HPDR or HPDE events (High Performance Drivers Education). Note that for insurance purposes, most people in this industry never refer this sport as “racing” or “track”. It’s all about driver education. And for the same reason, it’s advisable to not post track photos on social media!

Most of these events will cost about $200 for (4) 30 minutes sessions. Upon registration, you’ll have to identify yourself as a member to one of these run groups:

Green – Beginner/Novice with 0-5 HPDE days. These students must have an instructor in the seat beside them and usually includes classroom instruction in between track sessions. Passing other cars on the track is restricted. (The event organizers will provide an instructor and is included in your fee. Keep in mind that the instructors are all volunteers!)

Yellow – Novice

Blue – Novice/Intermediate with 5-10 HPDE days. These students may ride solo if an instructor has checked them off; there are restrictions on passing.

Black – Intermediate/Advanced with 10-20+ HPDE days. Solos riders with no passing restrictions.

Red –Advanced/expert with 25+ HPDE days, licensed racers and instructors. Solo riders with full open passing.

Image by LeMusique from Getty Images via Canva Pro

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